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Stones, speaking

by Robyn Stellman


Excavations around the Western Wall

All roads may lead to Rome, but for the three Abrahamic traditions, all faiths lead to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. What remains of the structure now known as the 2nd temple is the centerpiece of many holy sites, to greater or lesser extents, for all three faiths. Once Israelites returned from Babylon and Herod rebuilt what can perhaps be described in today's standards as a type of religious mega-mall, this site has become deeply rooted in each of the three faith traditions. By nearly any definition, it is a holy site.

For Jews, it was a place to bring ritual sacrifices. It was also near where Abraham was said to have been ready to sacrifice his son Isaac. More recently, part of what is left of it is now the Western Wall, where many Jews come to pray. For Muslims, it is where the Prophet was brought up to heaven to speak with God, and is now home to the Dome of the Rock monument and the Al-Aqsa mosque. For Christians, it is where Jesus was said to offer interpretations of sacred texts while still quite young, and where he had his famous temper tantrum toward the money-changers.

But for someone with a limited knowledge of these narratives, the Temple today is just a well-studied pile of giant stones with some great backstory. Like any other holy site, it's not the physical place or the backstory that makes something holy, but the strong emotional relationship developed around the place through the backstory that pushes something beyond interesting artifact to holy. In the presence of the Temple Mount, I had some basic knowledge of the backstory, but had no emotional relationship to it at all.

Until today.

It is unclear whether the force coming from the wall was due to the energy emitted by the scores of women crying and praying, or to the cumulative power of the centuries of prayer and sacrifice offered at this sacred place. It could have been both. But the visceral hum emanating from the wall was real and powerful. It touched me emotionally and deeply.

While the gender politics and the backstory of this site remain troubling, now there is no denying a relationship with this site. There is an emotional component that will not go away. It has become a sacred place.

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