What happens to prayer notes at the Western Wall?

Christian Tour

‘The Wall,’ as it’s often simply called, was once the retaining wall below the plaza of the Second Temple—the only part of the massive structure left standing after Roman armies demolished it in 70 A.D. Also referred to as the Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel (as it is called in Hebrew), it is considered by Jews to be the most sacred site accessible for them to worship at today. According to Jewish teachings, God’s divine presence filled the Temple and still rests upon this wall. It is one of the most meaningful places we take Christian pilgrims to visit on our Israel tours.

Visiting The Wall in person is a profound experience. The rough stones (massive limestone blocks) are constantly surrounded by worshippers, many of whom participate in the centuries-old tradition of tucking written prayers into the cracks between the stones. Stepping close, you can see these prayers—small slips of paper filling every crevice. Each note represents someone’s voice calling out to God—prayers of adoration, of gratitude, of desperation.

At The Wall, Christians pray in unity alongside Jews, reflecting their shared spiritual heritage. United States presidents have left notes in the wall. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI inserted their own prayers. At any moment, the Western Wall contains the heartfelt appeals of celebrities and children, wealthy dignitaries and the poorest laborers, written in a variety of languages.

It is a thought-provoking and holy place.

But what becomes of these handwritten prayers, left by the ten million worshipers who gather there each year? There’s certainly not room in the wall for decades of accumulated paper. Jewish law dictates that holy texts may not be destroyed, and these notes fall into that category. So, twice annually—before Passover in the springtime and before the Jewish New Year in the fall—the notes are meticulously removed by workers who care for the site. They use ritually prepared wooden sticks to sweep out the highest notes from between the stones.

The scraps of paper are then buried in line with Jewish tradition. According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who manages the site and often escorts foreign dignitaries to the wall, the prayers are collected and bundled up into more than 100 bags. These bags are then buried in the sacred cemetery on the Mount of Olives, treated with the same respect as damaged prayer books or Torah scrolls. Out of privacy, the notes are never read, and the slips of paper have never been counted. This process newly exposes the cracks in the wall, making room for a fresh round of prayers to be offered up to the God—who promises to hear and answer each one (Prv 15:29).

We hope you will be able to experience what it’s like to pray at this holy place. We invite you to join us on an upcoming Israel tour. If you were to stand at the base of those ancient stones in Jerusalem, what prayer would you leave?

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