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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pierre Loti's Observations of Jerusalem and the Jews There [1894] -- Part Two

Continuing Pierre Loti's description of Jerusalem, particularly of proceedings at the Western Wall Jewish prayer place --often offensively called the "Wailing Wall." This is just a section of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount built by the Jewish priestly caste, the Kohanim, during the reign of King Herod of Judea, although not finished in his time. On the lower levels, the original Herodian stone wall is still in place to this day. It could not have been removed, of course, without destroying the Temple Mount itself, which subsequent conquerors [Arab-Muslims and Crusaders] wanted for their own use.

Loti continues his description of Jewish prayer at the Western Wall prayer place:
Against the wall of the Temple, against the last wreckage of their past splendor, it is the Lamentations of Jeremiah that they all recite over and over, with voices that chant quaveringly in cadence, with the quick rocking of the body:
-- Because of the Temple which is destroyed, the rabbi cries out.
-- We are seated solitary and we weep! the crowd answers.
-- Because of our walls that have been brought down.
-- We are seated solitary and we weep!
-- Because of our majesty which has past, because of our great men who have perished.
-- We are seated solitary and we weep!
And there are two or three of them, of these old men, who shed real tears, who have placed their Bibles in the holes of the stones, in order to have their hands free and shake them above their heads in a cursing gesture.
If the shaking skulls and their white beards are in the majority at the foot of the Wall of Tears, it is that --from all corners of the world where Israel is dispersed-- his sons come back here when they feel their end approaching, in order to be buried in the holy valley of Jehoshaphat. And Jerusalem is more and more congested with old men who have come there in order to die.

In itself, it is unique, touching and sublime: after so many unparalleled misfortunes, after so many centuries of exile and dispersion, the unshakable attachment of this people to a lost homeland! For a little one might weep with them -- if they were not Jews, and if one did not feel one's heart strangely icy on account of all their abject forms.
But, before this wall of Tears, the mystery of the prophecies appears more unexplained and more striking. The mind meditates, confused over these destinies of Israel, without precedent, without parallel in the history of mankind, impossible to foresee, and yet, foretold, at the very time of the splendor of Zion, with disquieting accuracy of details. [quoted in Claude Aziza, Jerusalem. . . p 1299]
[Photos from Focus East, Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885 (Jerusalem: Israel Museum 1988)]
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Coming: more on Jews in Jerusalem, Gerry Adams--liar and hypocrite, more follies of peace in the Middle East, etc.



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