Why is the Holy City of Jerusalem SO important?
Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism, the center of the religion. It is one of four holy cities in Judaism, along with Tzfat, Tiberius, and Hebron. It’s a city that is thousands of years old. And it’s been holy and important in Judaism for almost as long.
So why is Jerusalem holy to Judaism?
Jerusalem began as a small Jesubite town on the side of a hill of the Kidron Valley. There were three things that were needed in antiquity for a city to succeed and survive:
- A trade route
- A source of water
- A natural system of defense
Jerusalem has all three: was on a minor trade route for a source of income, it had a natural source of water, and the mountain it is situated on served as a natural system of defense. But until King David came along, it was a small, unimportant town.
But when David is anointed king, he has a very important decision to make—where should he build his capital? He chose to build his capital in a small town on top on of a mountain, that was located on a minor trade route, and had a source of water–in other words, he decided to take over Jerusalem. When he did this, he united the twelve tribes of Israel. If he put his capital in one tribe’s land, then the other tribes would be envious. Jerusalem was right on the border between the territories of Benjamin and Judah. This would prevent that envy and resulting fighting.
He conquered the city, built up a royal quarter, and the City became known as the City of David. But David had one problem. Because he had blood on his hands, because he was a warrior or soldier, he could not build the Temple.
His son, Solomon, later became king, and his subjects described him as a very wise man. He built the first Temple, the center of the Judaism. It was where the Jews would make pilgrimage three times a year. Jews went to the Temple to make sacrifices. One day during the year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, G-d’s home on earth, and pray on behalf of the Jewish people. That day was Yom Kippur.
But then, in 586 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem– the heart of Judaism. The Babylonians exiled the Jews, and the city remained in ruins for fifty years before the Jews came back and rebuilt Jerusalem and its Temple. King Herod renovated the Second Temple, and travelers described it as the most beautiful structure in the whole world!! And once again the Jews could come make pilgrimage to the Temple and offer sacrifices.
The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans. The Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem as revenge for Jewish rebellion. This time the Jews would not rebuild the Temple, and instead the Jewish leaders would change the way Judaism looked until today!
Why is Jerusalem connected to the natural element of fire?
Each of the four holy cities are connected to different elements of nature. Jerusalem is connected to the element of fire. With all of the history we’ve talking about, that makes sense. Jerusalem is the fire of Judaism, it is the heart of the religion. Without the city, Judaism would not be what it is today without this city.
We associate fire with intensity and passion. Jerusalem is Judaism’s passion, and it is an intense passion. Jews around the world pray toward Jerusalem three times a day and during holidays. We have holidays based on things Jerusalem’s history–Hanukkah and Tisha B’Av are two examples. It is where Judaism focused, developed, and centered in for thousands of years. It creates an intensity centered around Jerusalem.
People associated Fire with the heart. Jerusalem is the heart of Judaism; it is the center–the heart. I mentioned it before, without Jerusalem, Judaism would not be what we see today.
Instead of the sacrifices at the Temple, the Rabbis wrote the three prayer services that we say today. Instead of the pilgrimages to the Temple Mound, Jews would come to the city of Jerusalem three times a year. Both the services written then and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem still happen today. From these practices, we now pray toward Jerusalem during every service.
Wise men and women have come to Jerusalem to settle down. People like the Rambam, Rabbi Hesid, and more. These were people who influenced Judaism on theological and social level. The Rambam wrote many commentaries that have played an important role on Jewish theology. Rabbi Hesid brought a group of Jews to Jerusalem increasing the Jewish population in the Old City.
With all the tension, fighting, negativity that surrounds Jerusalem, why should I care about this city? How can I connect to the city?
So this is all very well and good. But why do I care? Great that it’s a center of Judaism, but that doesn’t mean I can connect to it. There is a joke that goes like this:
There was a young journalist who heard about an elderly man who went to the Western Wall every day to pray. Rain, shine, wind, snow, he was there praying. The journalist decided to write a story about this man. He flies to Jerusalem, books a hotel, and wakes up early in the morning to walk over to the Western Wall. The journalist waits for the elderly man to finish praying and begin walking away from the Western Wall. And then the journalist goes up to this man, and says “Sir, I’m working with the TV News, and I have to ask you… What is it like to come and pray at the Western Wall every day?” The elderly man pauses for a moment, and then looks at the journalist. He put his answer very simply: “It feels like I’m talking a wall.”
While I think this joke is really quite funny, I think actually the opposite is true. When you enter the city of Jerusalem, especially the Old City of Jerusalem, you can feel the spirituality, the holiness, and the fire of the City. You don’t have to care about the history, the religion, the news, and that’s ok. You CAN care about those aspects, but you don’t have to. Regardless of how you connect to Jerusalem, you can still feel the intensity, passion, and fire of the city.
My favorite spot in Jerusalem…
There are A LOT of different sites in the city, not just the major sites, but the alleyways and the corners and the stories. But there is ONE spot in Jerusalem that is my absolute favorite. There is an outlook in the Old City, where you can sit and see all four quarters—Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian. You can sit there, and look out over the city, and meditate or reflect all day long. It is one of the most peaceful places I know of in the city, and I love going there.