Thousands of Jews attended prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to observe the start of the Tisha B’Av fasting day on Monday night, days after violence shook the city.
Prayer leaders read aloud from the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah’s biblical account of the destruction of the First Jewish Temple by invading Babylonians in 586 BC.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Jewish Temple, built on the site of the first and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The wall is at the foot of the Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock in the heart of the Old City, the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
It is the most sacred site for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two destroyed temples.
Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both temples, as well several other disasters in Jewish history.
The event comes after relative calm returned to Jerusalem following nearly two weeks of Palestinian protests over security measures at the Temple Mount, installed after a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli Druze policemen with weapons they had smuggled onto the compound.
Muslim worshipers had refused to enter the site until the security installations at entrances to the compound were removed and Palestinian protesters staged near-daily riots in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The protests left six Palestinians dead. A week after the Temple Mount terror attack, a Palestinian terrorist broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis to death while they were having Shabbat dinner, killing three. The terrorist cited the events surrounding the Temple Mount as a main motivator, in a Facebook post hours before his murderous spree.
The crisis ended last week when Israeli authorities removed the newly installed measures, including metal detectors, following heavy pressure from Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount, and the Palestinians.
The site has frequently been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Under a decades-old agreement, only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the compound, although non-Muslims are allowed access.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement that extra units were being deployed in Jerusalem throughout the 24-hour period for Tisha B’Av.
While many of the thousands of worshipers at the Western Wall on Monday evening were religious, recognizable by the men’s skullcaps and women’s long dresses, secular Jews also attended the ceremonies.
“I’m not really religious but it’s important for me to come here for this commemoration, this day of mourning,” said 25-year-old Leora Kaufman.
“Tisha B’Av is also a reminder of the need to stay united,” she said.