Women at the Western Wall, 1910
This is an artist’s impression of women praying at the Western Wall in 1910. The drawing shows women in traditional dress praying in front of the wall. All the women are completely covered by scarves and shawls. Surprisingly, some of the shawls resemble tallitot (the prayer shawls traditionally worn by men). As in many photographs and pictures from this period, the stones on the Western Wall have various inscriptions. In this picture, the artist chose to sign his name Ephraim Moses ben Ya’akov HaCohen Lilien, as if it were an inscription on the wall.
The Western Wall, known colloquially as the Kotel (Hebrew for wall), has been a location for prayer for many hundreds of years. The first record of the site as a place of prayer is from the sixteenth century when Jews were given access to the location having previously prayed at the Mount of Olives as the closest site to the Temple Mount. The Kotel has been a place of worship for the Jewish people throughout history with Jewish pilgrims inscribing words on the stones from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1517, the Turkish Ottomans seized Jerusalem from the Mamluks, who had held it since 1250. Approximately fifty years later, Jews received formal permission to pray at the site, and it seems that the Turkish authorities even built a place of prayer for the Jewish worshippers. The Turks were succeeded by the British, and during the British Mandate, restrictions were placed on prayers at the Western Wall. During the subsequent post-1948 Jordanian rule over the Old City of Jerusalem, Jews were not given access to the Kotel. From June 7, 1967, following the Israeli victory in the Six Day War, Jews were once again free to pray at the Kotel. It is perhaps more accurate to say that 1967 signified the first time that the Western Wall was under Jewish control for almost 2000 years.
Rabbi Joseph Schwarz a researcher of the geography of Israel, wrote the following description of the site in 1850:
This wall is visited by all our brothers on every feast and festival; and the large space at its foot is often so densely filled up that all cannot perform their devotions here at the same time. It is also visited, though by less numbers, on every Friday afternoon, and by some nearly every day. No one is molested in these visits by the Mahomedans, as we have a very old firman from the Sultan of Constantinople that the approach shall not be denied to us.
Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874-1925) painted various scenes around Israel during a number of journeys between 1906 and 1918. He has been referred to as the first Zionist painter.
For Jewish History teachers this resource can be used to discuss the historical connection that was maintained between the Jewish People and the Temple.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this source to discuss the meaning of prayer and to debate whether prayer is more meaningful as an individual or as a group. A teacher can also refer to the fact that these are women depited at the Wall. This can be a trigger to a discussion about women and prayer or even to discuss the issue of the "Women of the Wall".
Art teachers can use this resource to expose the students to the work of Ephraim Moses Lilien. Teachers can also use this picture as part of a collection to demonstrate artistic depiction of the Land of Israel, and specifically the Kotel, at the time.
What famous site is featured in this picture?
What are the people doing?
How are they dressed?
What do you notice about the stones?
Who drew this sketch?
How has the artist included his name in the portrait?
Reading Between the Lines
Ephraim Moses Lilien is one of many artist who have drawn the Western Wall. Why do you think this is so?
What would visitors to the Western Wall have written on the stones?
Do people still write or engrave on the wall?
Did Jews have access to the Western Wall during the Ottoman era?
Have you visited the Western Wall?
What did you feel during your visit?
If you could, what would you write on the wall?
Look on the internet for additional drawings by Ephraim Moses Lilien.
Which did you like the best? Why?
Make your own sketch of a typical modern-day scene from the Western Wall. What has changed since the time of Lilien’s sketch?
A drawing of Ephraim Moses Lilien, showing women praying at the Western Wall in 1910.