Thousands of Israelis flocked to the Western Wall in Jerusalem Wednesday, for the traditional biannual Priestly Blessing.
The ceremony sees male descendants of the Kohanic priestly caste gathering to recite a benediction. It is performed daily by devout Jews at synagogues throughout Israel, while mass blessings at the Western Wall take place on the festivals of Passover and Sukkot.
The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can legally pray. Though they are allowed to visit the Mount, where two ancient Jewish temples stood, Jews are not allowed to pray there.
Jewish visits to the Mount, today occupied by the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, often spark tensions, and the blessing ceremony took place amid tight security.
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Police arrested one Jewish teenager Wednesday morning on suspicion that he had prostrated himself while going up to the Temple Mount.
The country’s two chief rabbis and the rabbi of the Western Wall were due to receive the crowds near the wall at a large Sukkah — a temporary structure erected for the duration of the festival in memory of the booths that the Bible says the Israelites erected during the Exodus from Egypt.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on all Israeli Jews to converge on the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing to counter a controversial resolution passed by UNESCO’s member states that omitted Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.
“This year, we’ll come, in our masses, to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall, to the Priestly Blessing. This Wednesday… we’ll all be there. We’ll send a clear message — nobody will separate us from our holy places,” wrote Deri in a Facebook post.
The UNESCO resolution, proposed by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, was adopted last week at the committee stage and ratified on Tuesday. It used only Muslim names for the holy sites of Jerusalem’s Old City and was harshly critical of Israel for what it termed “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area. The resolution drew angry condemnation from Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum.