History of the Gates of Mercy - Part 1: Travelling Testimonies
(Note: This series is my translation of a series of articles written in Hebrew by research fellow of The Open Gate, which I belong to as well, Rabbi Pinchas Abramowitz. For the original article published on the Hebrew Temple Mount News site click: https://har-habait.org/articleBody/30780 )
In the eastern wall flanking the Temple Mount we find the Golden Gate, otherwise known in Hebrew and Arabic as the Gates of Mercy. And it is comprised of a northern gate known as the Gate of Mercy and a southern gate known as the Gate of Repentance. These gates are unique in that they house a full hall in them. They are also the only gates in the entire eastern wall of the Temple Mount
But just how old are these gates?
In this first part of the series I want to introduce you to some Jewish testimonies as to the importance of these gates. In the second part we will investigate the reason to their significance and how that influenced Muslim attitudes and perhaps even architecture at the site.
On the topic of the Mercy Gate’s history, there are no gates of that name mentioned throughout any Talmudic literature stretching back to the Second Temple and on to the Talmud’s completion in around 500 CE. However, it is discussed many times in the post-Talmudic Geonic period (approx. 6th to 11th centuries CE) and onward in many sources.
A source found in the Cairo Geniza called ‘The Prayers of the Temple’s Gates’ records the various gates of the Temple Mount and prayers traditionally connected with each gate at the time. In it, we find a prayer connected with the Gate of Mercy.
We also find in the ‘Guide to Jerusalem from the Cairo Geniza,’ written in the Geonic period, that the Gates of Mercy are mentioned: “And in the eastern wall - and it has two gates and they are called the Gates of Mercy."
In the Geonic period, there was a widespread Jewish custom to pray at these gates. In letters that Jewish residents of Jerusalem sent their family members in the Diaspora they attempt to comfort them by stating that they pray for them ‘before the Gates of Mercy’ and that every Monday and Thursday, days of supplication in the Jewish week, they visit there.
It would also appear that within the chamber of the gates itself, there was a consistent presence of Rabbinic figures in this period. The famous traveler, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela (1170), writes: “The Gates of Mercy - and to them come all the Jews to pray.” And Rabbi Ashturi HaParchi, who arrived in Jerusalem in 1322, describes (chapter 6): In its [eastern] wall there are two very tall gates with domes on their outside, and their gates are iron and are always shut and the masses call them the Gates of Mercy… And the people come to these same walls and pray to God, may He be exalted, before these two gates that we mentioned.”
The eschatological significance of these gates in the traditions of the Abrahamic religions is discussed in the coming parts as well as some archaeological evidence as to which time period this gate belongs to.