First appeared in Haaretz blog in Hebrew, 17/6/13
Here’s a story for you: With the help of Makom, the leaders of the Bnei Jeshurun community in Manhattan arrange a meeting with Rachel Azaria, Jerusalem council member of the Jerusalemites party.
They hear of her battles for a pluralistic Jerusalem, the fight for afternoon schooling, the struggle against the exclusion of women, and more. And they look to understand from her what New Politics is all about.
Azaria has three children and a baby. It’s the evening, and she has to be on Skype with New York. Her husband is on reserve duty, and her father arrives at her apartment in Katamonim to help out with dinner and showers. To Full Post
Did you manage to spot all 14 landmarks without pressing pause?
1. Hebron Road
For more on Yochanan Ben Zakkai, look and listen to this song written in his praise, and the materials on the page.
For more on the restaurants’ “Kashrut Rebellion”, click here.
The follow-up text we prepared was from Ahad Ha’am. Click here for free download.
Sarah Mali writes to her friends in Toronto’s Jewish Community, after having recently returned to Israel following several years as their Shlicha (Jewish Agency Emissary).
“Wear pretty pajamas for bed just in case something happens and you need to leave the house in-flight.”
This was the advice my aesthetically-conscious nana (bubbie) gave me when I was a little girl living in North-West London. I had always giggled when she told me this knowing it was silliness but not really sure why.
Last night when my children asked how to prepare for another siren I recalled this advice to them hoping they would giggle like I once had.
It is hard to imagine a military siren in Jerusalem especially since only a few minutes earlier the shrill shofar-sounding call for Shabbat had been heard above the city. During dinner my theologically sensitive 8 year old invoked the phrase from Grace After Meals on Shabbat and asked defiantly: but we say that God looks after us particularly on Shabbat? We praised her for her Talmudic thinking but realized that the question hadn’t really been directed at us to answer…
Here is the most absurdly-sounding thing of all: we Jerusalemites have it easy: we have 1minute 45 seconds to get to a place of safety – that is compared to Ashdod (40 seconds) or Sderot (15 seconds) under a constant barrage of rockets. But it isn’t the drama of the 15 seconds itself – it is what these 15 seconds do to the space in time that lies between them.
To me, that has been the strategic sensitivity behind Toronto Jewish Federation’s continuous funding of Sderot despite intermittent periods of quiet.
Let me illustrate this: My sister-in-law lives with her husband and four little children next to Ashdod. Her oldest is the same age as my 8 year old and suffers from a severe genetic disorder; she cannot eat properly, talk or walk. This past summer when my husband took the kids for a visit he had his first encounter with her existential situation. Behind her in his car with our kids, as the siren went off he saw my sister-in-law slam on the breaks, stop her car and begin to try and get her children out. She quite literally threw her little baby at a passer-by who was just about to turn around himself and run for cover and then proceeded to untie her four year old and then her 6 year old. Then she reached for her beautiful first born daughter and tried to release her from her seat at the back of a specially designed van and lug her out of the back towards safety.
The siren by this time had long since passed – danger had subsided, everyone could continue as normal.
The problem is that there is no ‘normal’ for my sister-in-law: she lives with the reality that she won’t make it.
That is worth repeating: My sister-in-law knows that 40 seconds by herself is simply not enough to save her family.
And therein lies the heartbreak.
In synagogue this morning, with many men missing as they had been called for reserve duty, Israeli cynicism prevailed. Friends commented to me with a smile; ‘welcome back to Israel.’ We all muttered something like ‘yehiye beseder’ (all will be ok) and continued on.
Eric Yoffie wrote beautifully in Ha’aretz, that Israel was established to protect our children.
The truth is that Jewish sovereignty is about that and more: it is about the two sirens getting mixed up in my mind, about the cell phones and army uniforms in shul, about the question of a child wondering about Divine justice in a place she regards as home and, maybe most significantly, the fact that I am writing this to you straight after Shabbat out of dual feelings that I need to tell you and I need you to hear.
This for me is Zionism and this is why I am here.
Shavua tov from Jerusalem, Sarah
Jerusalem capital of the State of Israel and spiritual center for most of the western world. Jerusalem is more than just a physical grouping of stone buildings and ancient walls spreading out over the Judean hills: it is the Holy City, symbol of universal peace and redemption for over 3,000 years.
Jerusalem is located on the ridge of the Judean Mountains. These mountains continue to spread out west of the city, but to the east the green landscape gradually merges with the barren Judean desert which descends to the Dead Sea. The city is built entirely on hills, its houses picturesquely dotting the rocky slopes.
Part of the city’s historical importance can be attributed to the fact that it lies in one of the crossroads of Israel, balanced between the north-south route leading from Hebron and Bethlehem to Shechem (Nablus) and the east-west routes from the coast to the Jordan Valley.
In biblical times, Jerusalem was surrounded by thick, green forests of almond, olive and pine trees. But in the course of numerous wars and settlements, much of this lush greenery was destroyed and the soil left to dry out in the summer sun and wash away in the heavy winter rains. From earliest times, farmers have therefore been forced to terrace the ground and build stone fences along the slopes to hold back the soil. This stone terracing is still in evidence all along the Jerusalem landscape. A deliberate attempt has been made in modern times to replant the trees and the approach to Jerusalem is once again flanked by heavily forested areas.
Jerusalem has a rainy, temperate winter and a hot, completely dry summer. It is especially pleasant in the summer when the air is clear and the cool evening breezes bring relief from the noon-day heat. There is an occasional snowfall in mid-winter lasting only a few days.
The boundaries of the city have changed often, the last expansion taking place as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967. The remains of several different encircling walls attest to the city’s changing size even in ancient times.
The first mention of the city of Jerusalem appears in the Egyptian Execration Texts of the 19th and 18th centuries b.c.e. It is referred to there as a Canaanite city-state whose name was probably pronounced as “Rushalimum.” In the Tell el-Amarna letters of the 14th century b.c.e. it is called Urusalim, and in Abraham’s day it seems to have been known simply as Salem. In later times, the rabbis interpreted this as a variation of the Hebrew word shalom (peace) and gave the city its designation as the “City of Peace.”
Jerusalem is also sacred to many religions and this atmosphere of holiness is reflected in some of its names.The Greeks added the prefix hiero (“holy”) and called it Hierosolyma. and the Arabs call it Al Kuds (“The Holy”). Almost every occupying power has given the city a new name. It was called Jebus by the Jebusites who preceded the Israelite conquest. The name Zion at first designated a part of that Jebusite city, but was later used to refer to the whole city. Later, David gave his name to the city and it was called Ir David (The City of David). Jerusalem has since had many names, reflective of the love and reverence of its admirers, including “God’s City,” “Faithful City,” and “The Beautiful City.”
Although there is archaeological evidence of man having been in the Jerusalem area in prehistoric times, there does not seem to have been a permanent settlement there until the Canaanite period. It was during this time (c. 2000 b.c.e.) that Abraham met up with Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem. The Bible later tells how Abraham came to Har ha-Moriah (Mount Moriah) for Akedat Yizhak — the near- sacrifice of his son Isaac (see Akedah). According to rabbinic tradition, Har ha-Moriah ultimately became the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem. When the Israelite tribes divided Canaan into tribal lots, Jerusalem was originally assigned to the tribe of Benjamin, but they seemed unable to gain control of the area from the local inhabitants. So Jerusalem remained a Jebusite city until the time of David, thus cutting the Israelite territory in two and separating the central tribes from the southern ones.
When David became king, he set about uniting all the tribes into one nation. That meant eliminating the foreign enclave which presented a physical barrier to unification. At the same time, he hoped that by taking Jerusalem, the only city not owned by any tribe, he could create the national capital there and thus avoid inter-tribal jealousies.
David managed to capture Jerusalem with relative ease by infiltrating his men into the city through the water tunnels and surprising the enemy within the city walls. He used his own private army for this purpose rather than the combined armies of all the tribes. The city therefore became his royal domain — the “City of David,” capital of Israel.
When the Ark of the Law was later transferred there by the king, Jerusalem became not only the Royal City, but the Holy City as well. Yet for all its importance, the City of David was actually very small, covering an area of only about 30,000 square meters (roughly the size of three football fields set side by side). It was located in the Siloam Valley on the south-eastern slope of what would later become the Temple Mount.
Though David himself chose the site for the Temple, it was left to his son Solomon to actually carry out the plans for its construction. During Solomon’s reign, Jerusalem really took on the aura of a thriving capital, with its magnificently designed Temple and royal palace. At first the city was below in the valley and the Temple on the mountain towering above the city. Later the importent people and the king began to live on the mountain around the Temple. During this period the city changed its shape, expanding in all directions. But it was still within what is the Old City of today. Trade caravans passed through its markets, and the presence of a chariot force, foreign guards and a sumptious court replete with a large harem, contributed to its fame and growth. Solomon enlarged his father’s city to more than five times its original size.
When the kingdom split in 930 b.c.e. after Solomon’s death, Jerusalem lost much of its political supremacy. The kingdom of Israel established its own capital and Jerusalem, now impoverished and weakened, remained only as the ruling city for the smaller kingdom of Judah. For the next four centuries, the city alternated between short periods of prosperity and longer periods of religious and political crises. Some kings defiled its holy ground with pagan shrines, while others tried to purify its sanctuaries and restore it to its former state of glory. Uzziah fortified the city, making it the center of moral and social regeneration. And Hezekiah reinforced the walls, repaired the Temple, and built a water tunnel capable of supplying the city in times of emergency.
In 587 b.c.e. the Babylonian army captured the city of Jerusalem after several months’ siege. The Babylonian captain exiled most of the inhabitants and, according to the Bible, “he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire.” This disaster left Jerusalem desolate for over 50 years.
In 536 b.c.e., after the fall of Babylon, Cyrus, king of Persia who became the overlord of Judah, issued his famous declaration which allowed the Jews to return to Zion and rebuild the Temple. Slowly the Jews began returning to the Holy City and gradually they began to rebuild from the ruins. In the fifth century, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah’ the walls were repaired’ the Jewish community reorganized and eventually the Temple rebuilt.
Jerusalem submitted peacefully with the rest of Judah to Alexander the Great (332 b.c.e.) who left the Jews pretty much on their own. But after Alexander’s death in 323 b.c.e., the city suffered through a series of wars fought by his would-be successors. It was finally taken over by the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty and remained under their rule in relative stability for the next hundred years.
In 198 b.c.e. the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks) defeated the Egyptians and, once again, Jerusalem changed hands. At first, the situation in Jerusalem seemed unchanged and even slightly improved. Jews were granted a charter confirming their right to live by “the laws of their fathers” and Jerusalemites were even partly exempted from taxes.
But in many subtle ways the Seleucids were attempting to Hellenize the Jews. In 175 b.c.e. Antiochus Epiphanes became ruler and the pressure for Hellenization became more blatant and forceful. The name of Jerusalem was changed to Antioch, a gymnasium was built just beneath the Temple and the Temple itself was ransacked.
Enraged by these actions, the Jews began an armed rebellion under the leadership of the priestly Hasmonean family. In December 164 b.c.e. the Hasmoneans were able to reoccupy Jerusalem and cleanse the Temple. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates that event. Though the city was besieged several times during the Hasmonean rule, it remained as the capital of the kingdom until 63 b.c.e. and boasted of evergrowing political, economic and religious activity. The remains of Hasmonean walls, coins, arrowheads and monuments found in Jerusalem are evidence of the prosperity of the city during that time.
Hasmonean rule was ended in the first century b.c.e. by the Roman invaders who divided the country into districts so that Jerusalem lost its status as capital. The Hasmoneans made one last attempt to regain control, but were ruthlessly suppressed by King Herod who seized control of Jerusalem in 37 b.c.e.
In an effort to secure his hold on the city, Herod completely transformed its appearance. He built a palace surrounded by towers on the northwest corner of the city. He enlarged the Temple area and surrounded it with a wall, of which the Western Wall is the only remaining section. He also entirely rebuilt the Temple, doubling its height and richly adorning its exterior.
Upon Herod’s death, Jerusalem was ruled by a series of Roman procurators. (One of these, Pontius Pilate (26–36 c.e.) was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem.) But the misrule of these administrators provoked the outbreak of yet another Jewish revolt, which soon became a full-scale war. In 70 c.e. Titus and his Roman legions laid siege to the city and then stormed its weakened defenders. The city was burned, its inhabitants massacred and the Temple destroyed. Of the once-glorious city, only the three towers of Herod’s palace and the western wall of the Temple Mount remained intact.
According to Jewish sources, the Romans razed Jerusalem to the ground and plowed the site over to prevent further settlement. Even so, some Jews managed to return. When the emperor Hadrian tried to establish a Roman colony there, the second Jewish-Roman war broke out with Bar Kokhba leading the Jewish rebels. They were defeated by Hadrian who subsequently decreed that no circumcised person should be allowed into Jerusalem under pain of death.
The Romans then proceeded to convert Jerusalem into a typical Roman colony, calling it Aelia Capitolina. After Hadrian’s death the ban on Jews in Jerusalem was unofficially lifted, only to be renewed by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. He permitted Jews to enter Jerusalem only once a year, on the ninth of Av, anniversary of the destruction of both Temples.
Constantine was the founder of the Byzantine empire and a devout Christian. He tried to make Jerusalem into a center of Christian worship by erecting many churches there, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and designating various areas as Christian holy sites. He also restored the name “Jerusalem” to the city. This policy of Christianizing Jerusalem was maintained by most of the Byzantine rulers who extended the restrictions on Jewish settlement in the city. Byzantine control had been threatened at various times by the Persians and in 614 the Persians actually managed to capture Jerusalem and hand it over to the Jews. But this victory was short-lived and the Byzantines returned in 629 to again expel the Jews. They ruled Jerusalem until their defeat at the hands of the Muslim Arab caliph, Omar, in 638.
The Arabs, like all of Jerusalem’s rulers, tried to change the character of the city to fit their own religious needs. Jerusalem was sacred to the Muslim Arabs as the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. The Dome of the Rock, built on the Temple Mount, is the most magnificent of the mosques and holy sites built by the Arabs in Jerusalem to commemorate that event.
But the Arabs never really restored Jerusalem to its former glory and it remained basically a provincial town. The majority of the population was still Christian, though the Jews were allowed to settle there. They developed two Jewish quarters: one southwest of the Temple area, and one north of it. The city’s inhabitants were for the most part impoverished merchants.
In 1099 the Crusaders besieged Jerusalem and, in one of history’s strange ironies, the “City of Peace” was once again involved in war and bloodshed. The Christian soldiers, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, scaled the city walls and massacred the inhabitants — Jews and Muslims alike. In order to repopulate the city, the Crusaders transferred Christian Arab tribes from Transjordan and settled them in the former Jewish quarter.
Jerusalem became the capital of the Crusader kingdom and thrived because of the concentration of all the government and church bodies there. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims visited the city every year, thus adding to its growth and prosperity. But the Jews were still for the most part banned, as during the previous Christian period.
When the Muslims, under Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, the Jews enjoyed a short period of resettlement in Jerusalem. But with Saladin’s death, the city remained without any stable authority and was shuttled back and forth between Christians and Muslims.
In 1250 a new Muslim force appeared on the scene, the Mamluks, who managed to establish themselves as rulers of Jerusalem for over 260 years. Jewish life in Jerusalem was somewhat freer under Mamluk rule than it had been with the Christians. The city remained poor but Jewish scholarship and learning thrived. Ottoman Empire.
Jerusalem came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks in 1517 when Sultan Selim I took it in a bloody battle with the Mamluks. His successor, Suleiman the Magnificent, left his mark on Jerusalem’s history by building the present-day wall around the Old City. The construction of the wall, which took five years, made a great impression on the Jews of the time and it remains as one of the dominant architectural features of the city to this day. Legend has it that Suleiman had a dream that he would be eaten by lions if he did not build the wall. One of the gates to the Old City has two lions carved on it and is called “Lions’s Gate” in memory of that dream.
But aside from spurring a construction boom, the Turks did not pay much attention to Jerusalem. They considered it insignificant from a strategic and political point of view, and during their 400-year reign, only a few Turks settled in the area. Neither industry nor trade developed to any important degree and the inhabitants were often forced to accept charity from outside sources. The three main sections or quarters of the city — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — remained overcrowded and squalid.
The “New” City
In 1859, in an effort to relieve the congestion in the Jewish quarter, Sir Moses Montefiore bought a plot of land near Mount Zion and established the first Jewish quarter outside the city walls. He also built a windmill on the plot which became one of the landmarks of the city and its first “industrial” structure. Thus began the development of the New City of Jerusalem and the expansion of the Jewish settlement there.
During the next few decades, many more Jewish neighborhoods were founded outside the walls, each with the distinctive ethnic flavor of its inhabitants. These quarters were usually built as uniform blocks with the windows facing inward on a closed courtyard. This fortress-like arrangement was meant to protect the inhabitants from Arab attacks. Among the Jewish communities to spring up in the New City at the end of the 19th century were the Mahaneh Yehudah quarter founded by Moroccan Jews, Shaarei Rahamim, founded by Kurds, and the Hungarian and Bukharan quarters inhabited by immigrants from Hungary and Bukhara (a territory in the U.S.S.R.).
The Christians also began establishing a foothold outside the city walls and soon there was a Russian compound for the Russian Orthodox community and a German Colony for the Protestant Templars.
One of the most important Jewish communities established in the New City was the Mea Shearim section founded in 1874 by pious Jews from within the city walls. Various communities of Ashkenazi Jews came to settle there and these kolels as the communities were called, were supported by funds from their hometown congregations. In the early years each kolel lived a totally separate existence within the narrow streets and winding alleys of its neighborhood, establishing its own yeshivot, synagogues and community services. They were later united under one all-encompassing religious authority, and Mea Shearim remains today as a stronghold of ultra-Orthodoxy and the traditional eastern European Jewish way of life.
With all this new settlement activity, Jerusalem began taking on the character of a “westernized” city. Roads were built and modern shops opened. Even suburban communities such as Rehavia were established whose beautiful homes contrasted sharply with the dense, shabby quarters near the center of town. At the turn of the 20th century, the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 45,000 including 28,200 Jews.
The outbreak of World War I, however, changed the status of Jerusalem. It suddenly became the focus of international attention as various factions vied for control in the Middle East. The Turks sided with Germany and Jerusalem, no longer able to remain isolated from world affairs, became he nerve center for the attack on the eastern portion o’ the British Empire. But step by step the Turks were forced to give way to the British counter-attack. On December 11, 1917 the Turks officially surrendered Jerusalem to the British forces under General Allenby, who marched victoriously through the crowded city streets on his majestic white horse.
The Jews welcomed British rule. The efficiency and progressiveness of the British administration, coupled with the Zionist movement now in full swing and the historic Balfour Declaration which gave it impetus, encouraged greater Jewish settlement in Jerusalem. The Jews engaged in a tremendous building boom west of the city walls, as did the Arabs in the eastern part of the city. Hospitals and schools were erected and the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus was opened in 1925.
But along with the development came increased tension between the Arabs and Jews. Jerusalem, one of the few cities where the two groups lived side by side, became the focal point of this tension and exploded many times into bloody riots and acts of terror. Haj Amin al Husseini, appointed by the British as mufti (religious leader) of Jerusalem, incited his people to violent hatred of the Jews. Jewish, Arab and British facilities in Jerusalem were bombed by extremists on all sides.
Unable to cope with the situation, the British referred the problem to the United Nations and on November 19, 1947, the UN General Assembly approved a partition plan for Palestine, which left Jerusalem as an international zone, belonging neither to the Jews nor the Arabs. Refusing to accept the decision, the Arabs immediately began attacking Jewish settlements, including those in Jerusalem. The Old City was cut off from the New while the areas outside the walls were divided into warring camps of Jews and Arabs. Jewish Jerusalem was put under virtual siege by Arabs attacking the supply convoys along the approach to the city. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence.
The Divided City
Jerusalem emerged from the battle in April 1949 as a divided city. The cease-fire line, running roughly north-south, left the Old City of Jerusalem and its eastern environs to the Arabs while the Jews maintained control over the New City to the west. Walls were built along parts of the border to guard against sniper attacks. They were a tragic symbol of the physical and spiritual rift between the two peoples. For 19 years the Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, the old synagogues, the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and other Jewish holy sites. There was a Jewish enclave on Mount Scopus, but it was isolated from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem, the University and Hadassah hospital facilities remaining neglected and unused. By UN arrangement, only occasional convoys of Jewish police were allowed access to the area, and they were often fired on by the Arabs.
But Jewish Jerusalem recovered quickly and construction began immediately to replace lost facilities. A new modern University was built, Hadassah hospital opened a new branch, an improved museum was erected, and new roads were constructed to replace the Arab-held Latrun highway running from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Reunited City
In 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, Jerusalem was again unified, this time under Israeli rule, and the Jews and Arabs alike were given free access to all of its ancient and modern sites. Upon entering East Jerusalem and the Old City, the Israeli forces found that the Arabs had destroyed many of the old synagogues and desecrated the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, using the tombstones as building blocks. The Jews restored these areas, rebuilt the synagogues, renovated and reopened the facilities on Mt. Scopus and greatly improved the living conditions in the area, benefiting Arabs and Jews alike. Israel has also developed previously barren areas in the eastern sectors, building whole new, modern communities.
In 1993, local elections in Jerusalem resulted in the Labor party’s loss to the Likud and the end to its rule of the city for a generation. In a highly controversial and politically unwise move, Prime Minster Yizhak Rabin persuaded longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleck (in office since 1965) to run again, despite the fact that the 83 year old Kolleck had originally conceded that he was too old to run for a seventh term. Kolleck lost to member of the Knesset Ehud Olmert, an articulate former health minister some thirty years Kolleck’s junior. After the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO in the same year, the Labor party tried to mix national with local politics declaring that the elections in Jerusalem would be viewed as a referendum on the peace process. This tactic was damaging in Jerusalem, a city whose distinctive religious and ethnic makeup consistently produced an ultra-nationalist majority.
Kolleck lost the election largely due to the fact that former Kolleck supporters could not bring themselves to vote for such an aged figure and the city’s 89,000 eligible Arab voters virtually boycotted the elections in order not to legitimize Israeli rule in East Jerusalem. The haredi population voted in droves for Olmert after Rabbi Meir Porush, the candidate for United Torah Judaism dropped out of the race on the night before the elections. Kolleck, announced his resignation from the city council on November 29.
The population of unified Jerusalem had exceeded 646,100 by 1995 consisting of 473,200 Jews and 172,800 non-Jews, including Christians. It is a heterogeneous population, ranging from urban, educated Arabs to semi-nomadic Bedouin, from Hasidim to Oriental Jews. Though the various populations have integrated somewhat, there are still quarters in Jerusalem which maintain the character of their distinctive populations. After 1967, the inhabitants of East Jerusalem were considered Israel residents with Jordanian citizenship. (They could apply for Israeli citizenship but practically none of them did so.) This status allowed them to vote for and be elected to the Jerusalem municipality but not to the Knesset. As Jordanian citizens they could cross the cease-fire line and visit in Jordan while they also had the right to move freely throughout Israel.
The Jerusalem Landscape
The landscape of Jerusalem is unique, a vista where ancient structures are interspersed with ultra-modern buildings. To preserve the special character of Jerusalem, the British Mandatory Authority ruled that all buildings in Jerusalem should be constructed of local stone. An effort has been made ever since to adhere to that policy so that most of the structures in Jerusalem are in harmony with the hilly, rocky landscape. The hills themselves have, to a great extent, determined the contours of the city. Jerusalem is really a city made up of individual communities, each built on a hill or cluster of hills and separated from neighboring areas by valleys or rocky slopes.
Jerusalem’s holy sites provide the greatest attraction for Jews, Christians and Muslims all over the world. Its ancient mosques, churches and synagogues dot the landscape. The Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, David’s Tomb, Solomon’s Pools, Mount Zion… all these are places that evoke a mystical and spiritual sense of belonging for the hundreds of thousands who throng Jerusalem each year.
The ancient walls surrounding the Old City, built by Suleiman in the 16th century, became the identifying symbol of unified Jerusalem. There are seven gates built into those walls that are open to traffic: Herod’s, Damascus and New gates in the north, Jaffa gate in the west, Zion and Dung gates in the south, and St. Stephen’s (Lion’s) gate in the east. The eighth gate, known as the Golden Gate or the Gate of Mercy, was sealed by the Muslim authorities because Muslim legend has it that the Jewish Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this point.
Jerusalem’s rich history and religious significance have attracted many archaeologists seeking relics of the past and a clearer picture of the life and times of the early inhabitants. From the 19th century onwards, excavations have been carried out near the city walls, the Temple Mount, the old City of David and various other sites. The Israelis point out whimsically that one cannot turn over a stone in Jerusalem without uncovering some ancient archaeological find.
The most extensive excavations ever conducted in the area were carried out by Professor Benjamin Mazar near the Western Wall. He continued the work started by the American Edward Robinson in 1838 and British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon from 1961 to 1967. Since 1969 archaeological excavations in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem have been in progress under the initiative and leadership of Nahman Avigad. Among the finds in his excavations are the Israelite Gate Tower, the Cardo, an ancient shopping market, and the Nea Church.
One of the points that has intrigued archaeologists and historians alike is the way in which Jerusalem has been supplied with water throughout the ages. There is only one natural water source in the Jerusalem vicinity — the Gihon spring on the eastern slope of the Old City. The Canaanites built a tunnel leading from the spring into the city and it was through this tunnel that David made his historic entry into the city. At the end of the eighth century b.c.e. Hezekiah, king of Judah, had a new tunnel built which conducted the waters of the Gihon to the Siloam pools within what were then the city limits. This tunnel is still in existence today. One can wade through it and read the inscription placed there by the builders over 2,500 years ago. It tells how the workers, digging from both ends, met at an exact point in the center in what must have been a great engineering feat for those days. There were other pools, cisterns and reservoirs built round the city to increase its water supply but they proved to be inadequate for the growing population. So Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler, built an aqueduct to bring more water from the springs near Hebron in the first century c.e.
However, water shortages plagued Jerusalem’s residents in various periods. In the 19th century the waters of the Gihon became polluted and Jerusalem residents were compelled to buy water brought in from elsewhere by train or donkey.
In the 1930s several pipelines were led from other springs to Jerusalem, thus solving the water supply problem. During the War of Independence these were temporarily cut off by the Arabs, but the supply was restored shortly thereafter.
Jerusalem occupies a very special place in the Jewish religion. It is, of course, often mentioned in the Bible, in a historical and poetical context. It is sometimes given a quasi-mystical character and is frequently used to signify all of Israel or all of Judaism. Because of its special holiness, Jerusalem is treated differently from other cities by the sages. There could be no permanent ownership of property in the city; its ritual purity had to be protected, and so no burial sites were allowed within the city walls.
While the Temple stood, Jews were expected to make three pilgrimages there each year — on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. Many still make these pilgrimages, using the opportunity to mourn the destruction of the Temple. Jerusalem is also a popular subject for Jewish legend, folklore and song.
In Other religions
For Christians, Jerusalem marks the physical and spiritual center of the cosmos. It is the spot where the Garden of Eden was located and history began. They also believe it is the place where the world will reach its end.
There are those who feel that New Jerusalem should be for Christians only, believing that the Jewish claim to the city ended with the destruction of the Temple. They see Christianity as the rightful heir to the city because it is where Jesus preached, where he died, and where he is said to have been resurrected.
On the other hand, there are many Christian theologians who approve of the Jewish settlement of the city and view the successes of the State of Israel as a positive step in the rebirth of the Holy City.
For Muslims, the three holiest cities, in order of importance, are Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. They consider the rock in Jerusalem’s Mosque of Omar to be the center of the universe. This rock, which supposedly bears the hoofprint of Mohammed’s horse, is the place from which the Prophet is said to have made his Night Journey to the heavens.
In the Art
Jerusalem has provided the inspiration for many writers, poets, musicians and artists. Jewish poets of the Middle Ages wrote of their yearning to return to Zion. 19th century British poets used Jerusalem as a symbol of man’s yearning for a better life and a nobler society, and many books dealing with Jerusalem have been on the best seller lists since the Six-Day War in 1967.
For centuries, artists have attempted to present realistic and imaginary interpretations of the city. Its many faces have been carved in stone, etched in metal and wood, and painted on canvas. Pictures of Jerusalem appear on coins, old manuscripts, books, and in museum collections all over the world.
Entry taken from “Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth” CD-ROM
by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.
Elderly People at the Margins
This very moment, hundreds of elderly olim are desperately lonely, with no real reason to get up in the morning. They have nowhere to go, little family who live near them, and nothing to do at home. Israeli culture and celebrates youth and often turns a blind eye to the elderly in its midst.
The Great Revolt and the destruction of the Temple represent, of course, a major turning point in Jewish history from every perspective. The pattern of life in exile had been established previously, with the creation of the Babylonian community; however, the diaspora as we know it is really only known to us from 70 CE onward.
A few key points regarding this period that are of interest for our teaching of Israel:
- The escape to Yavneh: trading the struggle for political sovereignty for acceptance of limited religious/communal autonomy
- The Bar Kochba revolt and the historical power of messianism
- The historical memory and observance of the destruction in the Jewish tradition (this was dealt with in lesson 15, on the destruction of the first Temple)
- The two revolts as symbols in modern Israeli culture
A Jewish diaspora has existed since the times of the First Temple. The balance of power between Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora was in a constant flux, depending on the sizes of the communities, their economic and political wellbeing, and the existence of a temple which served as the religious center for the Jewish world. In this unit we’ll look at Eretz Yisrael-diaspora relations in the time of the second Temple and after its destruction, always keeping in mind the (somewhat striking) parallels with phenomena we observe today. As an example of a large and powerful community (somewhat like the North-American Jewish community today?) we will examine in more detail the Babylonian community. We’ll look at the two Talmuds, one from Babylonia and the other from Eretz Yisrael, to see the differences and why they emerged, and examine one particular story which appears in both Talmuds, with subtle but telling difference.
As a Jerusalemite, 1928 model, it’s difficult for me to identify with the protest of the youth in the tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
Does my difficulty emerge from the city or year I was born in, or both? Perhaps, though when I read and hear the complaints and demands of the Rothschild Boulevard demonstrators, it appears that when I and my generation and even my students faced difficulties, we didn’t waste our summer vacation in tents. We were happy if we were called up on reserve duty in army tents especially during the summer and not during our studies.
If the weather forecasts hold true, the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) will be unpleasantly hot. If not for air conditioning, the heat would be oppressive; appropriate conditions for the discomfort that is liturgically required.
Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which our historical memory (more than actual history) recalls as the beginnings of exile, losses of sovereignty, and as major disruptions to nationalized faith. Its themes are central to Jewish consciousness. To dismiss Tisha B’Av in light of the freedom we celebrate today would be to rewrite the Jewish present without its history.