Sunday, July 14, 2013

Praying at the Western Wall in 1870

This vintage photograph by Felix Bonfils was sold for $500 at Doyle New York in April. The 1870 image shows Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Of note, men and women are seen together during prayer, with three women seated in the central portion of the photograph.

The photograph provides historical evidence of a practice that is not permitted today in most Orthodox congregations, and certainly not at the Wall. Under the rigid rules of the Haredim, the minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews who control the holy site with the blessing of the Israeli government, men and women are forbidden from praying together and women may not lead their own prayers. Gender segregation at the site is now strictly enforced, despite the more egalitarian religious beliefs of perhaps the majority of Jews who go there to pray. Today many non-Orthodox Jews have more relaxed religious views regarding men and women praying together, views with which the Jews of 1870 might readily have identified.

Felix Bonfils, Jerusalem, Le mur ou les Juifs vout pleuser, c. 1870
Felix Bonfils, Jerusalem, Le mur ou les Juifs vout pleuser, c. 1870.  Doyle New York, April 8, 2013

Felix Bonfils, Jerusalem, Le mur ou les Juifs vout pleuser, c. 1870



  1. A beautiful photograph and very enlightening information to go along with it. Thanks, Doc. I wasn't aware of this gender segregation. Leo

    1. You're welcome, Leo. It's good to hear from you.