Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Monday called an emergency meeting of relevant authorities to discuss what measures to take hours after a stone block dislodged from a section of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem and crashed onto a prayer area below.
Regev, whose ministry is responsible for the Israel Antiquities Authority, summoned representatives from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem municipality, the Western Wall Heritage Fund, and the chief rabbis of Israel.
“The falling stone is not an incident to be taken lightly — it was a miracle that no one was injured,” Regev said in a ministry statement. “The incident raises complex questions. We are talking about human life, and the welfare of the public that visits the Western Wall every day.”
Regev instructed the IAA to take possession of the dislodged block, estimated to weigh some 100 kilograms, until it is decided what to do with it, from a legal and religious point of view, the statement said — an apparent reference to the possible sanctity of the boulder, coming as it did from one of Judaism’s holiest sites. The Hebrew-language Ynet news site reported that Regev asked the chief rabbis of Israel for advice on how to deal with the block.
There were no injuries in the incident near Robinson’s Arch, south of the main prayer plaza, but the rock landed very close to a female worshiper, Daniella Goldberg, 79, and damaged the platform where she was praying. The smaller of two platforms designated for mixed-gender prayer there, it was closed until further notice.
Dramatic footage showed the stone coming loose and crashing onto the platform, revealing dirt behind the wall.
שֶׁגְּמָלַנִו כָּל טוּב. אסון כבר נמנע הבוקר בעזרת ישראל. אבן ניתקה מהכותל והתרסקה על מרפסת התפילה (הקטנה). אנשי רשות העתיקות מטפלים באירוע. עד להודעה חדשה המרפסת תיסגר, רחבת עזרת ישראל תפעל כרגיל. זהו אות השכמה-יש לבדוק את הכותל כולו,על שני חלקיו,כדי שחלילה לא יהיה אסון בעתיד. pic.twitter.com/UslGD0ubew
— Yizhar Hess יזהר הס (@yizhar_hess) July 23, 2018
The incident came a day after the platform was filled with worshipers marking the Tisha B’Av fast, which marks the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis also flocked to the main prayer plaza of the Western Wall from Saturday night through Sunday evening to solemnly mark the day.
Following the stone’s fall from one of the original Herodian rows of the Western Wall, a team of IAA experts, including archaeologists, engineers and conservationists, began careful examination of the affected area.
In a statement, the IAA said there were a number of possibilities that may have led to the stone’s fall, such as vegetation growing in the wall’s cracks or entrapped moisture that may have worn the stone. There is also the possibility of a still unknown engineering failure.
There are already several gaps in the Western Wall, where large Herodian stones have crumbled in the past. In a notable case in 2004, large pieces of Western Wall stone fell in the mainstream prayer plaza — slightly injuring a Yom Kippur worshiper — due to erosion caused by foreign metal objects inserted into the wall’s cracks by birds.
The Western Wall is revered by Jews as a remnant of a wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
The area below the prayer platform is littered with other large hewn boulders, apparently remnants of the wall pried loose by the Romans during the Temple’s destruction 2,000 years ago.