Musings on Religious Freedom at the Western Wall

On Sunday afternoon, I entered the Old City of Jerusalem through the Dung Gate and walked towards the Western Wall. After passing through the security check and reaching the Western Wall Plaza, I saw a group of Muslim tourists walking about freely, talking, and taking pictures.

Muslim tourists at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.
Muslim tourists at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

Then I found myself almost simultaneously thinking the following thoughts: First, could I imagine one day seeing Jews being allowed to walk around freely on Temple Mount, given that mere moments before I had passed the long line filled with non-Muslims hoping to be allowed to go up the wooden stairway leading to the Mughrabi Gate at the Temple Mount. There, non-Muslims are subject to strict restrictions concerning dress and prayer or other forms of religious expression by the Jerusalem Waqf, the Islamic authority posessing jurisdiction over the Temple Mount.

Muslim tourists at the Western Wall plaza with the entrance to the Temple Mount in the background
Muslim tourists at the Western Wall plaza with the entrance to the Temple Mount in the background

 

Secondly, I thought about the verse in Isaiah 56:7:

“I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My altar; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.”

Muslim tourists stand in front of an Israeli flag at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem
Muslim tourists near an Israeli flag at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem

Israel allows freedom of religion and access to people of all religions and beliefs to visit Jewish places of worship. This strongly juxtaposes with the current conditions at the Temple Mount.

While there continues to be a public and legal debate about the state and nature of non-Orthodox Jewish worship at the Western Wall, hopefully this holy place will continue to embody the spirit of being “a house of prayer for all peoples.”

About the Author
Eli Varenberg is a Jerusalem-based licensed Israeli tour guide and researcher of Jewish History and Jewish Studies. Having made Aliyah in 2007, he is constantly fine-tuning his answer to the following multi-faceted question: What does it means to be Israeli?
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