(Middle East Forum) -- Few beliefs have resonated more widely, or among a more diverse set of Israelis and Jews, than the perception of the Western Wall as Judaism's holiest site, the place where they feel the greatest sense of sacredness, "the holy of holies of Jewish national unity" to use the words of the Wall's rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz. Chief rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar has similarly asserted that "no one can annul the holiness of the Western Wall, not the government, not the courts."
But when did the Western Wall become the holiest Jewish site? Historical evidence suggests that the Temple Mount was actually Judaism's "holy of holies," and that the Western Wall's venerated position is a relatively late development with a more prosaic and even non-Jewish origin. Would these facts change the tenor of the debate about the Western Wall's future status? And can they help ameliorate the widening schism between Israel's Orthodox religious establishment and the Diaspora Conservative and Reform movements over this holy site?
Worship Sites, Post-Temple
Advertisement - story continues below
The Second Temple in Jerusalem was for centuries the central site for Jewish worship, which was mainly sacrificial at that time. Although the temple itself was built and completed in 515 B.C.E. by Judeans who had returned home from the Babylonian exile, a major refurbishing of the temple was begun by the Roman client-king Herod the Great around 19 B.C.E. Today's Western Wall is actually only a small portion of the retaining wall erected by Herod to encase the natural hill known as Mount Moriah or the Temple Mount in order to allow for the creation of an enormous platform upon which the revamped temple stood.