From eye-level, the Western Wall is pretty small fish. Only deep underground in the tunnels do you see the huge dimensions defining Herod’s 2nd Temple reconstruction project, the long western retaining wall of the immense raised Temple Mount platform built up upon a sheer mass of enormous blocks. “Holiness” rests upon the physical aspect of sheer material place. Down below is the abutting Herodian street, which over time got buried as the city grew and developed, moving on around the site and, literally, up the side of the wall.
One wonders what this thing is doing here, and what does it mean to un-bury the plastic past, to reveal these smooth, old surfaces. I’m not prepared to say that, no, none of this matters. How then to relieve it of its destructive force, the dynamite of a messianic charge? I think the only way to do this is to unhook it from narrative, to conclude that, while it might “matter,” that none of this “means” anything in particular. It’s just there. And then you leave it at that, a historical relic without “significance.” No more and no less than a brute presence. All of this was outside once. Now it’s not.
Without a lot of religious and no national narrative, the tour guide’s remarks were restrained and historically informative. The women praying are doing so at what is believed to be the area closest to where the Holy of Holies once stood. By some accident of history, the space has been reserved as a women’s space. They’re just there. No more and no less than a simple human presence. Without an overt charge, the women’s presence there is quiet, dignified, and non-demonstrative.