Israel Hayom

The unique significance of Jerusalem in Judaism

Chapter Eight
JERUSALEM’S SIGNIFICANCE IN JUDAISM
Preface: Jerusalem and Inter-Religious Dialogue1
Jerusalem is at the same time perhaps the best and the worst topic for inter-religious dialogue.
It is, in one sense, the best topic for inter-religious dialogue because the name “Jerusalem,” more than any other single name, symbolizes some of the greatest hopes and most sacred concepts of the three western religious tradi-tions, the monotheistic communities which see themselves as the physical and/or spiritual heirs of Abraham.
Jerusalem is, however, in another sense the worst possible topic for our in-ter-religious dialogue. For Jerusalem, whose name is often understood to mean “the city of peace,” has historically rarely been, and in our lifetime has never been, a city of true peace. Jerusalem may be the occasion or the topic of our Jewish-Christian-Muslim encounter, but we would be dishonest if we were to deny the obvious fact, that Jerusalem cannot, for the present and the foreseeable future, be the locale of our dialogue. The Jewish and Arab (whether Muslim or Christian) Jerusalemites, who may live only some hundreds of meters from each other, are far more likely to engage each other in genuine dialogue thou-sands of kilometers away from Jerusalem than they are at home. It is precisely because Jerusalem embodies some of our greatest hopes that it arouses our
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
212
greatest passions, passions which often cloud clear judgment as well as human compassion.
The issue of compassion is not incidental here, for communities and na-tions, as well as individuals, are all too often inclined to focus exclusively on their own painful experience as victims. “Is there any pain like my pain?” cries out the author of Lamentations (1:12), in the generation after the first destruc-tion of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon in 586 B.C.E. This attitude, that mine is the only real pain, that my tragedy is the only meaningful tragedy, how-ever understandable psychologically or historically, is an impediment to true dialogue, which must attempt to give us an understanding of the other’s heart as well as mind, and empathy for our partner’s pain if not sympathy for his or her professed opinions.
That is why this paper is entitled “Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism” rather than “Jerusalem’s Spiritual Significance in Judaism,” because we must first recognize that Jerusalem is not merely significant to one of our traditions alone, but to all of them. At the same time, Jerusalem is of obvious and over-whelming significance in Judaism.
There need be no disloyalty, however, in recognizing that others also hold sacred a symbol from one’s own tradition. The fact that Christianity and Islam, in their own ways, have adopted and adapted aspects of the earlier Jewish sym-bolism, in this case of Jerusalem, provides for a commonality, which can be the basis either for continued rivalry and conflict, or for a new sense of mutual tol-eration and respect.
Nevertheless, an open and frank dialogue must take into account not only points of similarity, in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam parallel each other, but also points of uniqueness, where they differ, sometimes sharply, from each other. These differences do not preclude true dialogue; they render it all the more urgent and essential. A dialogue which seeks to understand rather than to overcome, will not eliminate those differences. It will enhance them with greater appreciation and respect for the other.
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism: Not Just Spiri-tual
That being understood, let me now attempt to set forth some features of Je-rusalem’s significance in Judaism. I must first note, however, that in the case of Judaism it is impossible to discuss “the spiritual significance of Jerusalem in Judaism” alone, as I was originally requested, because in Judaism, “the spiri-tual” is not a category unto itself, and the attempt to establish a dichotomy be-tween “spiritual” and “physical,” between the sacred and the secular, between the religious and the national, is simply false to the historic Jewish experience. In order to clarify this, permit me to digress for a moment to some general con-siderations, before returning to their implications for a proper Jewish perspec-tive on Jerusalem’s significance.
The European and American separation of church and state, for example, is a relatively recent innovation in history, going back more or less to the Treaty
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
213
of Westphalia in 1648, ending the Thirty Years War. It is a European, Christian dichotomy that is foreign to Islam and to Judaism alike. Taking this one step further, the very dichotomy between religion, as a universalist phenomenon, and nationality, a particular phenomenon, which is found in both Christianity and Islam, is alien to Judaism. Christianity and Islam both claim to be universal religions, transcending particular nationality.2 In the case of Judaism, however, there is, and can be, no such dichotomy between religion and nation. The uni-versal and the particular are not mutually incompatible or contrary; rather, they are correlative concepts, which complement each other, like “male and female,” or “mountain and valley.” The one cannot be understood, nor can it exist, with-out the other. To attempt to force such a dichotomy onto Judaism is to falsify Jewish history and to violate the Jewish religious experience. Jewish religion is national, and Jewish nationhood is religious. As the late Rabbi Mordecai Kap-lan (1881–1983) put it, “In Judaism as a civilization, ‘belonging’ is prior to ‘believing,’ although meaningless without ‘believing’.”3
Consider, for instance, biblical Ruth. When her mother-in-law Naomi told her to return to her native Moab, she replied: “Ask me not to leave you, to turn away from you: for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lie down will I lie down. Your nation is my nation, and your God is my God.”4 Had Ruth not considered herself a member of the Jewish nation (`am), the God of Israel would not have been her God!
The religious and the national dimensions of Jewish existence are thus in-separable. They form an inextricable organic unity, and that organic unity typi-fies Jewish history, from its very beginnings, as well as the Jewish experience today.
Coming back to Jerusalem, then, for the Jews there is and can be no sepa-rate category of “the spiritual significance of Jerusalem,” as opposed to its his-toric and national significance. One who wishes to relate with respect to the religious or spiritual significance of Jerusalem in Judaism cannot, accordingly, ignore the historic and national dimensions of Jerusalem in Jewish life.
This Jewish perspective obviously complicates the attempt to pursue a purely religious encounter, free of the very real and present tensions attendant on the Jewish-Arab conflict of the last hundred years. Let us remember, how-ever, that unlike so many other age-old conflicts in the world, the Jewish-Arab conflict is relatively recent, and does not go back centuries. Nevertheless, in the conflict in our region, as in so many others, religion is often politicized and political strife is fueled by religious fanaticism. In our encounter, therefore, while we are all obviously aware of the political implications of our topic, we need to walk the very fine and insecure line between explicit practical politics and what may be implicit in a theoretical presentation of historic religious and national perspectives.
Jerusalem’s Significance: The Jewish Sources
A prime indicator of the significance of Jerusalem in Judaism is the prolif-eration of sources, from the Bible on, which deal with the city in one respect or another. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) explicitly refers to Jerusalem by name
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
214
some 700 times, and to the corollary name Zion (which first properly indicated the Temple Mount, and later came to connote Jerusalem as the capital city, and thus eventually the Holy Land as a whole) some 150 times. But these hundreds of explicit references to Jerusalem and Zion by name are, of course, only the tip of the biblical iceberg; the implicit references cannot even be measured.
Post-biblical Jewish literature similarly reflects Jerusalem’s central signifi-cance. Rabbinic literature, the Talmud and Midrash, is replete with explicit and implicit references to Jerusalem, as is the classical Jewish liturgy. A brief pres-entation like this cannot compete with such major studies as A. S. Halkin’s Zion in Jewish Literature5 and Zev Vilnay’s Legends of Jerusalem.6 The huge vol-ume of sources is but one indication, however important, of the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish religious concern and literary expression.
Even a brief and superficial sampling of the material at hand is more than ample to demonstrate Jerusalem’s significance and centrality in Jewish life for some 3,000 years, since David conquered the city and made it the capital of the united monarchy of Israel.
The Centrality of the Land and Jerusalem in Jewish Law
As a result of Jerusalem’s being the national capital and the site of the Temple, the only place in which the biblical sacrificial cult could thereafter properly be maintained, Jerusalem and the Temple attained a special status of sanctity in later Jewish law. Without delving into technical details, such as the intricate laws of purity relating to the city and the Temple Mount, let us exam-ine one particular aspect of Jewish law: its territorial component (what the rab-bis call “commandments dependent on the Land [of Israel]”) and its emphasis of Jerusalem.
The Halakhah (Jewish law) is ultimately based, whether directly or deriva-tively, on the written Torah, which, as the rabbis understood it, contains 6l3 mi÷vot, commandments revealed by God to Moses and the Israelites at Sinai.7 Here we come to our first clear evidence of the national character of Jewish religious life, with its central territorial component. The 613 commandments are not addressed to individual Jews alone, but collectively to the Jewish nation, the people of Israel (Benei Yisrael). Obviously the religious way of life prescribed by the 613 commandments is obligatory for individual Jews, wherever they may be and whenever they may live. Nevertheless, among the 613 command-ments, are many which are specifically national and collective in character, and which, in addition, can be performed only in the Land of Israel, or under the conditions of Jewish statehood. Some, moreover, can only be performed within the context of the priestly cult in the Temple in Jerusalem. Such religious obli-gations as settling the land, building the Temple, establishing cities of refuge for involuntary or accidental homicide, gathering the people every seven years for the public reading of the Torah by the king, etc., are national in nature: the individual Jew, by himself for herself, has no way to fulfill these obligations. The commandments relating to agriculture, the seventh year of release and the
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
215
Jubilee, can only be performed in, and are only applicable to, the Land of Israel. The rites pertaining to purification and sacrifices (individual and national, obligatory and voluntary) as well as the pilgrimage can be performed only as part of the priestly cult which was limited to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The individual Jew outside the Land of Israel, then, is by definition inca-pable of performing personally, or even of participating in, the full regimen of religious obligations required by the Torah, no matter how personally pious he or she may be. It is only within the Lund of Israel, in the context of a Jewish State and with the priestly cult functioning in the Temple in Jerusalem, that the 613 commandments can be completely put into practice by the Jewish people us a whole.
Perhaps one of the most extreme examples of the centrality of this national-territorial component in Jewish life is the statement of the talmudic rabbis: “A person should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city with an idolatrous majority, and should not live outside the Land, even in a city with a Jewish ma-jority, for whoever lives in the Land of Israel resembles one who has God, and whoever lives outside the Land resembles one who has no God.”8
Now there is always a gap of “cognitive dissonance” separating theoretical ideals from practical reality. Moreover, even on a theoretical level, one extreme ideal is often counter-balanced by another equally important and valid ideal. This statement is, after all, preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, and for much of Jewish history, including most of the last nineteen centuries, the overwhelm-ing majority of Jews have lived outside the Land of Israel.
Nevertheless, the Land of Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, occupy a spe-cial place in Jewish law (which, for example, regards the failure of a spouse to accompany his or her partner to Israel as grounds for divorce). As we shall see, the Jews traditionally always regarded themselves as having been involuntarily exiled from their homeland, and prayed for its and their restoration.
The territorial imperative is a central feature of Jewish life from its very begin-nings in the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants. In the words of the biblical story:
The Lord said to Abram: Go from your country, from your birthplace and from your father’s home, to the land which I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and will curse those who curse you; through you will all the families of the earth be blessed.”9
When Abram and his family then moved to the land of Canaan, “the Lord appeared to Abram and said: I will give this land to your seed.”10 Thereafter, God showed Abram the whole land and said:
I will give all the land which you see to you and to your seed forever. . . . Get up and walk through the land, its length and breadth, for I will give it to you.11
The land is also a central component of the subsequent affirmation of that promise in “the covenant between the pieces” (berit bein ha-betarim)12 as it is in God’s blessing and re-naming of Abram as Abraham:
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
216
I will give you and your seed after you the land of your inhabitation, all the land of Canaan, as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.13
Given the centrality of the Promised Land as a whole in Israel’s covenant with God, how did Jerusalem attain its particular position of primacy? Here, again, we see how inseparable Jerusalem’s spiritual significance is from secular national considerations. To understand this gradual process of increasing pri-macy of Jerusalem as the center—national as well as religious—of Jewish life, we must briefly survey some main points in the early history of the city, during the formative biblical and rabbinic periods of Judaism.
Jerusalem: An Early Historical Survey—Formative Pe-riods of Judaism
Jerusalem plays no special role in the Patriarchal period; other Canaanite cities, including ¢evron, Be’er Sheva and Shechem are much more prominent in the stories of that time. Nevertheless, later traditions associate Jerusalem with Abraham, who was blessed by “Malki-Tzedek, king of Shalem,”14 and whose attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac15 took place on Mount Moriah, later associ-ated with Mount Zion, on which the first and second Temples stood.16
Centuries later, the Israelite tribes, led by Joshua, were unable to conquer Jerusalem, at that time a Jebusite city, which lay between the tribal territory of Judah to the south and Benjamin to the north.17 The city’s vital geographic and topographic location, astride the continental divide and the intersection of major inland highways, gave it special strategic importance in the control of the heart-land of the country, its traffic, communications and commerce.
King David, who had already served seven years as king of the southern tribe of Judah, based in ¢evron,18 recognized the importance of Jerusalem to his effort to unite the country us a whole. The Bible describes how David, with soldiers from “all of Israel” (north and south) under his command,19 was able to capture the city from within, by climbing the vertical water shaft (which still stands), which the Jebusites had carved from the Gihon spring in the Kidron valley to the city’s east, up to the center of the city on the `Ophel ridge.20 David then purchased the land immediately north of the city,21 and built an altar on the site upon which his son Solomon subsequently built the Temple.22 The Temple Mount, or Mount Zion, namely the high ground and peak of the ridge to the north of Jebusite Jerusalem, was from the perspective of the original “City of David,” the acropolis of Jerusalem.
David thus established Jerusalem, with its central but neutral location be-tween the north and south, as the new national capital (much as George Wash-ington did when proposing the site for the American capital). David’s son Solomon continued the process of political centralization by redistricting the country into twelve administrative departments, each headed by a governor (ni÷av), the boundaries of which cut across the old tribal lines (much as Napo-leon did when he redistricted France into the modern Departments).23
In both first and second Temple times, Jerusalem expanded greatly, reach-ing its apex only a few decades before its destruction by the Romans in the
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
217
Great Jewish Revolt, in the year 70 C.E. Nevertheless, many Jews continued to live in the city, and the Romans continued to recognize the country as “Judaea” (Judah) and the city as “Hierosolyma” (Jerusalem). A generation later, how-ever, the Jewish population of the country again rebelled under the leadership of Bar Kokhba, and now the Romans, under Hadrian, decided to eliminate the Jews and Judaism. Jerusalem was plowed under with salt, and in its place the Romans built Aelia Capitolina, the walls of which serve to this day as the basis for the sixteenth-century Ottoman Turkish walls of the Old City. It was at this time (135 C.E.) that the Romans, in order to de-Judaize the country, changed its name from “Judaea” to “Palestina,” after the ancient enemies of Israel, the bib-lical Philistines, who had disappeared from the map of history centuries before.
Jerusalem thus historically symbolizes the status of the country as a whole. In all its history, the Land has been a separate and integral territory, with a dis-tinct identity and name of its own, and governed by its natives, only three times, and only at these times has Jerusalem been its capital: during the biblical period of the First Temple, during the period of the Second Temple, and since 1948.
At all other times, the country was never independent, but was a province of a larger empire, and Jerusalem was not its capital, whether in Roman times, or during the centuries of changing Islamic rule, including the Ummayads (based in Damascus), the `Abassids (based in Baghdad), the Mamlukes (based in Egypt), and the Ottoman Turks. In all these periods the country also had no distinctive identity or name of its own. In classical Arabic literature, the country is simply referred to us “A-Sham” (Syria), and the name “Filastin” is a modern version of the European “Palestina.”
Jerusalem’s Spiritual Significance
It is the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish law and history, then, that en-dows the city with its spiritual significance in Judaism. Because of its being the capital of the country whenever it enjoyed independence, Jerusalem came to embody Jewish national aspirations. As we have seen, Jerusalem also came to symbolize Jewish fidelity to the Torah (since the 613 commandments can be fulfilled completely only within the national framework of a Jewish state in the land, end with the priestly cult functioning in the Temple in Jerusalem).
It is within this framework that we can now begin to appreciate the spiri-tual significance of the city as well. The political centralization initiated by David and Solomon was focused on Jerusalem, and was, at the same time, a religious centralization of worship in the Temple. Jerusalem thus came to repre-sent the true worship of God, in contradistinction to the popular idolatrous bamot (altars or high places) and other local shrines that continued to thrive for centuries around the country, in defiance of Jerusalem. The words of Isaiah and Micah therefore have both immediate, contemporary meaning as well as es-chatological significance: “For out of Zion will come the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”24
With the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple by the Babyloni-ans in 586 B.C.E. (one and a half centuries after the northern kingdom of Israel, which had seceded from the united monarchy after the death of Solomon, fell to
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
218
the Assyrians), the Jews in Babylonian exile now faced a new problem: how to survive nationally and function religiously despite the loss of Jerusalem us both their national and religious center. The problem was expressed most eloquently by the psalmist, in words which became, in subsequent centuries, a sort of Jew-ish pledge of allegiance:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and cried, as we remembered Zion. On the willows therein we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors [asked us] for mirth: sing for us some of the songs of Zion. But how can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand be paralyzed. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not elevate Jerusalem above my greatest joy.25
The significance is clear: the Jews had been removed from the heart of Zion, but Zion was never removed from the Jewish heart.
The Jewish liturgy—study and prayer—of the new institution of the syna-gogue (a miqdash me`at, a miniature Temple) gradually began to evolve in Babylonian exile to fill the vacuum created by the loss of the sacrificial cult in the Jerusalem Temple, and continued in Second Temple times to serve as a sur-rogate for the Temple cult for Jews who lived outside the Land, and even in the Land. By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., the synagogue liturgy had attained the basic classical structure that has survived and is still used in traditional Jewish worship today.
The restoration of Jerusalem, as both a national and religious center, thus became a dominant theme in much of Jewish worship and ritual, and came to symbolize both Jewish national survival and fidelity to the Torah, and indeed eventually the hopes for the messianic era, when the Jews would be restored to Zion and Zion to the Jews.
This is why the two most sacred ceremonies of the Jewish calendar, the fast day of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and the seder (the order of the ser-vice) on the evening of Passover, conclude with the works, La-Shanah Ha-Ba’ah Bi-Yerushalayim (“Next year in Jerusalem”). This also is why, to this day, the Jews, wherever in the world they may be, turn in prayer towards Jeru-salem. The ruins of ancient synagogues (such us the one on Masada and others in the Galilee) provide material evidence of the antiquity of this orientation towards Jerusalem in prayer.
The Multi-Faceted Symbolism of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, then, came progressively to symbolize ever more levels of meaning in Judaism. First, of course, it represented the political union of the country as its national capital. Then—although this process was gradual and encountered popular resistance—Jerusalem came to represent the true worship of God, as the idolatrous bamot (high places, altars) eventually were sup-pressed. When Jerusalem was destroyed and could no longer effectively serve as an actual religious center for the Jews in exile, it came to serve as a spiritual
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
219
center, symbolizing their fidelity to the Torah and their yearning for national and religious restoration. The memory of the past fueled the hopes for the fu-ture, and Jerusalem thus came to be associated with, and to epitomize, Israel’s messianic expectations. The identification of Jerusalem with the messianic fu-ture, in turn, led to a vision of the ideal, heavenly Jerusalem—yerushalayim shel ma`alah—in contrast with the desolate, real earthly Jerusalem—yerushalayim shel matah. Jerusalem the ideal thus took on universalist connota-tions and even cosmic significance, reflected in popular legends, far transcend-ing its particular connotations as Israel’s national and religious center.
This progression of levels of meaning, however, is a logical construct and not an actual chronological development. The levels of meaning are often inter-twined, representing congruent dimensions of Jewish life. Moreover, depending on their spiritual temperament or disposition, people might find more meaning in one level than the other. Thus, towards the end of the Second Temple period, the corruption of the political and religious leadership in Jerusalem under Ro-man occupation led some Jews, notably in the Dead Sea communities and among the early Jewish-Christians, to secessionist apocalyptic emphasis of the ideal heavenly Jerusalem, whereas others, notably in the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.) and the Bar Kokhba Rebellion (132–135 C.E.), opted for military confrontation with Rome in the name of messianic expectations of Jerusalem’s national restoration, both before and after its actual destruction in 70 C.E.
Jerusalem’s Symbolism in Jewish Liturgy And Ritual
One of the primary areas in which the traditional symbolism of Jerusalem is expressed is Jewish liturgy and rituals For example, among the “seven bless-ings” invoked at the Jewish wedding ceremony, the symbolism of Jerusalem is prominent:
May she who is childless be happy and glad as her children are gathered to-gether in her midst in joy. Blessed are you, Lord, who makes Zion rejoice in her children. . . . Soon, Lord our God, may there be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of gladness and the sound of rejoic-ing, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.
The wedding ceremony traditionally then ends as the groom breaks a glass in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem, so that even at this moment of supreme joy, the words of the psalmist are fulfilled: “if I do not elevate Jeru-salem above my greatest joy.”
The joy of a new couple building a new “household in Israel” is thus ex-plicitly linked to the joy of the rebuilding of Zion as the national home. This may explain the custom in talmudic times of Jewish husbands (a notable exam-ple is Rabbi Akiba, who suffered a martyr’s death in the Bar Kokhba Rebel-lion), who gave their wives a “Jerusalem of Gold” (yerushalayim shel zahav), a golden pendant in the shape of the city.26
Conversely, on the other end of the spectrum of Jewish rites of passage, a person mourning the death of a member of the family is traditionally comforted
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
220
by visitors who greet him or her with the words: “May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
The standard, regular daily liturgy is similarly replete with references to the return to Zion and the restoration of Jerusalem. The morning service introduces the Shema’ Yisrael,27 proclaiming the unity of God, with the hope that God may “shine a new light on Zion,” and “bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth, and cause us to walk sovereignly in our land.” The central prayer recited thrice daily includes such phrases as:
Return compassionately to Jerusalem, your city. . . . Rebuild it as an eternal building soon in our day. . . . Blessed are you, Lord, the builder of Jerusalem. . . . May our eyes behold your compassionate return to Zion. Blessed are you, Lord, who restores his presence to Zion.
When the Torah scroll is removed from the ark for public reading, a colla-tion of biblical verses is recited, including:
Compassionate father, benefit Zion with your favor; rebuild the walls of Jeru-salem.28 . . . For out of Zion will come the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.29
The Sabbath and especially the major seasonal festivals were times of mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The additional special prayers recited on these occa-sions reflect the focus on Jerusalem that is felt with particular intensity at these times:
On account of our sins were we exiled from our country and taken far away from our land, so that we are not able to make the pilgrimage and to appear and bow down before you and to fulfill our obligations in your chosen [Tem-ple], that great and sacred house which is called by your name, because of the hand which was sent against your sanctuary. May it be favorable to you, Lord our God and the God of our ancestors . . . to return and have compassion for us and for your sanctuary. . . . Rebuild it quickly. . . . Bring near those of us who are scattered from among the nations, and gather together those of us who are dispersed from the corners of the earth. Bring us to Zion your city in glad song, and to Jerusalem the site of your Temple in eternal joy.
One of the most expressive phrases is found in the prayer which asks God to “have compassion on Zion, for it is the home of our life,” encapsulating the significance of Jerusalem in Judaism: The rabbis felt, in a very real sense, that it is beit ²ayyenu, “the home of our life,” however far removed they were from Jerusalem geographically.
Because Jerusalem was felt to be the ultimate Jewish home, its destruction was, and still is among traditionally observant Jews, mourned so deeply. With the exception of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” on which the total fast of more than 24 hours serves the aim of purity and repentance, the other fasts in the Jewish calendar generally serve to mourn progressive stages in the destruc-tion of Jerusalem. Minor daytime fasts commemorate, for example the siege of Jerusalem and the breaching of its walls, and culminate in the only other 24
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
221
hour fast in Jewish practice, on the ninth day of the summer month of Av, on which day, over six hundred years apart, both the First and Second Temples fell.
However, in the words of the prophet Isaiah 66:10:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad in her, all who love her; be joyful with her in joy, all who mourn for her.
Those who mourned all their lives for the ancient destruction of Jerusalem hoped to share in the joy of her restoration. That is why, in the sixteenth cen-tury, the poet and mystic Shelomo Alkabetz could explicitly link the theme of Jerusalem’s desolation and restoration to the transition from the mundane sor-rows and worries of the workday week to the joyful pleasures of the Sabbath, which in rabbinic lore is a “foretaste of the world to come.” Six of the nine stanzas of Alkabetz’s beautiful poem, “Lekha Dodi” (“Come, my lover”), which was adopted by all Jewish communities for the Friday sunset service welcoming the Sabbath, deal with Jerusalem. For example:
Come, my lover, to meet the bride, let us welcome the Sabbath. . . . Sanctuary of the king, royal city / Arise and get out of your ruins. Long have you sat in the valley of weeping / He will show you compassion.
Shake off your dust and arise / Put on your glorious clothes, my people. Be near to my soul and redeem it / through [David] the son of Jesse, the Bethle-hemite.
Awake, awake / for your light has come, arise and shine! Waken, waken, sing a song / The glory of the Lord is revealed to you.
Those who despoil you will become a spoil / and those who would master you will be distant.
Your God will rejoice over you / As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
The last verse, based on Isaiah 62:5, again makes the explicit analogy be-tween the joyous restoration of Jerusalem and the joy of bride and groom. The circle of symbolism is thus complete: Jerusalem restored is irrevocably linked in the historic Jewish imagination with the sacred joys of marriage, the Sabbath, and the messianic era.
The Love of Zion in Medieval Hebrew Literature: Judah Ha-Levi
In the post-talmudic literature of the Middle Ages, the love of Zion, and the mourning for its destruction and desolation and for the Jewish people’s exile, were perhaps expressed most beautifully and poignantly by the poet and phi-losopher Judah Ha-Levi (Spain, 1085–1141) in his exquisite Hebrew poetry.30
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
222
(His poem on “Zion” was incorporated into the liturgy of the Ninth of Av by many Jewish communities).
Ha-Levi had no illusions that in his day the Land in general, and Jerusalem in particular, were, in the biblical phrase, “flowing with milk and honey.” In one of his most famous poems, “My Heart is in the East,” Ha-Levi compares his situation, in Islamic Spain, to that of Zion, which in his day was the “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” as a result of the first Crusade.
My heart is in the east, and I am in the farthest west. / How can I taste what-ever I eat, and how can it be pleasing? / How can I fulfill my vows and my pledges, while / Zion is in the territory of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia? / It would be easy for me to abandon all the goodness of Spain, / just as it would be precious for me to see the dust of the desolate Temple.
“Zion is in the territory of Edom,” Edom being the rabbinic code-word for Rome, and Rome, of course, symbolizing the Church, whose Crusadors had conquered parts of the Land. Ha-Levi is “in the chains of Arabia,” in Islamic Spain, but he is not hungry. In this, the “golden age” of Spanish Jewry under Islamic rule, his hunger is spiritual, not physical: how can he enjoy “all the goodness of Spain” while he and Zion respectively are prisoners? Better, then, the “dust of the desolate Temple” than “all the goodness of Spain.”
In another poem, “Beautiful Vista, Joy of the Earth,” which incorporates and plays lovingly with biblical imagery, especially from the Psalms, Ha-Levi similarly yearns for Zion:
Beautiful vista, joy of the earth, city of the great king. / My soul longs for you from the corners of the west. / . . . Shall I not cherish your stones and kiss them? / The taste of your clods of earth will be more pleasing to my mouth than honey.
Finally, in a long poem called “Zion,” Ha-Levi, who never reached Israel (he set out from Spain in 1141, and reached Egypt, but probably died before reaching Israel),31 lovingly depicts in his imagination place after place in the land, each with its biblical associations. The poem begins thus:
Zion, will you not seek the peace of your prisoners,/ Who seek your peace, they who are the remnants of your flocks? / From west and east, from north and south, Peace! / From far and near, bear from every side. / The peace of the prisoner is the desire, to shed his tears like the dew / of the Hermon, longing to let them fall on your hills. / I am the jackal to cry for your affliction. But when I dream / of the return of your captivity, I am the harp for your songs.
The Jews, who are prisoners for Zion’s sake, seek nothing more than the peace of Zion, and to water its soil with their tears. Borrowing in the last two lines from Psalm 126, (“A Psalm of ascents. When the Lord returned the captiv-ity of Zion, we were like dreamers”), Ha-Levi can see himself as the harp for Zion’s songs.
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
223
In turn, hundreds of years later, in 1967, the Israeli poet and song-writer Naomi Shemer could compose a song about Jerusalem, “the city which dwells alone, and in its heart is a wall.” The refrain then continues:
Jerusalem of gold, of copper and of light, / Am I not the harp for all your songs?
Given the traditional attachment to Zion as “the home of our life,” it was natural for Judah Ha-Levi to borrow images from the Psalms of David, and for Naomi Shemer, in turn, to borrow from Judah Ha-Levi, when singing of the City of David, and for her to name her song “Jerusalem of Gold,” after the gift that husbands like Rabbi Akiba would give their wives.
Jerusalem’s power as a symbol of Jewish commitment, loyalty and fidelity however, transcends the particulars of Jewish partisanship and sectarianism. All sides, regardless of ideology, identified their Jewish ideals with Jerusalem. Je-rusalem’s transcending power as such a symbol has continued to permeate Jew-ish life in the modern world as well.
The modern movement of the Jewish people to restore itself to nationhood in its ancestral homeland is not coincidentally called “Zionism,” and its nine-teenth century Russian precursor was not accidentally called “¢ibbat /iyon” (“the love of Zion”).32
Jerusalem, however paradoxically, was also the symbol of the beginnings of modern Jewish thought in eighteenth century Germany, a trend often, but unfairly and inaccurately, thought of as promoting Jewish assimilation. The first “modern” Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn (Germany, 1729–1786) was challenged in 1782 by an anonymous “Searcher for Light and Right” to abandon his traditional Jewish way of life as incompatible with modernity, in favor of a universalistic religion of reason, which, in the words of the New Tes-tament, “will worship the Father neither on this mountain (Samaria) nor in Jeru-salem.”33 Mendelssohn’s response was a philosophic defense of traditional Ju-daism as fully consistent with modern concepts of liberty, political toleration and religious pluralism, and that defense was defiantly named “Jerusalem.”34
Jerusalem: Heavenly and Earthly, Universal and Par-ticular
One might be tempted to suggest that, after so many centuries of separation from Zion, the Jerusalem referred to in these prayers and literature is less the real, earthly Jerusalem, the “lower Jerusalem” (yerushalayim shel matah) than the ideal, heavenly Jerusalem, the “upper Jerusalem” (yerushalayim shel ma`alah). Indeed, the mystical tradition saw in the dual form of the name yerushalayim an allusion to the two Jerusalems, the upper and the lower.
It is true, of course, that it was their separation and distance from the lower, earthly Jerusalem which permitted Jews to imagine and depict more freely the ideal, heavenly Jerusalem in their literature and legends, much as Christian art-ists could idealize it from as great a distance in their paintings. However, there was nevertheless, an essential difference: for the Jews, the ideal or allegorical
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
224
meaning could never supplant, but could only supplement and enhance, the real or the literal meaning.
Even the romantic poet of the twelfth century, Judah Ha-Levi, had no illu-sions about the earthly Jerusalem, which in its desolation could not possibly compete on a material level with “all the goodness of Spain.” But his love of Zion, however romantic end idealized, never lost sight of “the dust of the ru-ined Temple.”
We began this paper by rejecting as impossible in a Jewish context any di-chotomy between the spiritual and the physical, the sacred and the secular, the religious and the national dimensions of life.
Here, too, we must reject the facile dichotomy between the upper, heavenly Jerusalem and the lower, earthly Jerusalem. Without the cosmic, universal vi-sion of the upper Jerusalem, the earthly Jerusalem can never be restored. But without the particular earthly Jerusalem, the universal heavenly vision cannot be implemented.
The universal ideal can only give direction to the real particular by tran-scending it. But the universal needs the particular no less than the particular needs the universal, for without the particular, the universal has no foundation in concrete reality, and could therefore never transform it by transcending it.
When the Jews imagined the heavenly Jerusalem, it was thus to give direc-tion and meaning to their hopes for the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem. Therefore, when the Jews hoped for the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem, they saw it as the first and necessary component of the fulfillment of their uni-versal messianic expectations. The eschatological tomorrow, after all, begins with today.
Jerusalem thus signifies in Judaism both the national restoration of the Jewish people in Israel, and the universal era of peace and justice associated with the days of the Messiah.
And yet, no one knows as much as a Jerusalemite, especially in these diffi-cult days, how very great the gap is between what we have in reality and what we hope for ideally. Jerusalem is anything but the “city of peace.” Its imperfec-tions and troubles are myriad.
The vision of Jerusalem, what it can and should be, is what keeps Jerusa-lemites going. When the prophet Zechariah saw a vision of Jerusalem welcom-ing all the nations who would come to worship God each year during the fall festival,35 he first saw a bloody struggle for the city. I hope he was wrong, al-though sometimes I fear he may have been all too correct.
Note again, however, that in the prophecies of Zechariah and the other an-cient prophets of Israel, there is no dichotomy between the particular and the universal, between the national and the spiritual. Universal justice cannot be attained without particular national justice, and the notion that all nations will one day come to know the divine truth is inseparable, for the biblical prophets as for later rabbinic Judaism, from the notion that it is the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, which will be the focus of devotion for all peo-ple, Jews and non-Jews alike. It would falsify the message of the prophets if we restricted their moral concern to Israel alone, but it would pervert their message if we ignored its Jewish national foundation.
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
225
Jerusalem is thus simultaneously a universal human symbol and a particu-lar Jewish symbol. As such, it deserves the dual form of its name Yerushalayim. Because Jerusalem signifies both universal, true worship of God and the messi-anic fulfillment of history, as well as particular Jewish sovereignty, which are seen as inherently correlated, it is Jerusalem which symbolizes the eschatologi-cal hopes of the prophets of Israel. There is no inconsistency here between the prophets’ particular concern for their nation, Israel, and their correlative univer-sal concern for all humanity.
Both elements—the particular and the universal—are reflected in the words of Isaiah:
For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still, until her righteousness go forth like light, and her salvation like a burning torch.36
Universal humanity is constructed from particular units—family, nation, etc.—and to deny those units is to preclude the existence of a pluralistic human-ity. For Jews, their particular nationhood is a building-block of a larger human-ity, through which it fulfills its covenantal role—a covenant which, however, cannot exist independently of the nation bearing its responsibilities. The spirit of the covenant of Israel, with all its universalism, cannot exist without the body of the Jewish people.
Conversely, a particular ideology, whether national or religious or political, which precludes the dignity of all human beings, is a denial both of the God who created us all, and of the divine image in which we were created and which it is our task to perfect.
In conclusion, then, from a Jewish perspective, Jerusalem has simultaneous universal spiritual significance to all for whom the ultimate truth is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and particular national significance for the people of Israel. These dimensions of Jerusalem’s significance are ultimately correlative, inseparable and inextricable.
That is why the prophet Isaiah (and also the prophet Micah, in almost iden-tical words) could have a vision of Jerusalem that is both heavenly and earthly, ideal and real: heavenly and ideal in its direction and goal, but earthly and real in that it is here and now that we must begin to implement it.
It will come to be at the end of days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established at the top of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will flow to it. Many peoples will go and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion will come the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.37
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
226
???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ????
Notes
1. All translations from the Hebrew are by the author. This paper was originally deliv-ered at a colloquium in Glion, Switzerland (2–6 May, 1993) convened by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Holy See’s Com-mission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and was subsequently published in The Spiritual Significance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims, ed. Hans Ucko (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1994), pp. 38–56. Among the vast English literature on Jeru-salem, the following articles are particularly noteworthy for inter-religious perspec-tives: R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, “Jerusalem: Holy City of Three Religions in Jaar-bericht—Ex Oriente Lux, No. 23 (1973–1974), pp. 423–439; reprinted by the Jerusalem Committee (1973); Shelomo Dov Goitein, “The Sanctity of Jerusalem and Palestine in Early Islam,” in Studies in Islamic History and Institutions (Lei-den, 1966), ch. 7, pp. 135–148; Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Jerusalem—A Charis-matic City,” in Israel: An Echo of Eternity (New York, 1969), pp. 5–38; Emanuel Sivan, “The Beginnings of the Fada’il Al-Quds Literature,” in Israel Oriental Stud-ies, Vol. 1 (1971), pp. 263–271; Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, “The Sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam,” in Some Religious Aspects of Islam (Leiden l981), pp. 58–71. The He-brew reader is referred to Jerusalem Through the Ages (Jerusalem, 1968), espe-cially the articles by Ephraim Urbach, “Heavenly and Earthly Jerusalem;” R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, “Jerusalem—The Metropolis of All the Countries;” and Joshua Prawer, “Christianity Between Heavenly and Earthly Jerusalem.”
2. Only some 20% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs, and in the Middle East alone, including Israel, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of non-Arab Muslims and non-Muslim Arabs. Arab nationality and Islamic religion are not to be confused.
3. Personal correspondence with the author.
4. Ruth 1:16.
5. Abraham Solomon Halkin, Zion in Jewish Literature (Philadelphia: Jewish Publica-tion Society, 1964).
6. Zev Vilnay, Legends of Jerusalem (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973). The volume is part of a larger work, The Legends of the Holy Land, origi-nally published in Hebrew. The volume on Jerusalem contains over 300 legends, the overwhelming majority of which are of Jewish origin, but which also include some legends originating with local Arab sources or with Christian pilgrims.
7. In this inter-religious context, it is interesting to note that the term halakhah, which denotes Jewish law but literally means “the way,” is paralleled in Islam by shari`ah, also meaning “the way.” Similarly, aggadah, narrative lore in Judaism, is paralleled by ²adith (also meaning narrative) in Islam.
8. Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot l00b.
9. Genesis 12:1–3. For discussions of the concept of covenant and Israel’s chosen-ness, see my articles: “The Concept of the Chosen People,” in Judaism 170 (Spring, 1994), pp. 127–148; “Educating for Interreligious Responsibility: Ritual Exclusivity vs. Spiritual Inclusivity,” in Caring for Future Generations: Jewish, Christian and Islamic Perspectives, ed. Emmanuel Agius and Lionel Chircop (Twickenham: Admantine Press, 1998), pp. 20–41; “Chosenness in Judaism: Ex-clusivity vs. Inclusivity,” in Covenant and Chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism, ed. R. Jospe, T. Madsen, S. Ward (Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson Uni-versity Press—Associated University Presses, 2001), pp. 173–194.
10. Genesis 12:7.
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
227
???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ????
11. Genesis 13:15–17.
12. Genesis 15.
13. Genesis 17:8.
14. Genesis 14:18–20.
15. Genesis 22.
16. In II Chronicles 3:1, the association of the Temple Mount with Mount Moriah is explicit: “Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.”
17. In Joshua 15, the boundaries of Judah circumvented Jebusite Jerusalem and ap-proached “the ridge of the Jebusite, which is Jerusalem, from the south” (Joshua 15:8). “The children of Judah were unable to expel to Jebusites who inhabited Jeru-salem, and the Jebusites dwelled with the children of Judah in Jerusalem until this day” (Joshua 15:63). Thus also the boundaries of Benjamin, which skirted the city from the north (Joshua 18:16, 27). In Joshua 10, we see that the Israelite forces led by Joshua defeated the alliance of five Canaanite kings led by Adoni-Tzedek, king of Jerusalem and killed the kings, but the city of Jerusalem itself was not con-quered. Cf. Joshua 12:10.
18. Cf. II Samuel 5:1–5 and I Chronicles 11:1–3.
19. I Chronicles 11:4 specifies that “David and all of Israel went to Jerusalem.” The version of the story in II Samuel 5:6 says that “David and his men went to Jerusa-lem,” but does not specify that the men were southern Judeans.
20. This shaft (the ÷innor referred to in II Samuel 5:8) seems to have been regarded by the Jebusites as impregnable, and was therefore either unguarded or guarded by “the blind and lame,” who were described as mocking David from the Jebusite heights: “David will not enter here” (II Samuel 5:6). In II Samuel 5:7–9 the story continues: “David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the city of David. . . . David dwelled in the fortress and called it the city of David.” The parallel version in I Chronicles 11:4–7 differs slightly: “David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the city of David. . . . David dwelled in the fortress; therefore they called it the city of David.” On the water system and the Jebusite shaft, see Zvi Abells, Jerusa-lem’s Water Supply: From the 18th Century B.C.E. to the Present (Jerusalem: 1993); Zvi Abells and Asher Arbit, The City of David Water Systems (Jerusalem, 1994). For a different interpretation, cf. Dan Bahat, The Atlas of Biblical Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 1994).
21. Cf. II Samuel 24:18 ff. and I Chronicles 21:18 ff. It is highly significant that David, having conquered the city, refused to confiscate this land. The site for divine wor-ship had to be purchased fairly in peace, and could not be taken in war.
22. Cf. II Chronicles 3:1. In this verse the site is explicitly identified as Mount Moriah.
23. The twelve governors and their respective districts are enumerated in I Kings 4:7 ff.
24. Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2.
25. Psalm 137:1–6.
26. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 59a and Nedarim 50a.
27. Deuteronomy 6:4–9; Deuteronomy 11:13–21; Numbers 15:37–41.
28. Psalm 51:20.
29. Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2.
30. Cf. Selected Poems of Jehudah Halevi, with English translation and notes by Nina Salaman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1928).
31. For pertinent biographical information on the last period of Ha-Levi’s life, cf. Shelomo Dov Goitein, “The Biography of Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi in the Light of the Cairo Geniza Documents,” in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 28. 1959, pp. 41–56. For an explication of aspects of Ha-Levi’s thought, cf. Section I of Volume Two: ch. 1, “Teaching Judah Ha-Levi: Defining
Jerusalem’s Significance in Judaism
228
???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ????
and Shattering Myths in Jewish Philosophy”; ch. 2, “Jewish Particularity from Judah Ha-Levi to Mordecai Kaplan: Implications for Defining Jewish Philosophy”; and ch. 3, “The Superiority of Oral over Written Communication in Judah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari and Modern Jewish Thought.”
32. In his Introduction to his anthology, The Zionist Idea (New York: Doubleday, 1959), Arthur Hertzberg suggests that Zionism cannot be understood as typical na-tionalism in the nineteenth and twentieth century European pattern, since both fun-damental components of European nationalism—common land and common lan-guage—were lacking in the case of the Jews, who wanted to return to their ancestral land and to revive Hebrew as a spoken, secular language. Instead, Hertz-berg argues, Zionism should be understood as “secular Messianism,” i.e., as a mod-ern secular implementation of the age-old messianic impulse in Judaism.
33. John 4:21.
34. On Mendelssohn, see ch. 10 of Volume Two, “Moses Mendelssohn: A Medieval Modernist,” and ch. 3 in this volume, “Sa`adiah Ga’on and Moses Mendelssohn: Pioneers of Jewish Philosophy.” Cf. Alfred Jospe (ed.). Mendelssohn: Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings (New York: Schocken, 1969); Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, translated by Allan Arkush, with Introduction and Commentary by Alexander Altmann (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1983); Moses Mendelssohn: Selections from His Writings, ed. Eva Jospe (New York: Viking, 1975); Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University of Alabama, 1973).
35. Zechariah 14:16.
36. Isaiah 62:1.
37. Isaiah 2:2–3 and Micah 4:1–3.
The Ettinger Report logo

newsletter

Subscribe for our daily news

related articles

Demography

2024 artificially inflated Palestinian demography

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
March 25, 2024

Palestinian demographic numbers are highly-inflated, as documented by a study, which has audited the Palestinian data since 2004.  For example:

*500,000 Arabs, who have been away for over a year, are included in the census, contrary to international regulations. 325,000 were included in the 1997 census, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and 400,000 in 2005, according to the Palestinian Election Commission. The number grows steadily due to births.

*350,000 East Jerusalem Arabs are doubly-counted – by Israel and by the Palestinian Authority. The number grows steadily due to births.

*Over 150,000 Arabs, who married Israeli Arabs are similarly doubly counted. The number expands steadily due to births.   

*A 413,000 net-emigration (since the 1997 first Palestinian census) is ignored by the Palestinian census, overlooking the annual net-emigration since 1950. A 23,445 net-emigration in 2022 and a 20,000 annual average in recent years have been documented by Israel’s Population and Migration Authority in all international passages.  

*A 32% artificial inflation of Palestinian births was documented by the World Bank (page 8, item 6) in a 2006 audit.

*The Judea & Samaria Arab fertility rate has been westernized: from 9 births per woman in the 1960s to 2.9 births in 2022 (In Jordan – similar to Judea & Samaria), reflecting the sweeping urbanization, a growing female enrollment in higher education, rising marriage age and the rising use of contraceptives.

*The number of deaths is under-reported for political and financial reasons.

*The aforementioned artificial inflation of 1.7 million documents a population of 1.55 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria, not the official 3.25 million. In 2024: a 69% Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel, benefitting from a tailwind of fertility and net-immigration, while Arab demography is westernized. In 1947 and 1897: a 39% and 9% Jewish minority.
No Arab demographic time bomb; but, a Jewish demographic momentum. More data in these articles and this short video.

Support Appreciated

Iran

FBI Director Chris Wray defies the State Department on Iran

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel initiative”
June 17, 2024

FBI Director Chris Wray’s position on Islamic terrorism/Iran

FBI Director, Chris Wray reiterated – during his June 4, 2024 Senate testimony and April 11, 2024 House testimony – his warning of an October 7-like terrorism on the US soil:

“We have seen the threat from foreign terrorists rise to a whole another level after the October 7 [Hamas terrorism]….Increasingly concerning is the potential for a coordinated attack here in the [US] homeland, akin to the ISIS attack we saw at the Russia Concert Hall in March, 2024 [137 murdered, 180 wounded]…. Nations such as the PRC, Russia and Iran are becoming more aggressive and more capable than ever before.  These nations seek to undermine our core democratic, economic and scientific institutions….

“We are in an environment where the threats from international terrorism, domestic terrorism and state sponsored terrorism are all simultaneously elevated…. We are paying heightened attention to how the events abroad could directly affect and inspire people to commit violence here in the homeland….

“Our top concern stems from lone offenders inspired by the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, as they pose the most likely threat to Americans.  In recent years, there have been several events in the US that were purportedly motivated, at least in part, by the Israel-Hamas conflict….

Iran and its global proxies and partners, including Iraqi Shia militant groups, attack and plot against the US and our allies throughout the Middle East.  Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force has also provided support to terrorist organizations. And, Iran has supported Lebanese Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Hezbollah has sent operatives to build terrorist infrastructure worldwide [including in Latin America all the way to the US-Mexico border]. The arrests of individuals in the US allegedly linked to Hezbollah’s main overseas terrorist arm, and their intelligence-collection and procurement efforts, demonstrate Hezbollah’s interest in long-term contingency planning activities here in the homeland….

“We continue to see the drug cartels [which intensely collaborate with Iran’s Ayatollahs and Hezbollah, that supply them predator unmanned aerial vehicles and tunnel construction equipment] push fentanyl and other dangerous drugs into every corner of the country, claiming countless American lives….

“Since October 7, we have seen a rogue gallery of foreign terrorist organizations call for attacks against Americans and our allies…. Our most immediate concern has been that [terrorists] will draw twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home….”

The FBI Director Wray’s April 11 and June 4 testimonies followed his alarming testimonies on October 31, 2023 and on November 15, 2023, in the Senate and House Homeland Security Committees.

FBI Director Wray vs. Secretary of State Blinken

*FBI Director Chris Wray recognizes that the October 7, 2023 Hamas terrorism is relevant to the US homeland security, and that Israel’s war on Hamas supports the US’ war on Islamic terrorism. Unlike Director Wray, Secretary of State Blinken has assumed the role of an “honest broker,” ignoring the US-allied role of Israel and the US-enemy role of Hamas, a proxy of Iran’s Ayatollahs and a branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, the largest anti-US Sunni terrorist organization.

*FBI Director Wray considers Iran’s Ayatollahs and their Islamic terror proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as a clear and present threat to the US homeland security. He is aware of their intensified collaboration with the drug cartels in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil, as well as with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and all other anti-US governments in Latin America, the US’ soft underbelly. In contrast, Secretary of State Blinken – true to his multilateralist UN-oriented worldview – has approached Iran’s Ayatollahs as a diplomatic challenge, opposing the options of regime change, and refraining from establishing a potent military threat hovering above the head of the Ayatollahs.

*FBI Director Wray realizes that Iran’s Ayatollahs are the chief epicenter of Hamas, Hezbollah and other components of the global anti-US Islamic terrorism, in addition to the Ayatollahs’ role as the main anti-US drug trafficker, money launderer and proliferator of advanced military systems. However, irrespective of the Ayatollahs’ rogue anti-US track record, Secretary Blinken refrains from defining Iran as a terrorist-state, viewing the Ayatollahs as partners in good-faith negotiations.

*FBI Director Chris Wray is aware that Iran’s Ayatollahs, and other anti-US Islamic terrorists, are driven by a 1,400-year-old fanatical and imperialistic ideology, which aims to bring the “infidel US” to submission. He is convinced that Islamic terrorism should be addressed by national security means, and not via gestures and concessions, which are perceived by terrorists as terror-inducing weakness. On the other hand, Secretary Blinken believes that Islamic terrorism is despair-driven, and therefore, should be addressed via substantial diplomatic and financial gestures, notwithstanding the fact that terrorists bite the hands that feed them (e.g., Iran’s Ayatollahs terrorize the US, which facilitated their rise to power; the Mujahideen’s terrorize the US, which helped them expel the Soviet military from Afghanistan; Libyan Islamic terrorists lynched US diplomats, notwithstanding the US-led NATO military offensive, which helped them topple Gadhafi; etc.).   

*Will the mounting threat of anti-US Islamic terrorism, and the volcanic Middle East reality, cause Secretary Blinken to reassess his position on Iran’s Ayatollahs, Hamas and other forms of Islamic terrorism, by avoiding rather than continuing to repeat critical mistakes, which have undermined the national security and homeland security of the US?

Support Appreciated

Judea & Samaria

Secretary Blinken on settlements – vindicated by facts?

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
February 27, 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken represents conventional wisdom when claiming that “It’s been longstanding US policy… that new settlements are… inconsistent with international law.”

However, conventional wisdom is frequently demolished by the march of facts

For instance:

*According to Prof. Eugene Rostow, who was the co-author of the November 22, 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242, served as Undersecretary of State and was the Dean of Yale University Law School: “Jews have the same right to settle in the West Bank as they have in Haifa.”

*According to UN Resolution 242, Israel is required to withdraw from territories, not the territories, nor from all the territories, but some of the territories, which included Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.  Moreover, according to Prof. Rostow, “resolutions calling for withdrawal from all the territories were defeated in the Security Council and the General Assembly…. Israel was not to be forced back to the fragile and vulnerable [9-15 mile-wide] lines… but to secure and recognized boundaries, agreed to by the parties…. In making peace with Egypt in 1979, Israel withdrew from the entire Sinai… [which amounts to] more than 90% of the territories occupied in 1967….”

*Former President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, stated: “Between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967 (according to Article 52 of the UN Charter), on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has better title in the territory of what was [British Mandate] Palestine…. It follows that modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful…. [The 1967] Israeli conquest of territory was defensive rather than aggressive… [as] indicated by Egypt’s prior closure of the Straits of Tiran, blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat, and the amassing of [Egyptian] troops in Sinai, coupled with its ejection of the UN Emergency Force…[and] Jordan’s initiated hostilities against Israel…. The 1948 Arab invasion of the nascent State of Israel further demonstrated that Egypt’s seizure of the Gaza Strip, and Jordan’s seizure and subsequent annexation of the West Bank and the old city of Jerusalem, were unlawful….” 

*The legal status of Judea and Samaria is embedded in the following 4 authoritative, binding, internationally-ratified documents, which recognize the area for what it has been: the cradle of Jewish history, culture, language, aspirations and religion.

(I) The November 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration, issued by Britain, calling for “the establishment in Palestine (a synonym to the Land of Israel) of a national home for the Jewish people….”
(II) The April 24, 1920 resolution, by the post-First World War San Remo Peace Conference of the Allied Powers Supreme Council, entrusted both sides of the Jordan River to the British Mandate for Palestine, for the reestablishment of the Jewish Commonwealth: “the Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the [Balfour] declaration originally made on November 2, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It was one of over 20 Mandates (trusteeships) established following WW1, responsible for the boundaries of most Arab countries.
(III) The July 24, 1922 Mandate for Palestine was ratified by the Council of the League of Nations, entrusted Britain to establish a Jewish state in the entire area west of the Jordan River, as demonstrated by its 6th article: “[to] encourage… close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands….” The Mandate was dedicated exclusively to Jewish national rights, while guaranteeing the civic rights of all other religious and ethnic groups. On July 23, 1923, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which included the Mandate for Palestine.  
(IV) The October 24, 1945 Article 80 of the UN Charter incorporated the Mandate for Palestine into the UN Charter.  Accordingly, the UN or any other entity cannot transfer Jewish rights in Palestine – including immigration and settlement – to any other party. According to Article 80 of the UN Charter and the Mandate for Palestine, the 1967 war of self-defense returned Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria to its legal owner, the Jewish state.  Legally and geo-strategically the rules of “belligerent occupation” do not apply Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, since they are not “foreign territory,” and Jordan did not have a legitimate title over the West Bank.  Moreover, the rules of “belligerent occupation” do not apply in view of the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. The 1950-67 Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria violated international law and was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan.

*The 1949 4th Geneva Convention prohibits the forced transfer of populations to areas previously occupied by a legitimate sovereign power. However, Israel has not forced Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria, and Jordan’s sovereignty there was never legal.

*The November 29, 1947 UN General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 was a recommendation, lacking legal stature, superseded by the Mandate for Palestine. The 1949 Armistice (non-peace) Agreements between Israel and its neighbors delineated “non-territorial boundaries.”   

*The term “Palestine” was a Greek and then a Roman attempt (following the 135 CE Jewish rebellion) to eradicate Jews and Judaism from human memory. It substituted “Israel, Judea and Samaria” with “Palaestina,” a derivative of the Philistines, an arch enemy of the Jewish people, whose origin was not in Arabia, but in the Greek Aegian islands.    

*The aforementioned march of facts demonstrates that Secretary Blinken’s conventional wisdom on the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria is based on gross misperceptions and misrepresentations, which fuels infidelity to law, undermining the pursuit of peace.

*More on the legality of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria in this article by George Mason University Law School Prof. Eugene Kontrovich.

Support Appreciated

Jerusalem

United Jerusalem – a shared US-Israel legacy and interest

US departure from the recognition of a United Jerusalem as the exclusive capital of the Jewish State, and the site of the US Embassy to Israel, would be consistent with the track record of the State Department, which has been systematically wrong on Middle East issues, such as its opposition to the establishment of the Jewish State; stabbing the back of the pro-US Shah of Iran and Mubarak of Egypt, and pressuring the pro-US Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while courting the anti-US Ayatollahs of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Arafat, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Houthis of Yemen; transforming Libya into a platform of global Islamic terrorism and civil wars; etc..

However, such departure would violate US law, defy a 3,000 year old reality – documented by a litany of archeological sites and a multitude of documents from Biblical time until today – spurn US history and geography, and undermine US national and homeland security.

United Jerusalem and the US law

Establishing a US Consulate General in Jerusalem – which would be a de facto US Embassy to the Palestinian Authority – would violate the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which became US law on November 8, 1995 with substantially more than a veto-override majority on Capitol Hill.

According to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which enjoys massive support among the US population and, therefore, in both chambers of Congress:

“Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected….

“Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the state of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem….

“In 1990, Congress unanimously adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 106, which declares that Congress ‘strongly believes that Jerusalem must remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected….’

“In 1992, the United States Senate and House of Representatives unanimously adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 113… to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, and reaffirming Congressional sentiment that Jerusalem must remain an undivided city….

“In 1996, the state of Israel will celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem since King David’s entry….

“The term ‘United States Embassy’ means the offices of the United States diplomatic mission and the residence of the United States chief of mission.”

United Jerusalem and the legacy of the Founding Fathers

The US Early Pilgrims and Founding Fathers were inspired – in their unification of the 13 colonies – by King David’s unification of the 12 Jewish tribes into a united political entity, and establishing Jerusalem as the capital city, which did not belong to any of the tribes (hence, Washington, DC does not belong to any state). King David entered Jerusalem 3,000 years before modern day US presidents entered the White House and 2,755 years before the US gained its independence.

The impact of Jerusalem on the US founders of the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist system and overall civic life is reflected by the existence, in the US, of 18 Jerusalems (4 in Maryland; 2 in Vermont, Georgia and New York; and 1 in Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Utah, Rhode Island and Tennessee), 32 Salems (the original Biblical name of Jerusalem) and many Zions (a Biblical synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel).  Moreover, in the US there are thousands of cities, towns, mountains, cliffs, deserts, national parks and streets bearing Biblical names.

The Jerusalem reality and US interests

Recognizing the Jerusalem reality and adherence to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act – and the subsequent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the site of the US Embassy to Israel – bolstered the US posture of deterrence in defiance of Arab/Islamic pressure and threats.

Contrary to the doomsday assessments by the State Department and the “elite” US media – which have been wrong on most Middle East issues – the May 2018 implementation of the 1995 law did not intensify Palestinian, Arab and Islamic terrorism. State Department “wise men” were equally wrong when they warned that Israel’s 1967 reunification of Jerusalem would ignite a worldwide anti-Israel and anti-US Islamic volcanic eruption.

Adherence to the 1995 law distinguishes the US President, Congress and most Americans from the state of mind of rogue regimes and terror organizations, the anti-US UN, the vacillating Europe, and the cosmopolitan worldview of the State Department, which has systematically played-down the US’ unilateral, independent and (sometimes) defiant national security action.

On the other hand, US procrastination on the implementation of the 1995 law – by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama – eroded the US posture of deterrence, since it was rightly perceived by the world as appeasement in the face of pressure and threats from Arab/Muslim regimes and terrorists.  As expected, it radicalized Arab expectations and demands, failed to advance the cause of Israel-Arab peace, fueled Islamic terrorism, and severely undermined US national and homeland security. For example, blowing up the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and murdering 224 persons in August 1998; blowing up the USS Cole destroyer in the port of Aden and murdering 17 US sailors in October 2000; the 9/11 Twin Towers massacre, etc.

Jerusalem and Israel’s defiance of US pressure

In 1949, President Truman followed Secretary of State Marshall’s policy, pressuring Israel to refrain from annexing West Jerusalem and to accept the internationalization of the ancient capital of the Jewish people.

in 1950, in defiance of brutal US and global pressure to internationalize Jerusalem, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion reacted constructively by proclaiming Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish State, relocating government agencies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and settling tens of thousands of Olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) in Jerusalem. He upgraded the transportation infrastructure to Jerusalem, erected new Jewish neighborhoods along the 1949 cease fire lines in Jerusalem, and provided the city land reserves for long-term growth.

In 1953, Ben Gurion rebuffed President Eisenhower’s pressure – inspired by Secretary of State Dulles – to refrain from relocating Israel’s Foreign Ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In 1967, President Johnson followed the advice of Secretary of State Rusk – who opposed Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence – highlighting the international status of Jerusalem, and warned Israel against the reunification of Jerusalem and construction in its eastern section. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol adopted Ben Gurion’s statesmanship, fended off the US pressure, reunited Jerusalem, built the first Jerusalem neighborhood beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines, Ramat Eshkol, in addition to the first wave of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights.

In 1970, President Nixon collaborated with Secretary of State Rogers, attempting to repartition Jerusalem, pressuring Israel to relinquish control of Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, and to stop Israel’s plans to construct additional neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.  However, Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to rescind the reunification of Jerusalem, and proceeded to lay the foundation for additional Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines: Gilo, Ramot Alon, French Hill and Neve’ Yaakov, currently home to 150,000 people.

In 1977-1992, Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir defied US and global pressure, expanding construction in Jerusalem, sending a clear message: “Jerusalem is the exclusive and non-negotiable capital of Israel!”

“[In 1978], at the very end of [Prime Minister Begin’s] successful Camp David talks with President Jimmy Carter and President Anwar Sadat, literally minutes before the signing ceremony, the American president had approached [Begin] with ‘Just one final formal item.’ Sadat, said the president, was asking that Begin put his signature to a simple letter committing him to place Jerusalem on the negotiating table of the final peace accord.  ‘I refused to accept the letter, let alone sign it,’ rumbled Begin. ‘If I forgot thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,’ said [Begin] to the president of the United States of America, ‘and may my tongue cleave to my mouth’ (The Prime Ministers – An Intimate Portrait of Leaders of Israel, 2010)”

In 2021, Prime Minister Bennett should follow in the footsteps of Israel’s Founding Father, Ben Gurion, who stated: “Jerusalem is equal to the whole of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem is not just a central Jewish settlement. Jerusalem is an invaluable global historical symbol. The Jewish People and the entire world shall judge us in accordance with our steadfastness on Jerusalem (“We and Our Neighbors,” p. 175. 1929).”

Support Appreciated

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish Holidays

Shavou’ot (Pentecost) guide for the perplexed, 2024

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
June 9, 2024

More on Jewish holidays: Smashwords, Amazon

1. Shavou’ot (June 11-12, 2024) and the Land of Israel

*Shavou’ot commemorates the receipt of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). It is one of the three liberty-driven Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem:  Passover, Shavou’ot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). It documents the critical linkage between Judaism, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. These pilgrimages constitute central milestones in the formation of Jewish history and the 4,000-year-old Jewish roots in the Land of Israel.

*Shavou’ot is an historical, national, agricultural and a spiritual extension of Passover. Passover highlights the physical liberty from slavery in Egypt; Shavou’ot highlights spiritual liberty, embracing the values of the Five Books of Moses, the Ten Commandments and The Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkey Avot). Therefore, the eve of Shavou’ot is dedicated to an all-night study of Jewish values.

*Shavou’ot is also called the Holiday of the Harvest (Bikoorim in Hebrew), since it concludes the harvesting season, which starts during Passover.

*Shavou’ot commemorates the 40 years of the Exodus, which entailed tough challenges on the road to the Land of Israel, forging the state-of-mind of the Jewish people and the Jewish State. 

*Shavou’ot means “weeks” in Hebrew and its root is identical to the root of the Hebrew word for “vows” (שבע), which is the same word for “seven.” It documents the seven weeks between Passover (the Exodus) and Shavou’ot.

*Shavou’ot highlights the prerequisites for a secure Land of Israel: the willingness to sustain blood, sweat and tears; faith and principle-driven tenacity in the face of severe odds; the steeper the hurdle, the more critical is the mission; crises are opportunities in disguise.

2. Shavou’ot’s impact on the formation of the US

*The holiday of Shavou’ot commemorates the legacy of Moses, which had a significant impact on the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, and the formation of the US culture, civic life, the federal system (e.g., the Separation of Powers), the US Revolution, The Federalist Papers, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. 

  • *The Liberty Bell and the Abolitionist Movement were inspired by the Biblical concept of Jubilee – the role model of Biblical liberty – which is a cardinal component of the Mosaic legacy. The essence of the Jubilee is engraved on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).”
  • *The Liberty Bell was installed in Philadelphia in 1752, 50years following William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, and eventually inspiring the 50 States in the union. According to the Biblical Jubilee, all slaves must be released, and land must be returned to the original proprietors every 50 years. Shavou’ot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, and Pentecost – a derivative of the Greek word for 50 – is celebrated 50 days following Easter.  According to Judaism, there are 50 gates of wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavou’ot.
  • 3. The Scroll of Ruth (Honor thy mother in-law…)
  • Shavou’ot spotlights the Scroll of Ruth, the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five Jewish holidays: Ruth (Shavou’ot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot/Tabernacles), Book of Lamentations (the Ninth day of Av), Esther (Purim).
  • *Ruth was a Moabite Princess, who joined the Jewish people, and became the great grandmother of King David. She was a role model of loyalty to her Jewish mother in-law. Ruth is exemplary of humility, gratitude, responsibility, reliability, faith, optimism and respect of fellow human beings. Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, during Naomi’s roughest time, when she lost her husband, Elimelech (a President of the Tribe of Judah), two sons and property.
  • *The stature of Ruth reflects the centrality of Biblical women: the four Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel; Yocheved, Miriam and Tziporah, the mother, older sister and the wife of Moses; Deborah the Prophetess, Judge and military leader; Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet; Queen Esther and Yael, who delivered the Jewish people from potential oblivion; etc.  
  • The Scroll of Ruth took place in the Judean Desert (in Judea and Samaria), the cradle of Jewish history, religion, culture, language and ethnicity.

4. The Ethics of the Fathers  (Pirkey Avot in Hebrew)

It is customary to study – from Passover through Shavou’ot – the six brief chapters of The Ethics of the Fathers, one of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) – a compilation of common-sense values, ethical and moral teachings, which underline key inter-personal relationships. For example:

“Who is respected? He who respects other persons!”
“Who is a wise person? He who learns from all other persons!”
“Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his own share!”
“Who is a hero? He who controls his urge!”
“Talk sparsely and walk plenty;”
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
“Don’t be consumed with the flask, but with its content.”
“Conditional love is tenuous; unconditional love is eternal.”
“Treat every person politely.”
“Jealousy, lust and the obsession with fame warp one’s mind.”

5. Jubilee/Constitution. Shavou’ot has seven names: The holiday of the Jubilee; the holiday of the harvest; the holiday of the giving of the Torah; Shavou’ot; the holiday of offerings; the Rally and the Assembly (Constitution).

More on Shavou’ot and additional Jewish holidays: Smashwords, Amazon

Support Appreciated

Golan

Secretary Blinken on settlements – vindicated by facts?

Islamic Terrorism

FBI Director Chris Wray defies the State Department on Iran