Passover 2019: Prayer notes cleared from Jerusalem's Western Wall

A man cleaning the Western Wall. Photo by Gil Zohar.

A man cleaning the Western Wall. Photo by Gil Zohar.

JERUSALEM — God's mailbox merits a spring cleaning.

Equipped with long sticks last week, crews from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall removed tens of thousands of written prayers that worshipers had wedged into crevices at the holy site here over the previous half year.

The painstaking work is done twice annually, in advance of Passover in April and the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah in September, to ensure space for new prayers. According to ritual, the notes that are removed are buried in the ancient Mount of Olives Cemetery. 

The origin of the tradition of placing small folded sheets of paper between the cracks of the 2,000-year-old ashlars is unclear.

According to tradition, God's female presence, known as the Shechina in Hebrew, has never left the holy site. 

From 1948 until 1967 when East Jerusalem was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Israelis were prohibited from visiting the site - a retaining wall of the sacred precinct, called the Temple Mount, which was built by King Solomon c. 960 CE, greatly expanded by King Herod nearly 2,000 millennia ago, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

Called the Kotel Maaravi (Western Wall) in Hebrew, the looming wall stands today beneath a religious plaza known in Arabic to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). Jews believe the holy hill marks the navel of the world from where God began his creation 5,779 years ago. The site also marks where Abraham brought his son Isaac to offer him up as a sacrifice.

Christians believe Jesus was one of the millions of Jewish pilgrims in antiquity who ascended to the area during the festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost.

Muslims consider the Western Wall to be where Muhammad tethered his winged steed al-Burak when he ascended to the Seventh Heaven.