The Jewish Connection To Its Eternal Capital Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) – Part 1

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its cunning.
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

(Psalms 137:5-6)

Every groom says it on his wedding while braking a glass to remember
the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned more than 600 times in Tanakh the Jewish Holy book and many prayers are for Jerusalem. “Next year in a built Jerusalem.” we pray for two thousands years in Passover and Yom Kippur.

For three thousand years Jerusalem is the geographical center of the Jewish nation and the spiritual locus of its heritage. Resting on a mountaintop at the heart of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, laying directly between Judea and the northern tribes, the site of this mystical city had long been preordained. This was the site where Abraham had come to sacrifice his son Isaac; the “House of G-d” discovered by Jacob; and the “Good Mountain” longed for by Moses in his final plea to enter the Promised Land.

King David, made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom Israel in 1003 BCE . He brought the Ark of the Covenant to reside in its walls. His son, King Solomon, built the Jewish Holy Temple, enshrining Jerusalem as the permanent resting place of the Ark and the embodiment of holiness on earth. And transformed the city into the prosperous capital of an empire extending from the Euphrates to Egypt. Three times each year the land was abuzz as the ancient Israelites made the required pilgrimage to the Temple Mount to celebrate the Jewish festivals.

A Song of Ascents; of David.
I rejoiced when they said unto me: ‘Let us go unto the house of the LORD.’
Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem;
Jerusalem, that art builded as a city that is compact together;
Whither the tribes went up, even the tribes of the LORD, as a testimony unto Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say: ‘Peace be within thee.’
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.
(Psalms 122:1-9)

And the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years;
seven years reigned he in Hebron, and thirty-three years reigned he in Jerusalem.

(I Kings 2:11)

The Aramean kingdoms north of the Land of Israel, in the area of Syria of today, were the bitterest enemies of the Kingdom of Israel for years. With the exception of the days of David and Solomon and a few other brief respites, Israel was in almost constant conflict with Aram. In the excavations in Tel Dan in the Huleh Valley (northern Israel), a wonderful echo of these wars was found, and more importantly, ancient non-Biblical mention of the House of David

From that point on, Jerusalem remained the eternal capital and heritage of the people of Israel. The city remained the capital of the Davidic dynasty for 400 years, until the kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians.
Following the return from the Babylonian exile in 538 BCE, Jerusalem again served as the capital of the Jewish people in its land for the next five and a half centuries.

Even when Jews were forcibly removed into exile from the ancient Land of Israel, they never severed their link to their holy capital. To this day, Jewish synagogues are built facing Jerusalem. Three times each day observant Jews turn toward the Temple Mount in prayer. The Jewish summer months of Tammuz and Av include an annual three-week period of mourning when religious Jews forsake music and various forms of entertainment and celebration to commemorate the destruction of the two Jewish Temples centuries ago. (It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Jerusalem on the 9th of Av to find the local Jews in mourning. He left the region with a newfound respect for the Jewish nation, impressed that such a genuine outpouring of grief was for the Temples destroyed thousands of years earlier.)

Throughout the year, religious Jews saying grace after a meal or a snack recite a prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem. Thus, never does Jewish life stray far from the memory of the holy city.

Following each exile, the Jewish people moved to reestablish their presence in Jerusalem whenever and wherever physically possible. Twice Jewish leaders returned from exile and reestablished Jerusalem as their capital, once under Roman rule and later under the Byzantines. Each time they were ultimately expelled by governors determined to erase the Jewish connection to the city and thereby quell any potential incursion. The Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade Jews to live in Jerusalem, renaming the city Aelia Capitolina. He even went so far as to rename the entire Holy Land “Syria-Palestina,” later shortened to “Palestine,” in a declared attempt to eradicate the Jewish identity of the land But the attempt failed.

Through the centuries of exile, Jews risked their lives to return to their capital. By contrast, no other faith or ethnic group has ever claimed the city as its capital.

Islam, which for a time maintained a dominant presence in the city, placed higher priority on Mecca and Medina. During Muslim rule over the city, whether Arab or non-Arab, Jerusalem was never made the political capital of a Muslim entity or even a province within the Muslim empire. Under Muslim Arab rule (638 – 1099) by the Umayyad, the Abbasid and the Fatamid caliphs, Jerusalem was ruled from Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo respectively. In the eighth century, the city of Ramla was made the capital of the district. During the period of Mamluk rule (1250- 1516), the Land was ruled from Damascus; in Ottoman times(1517 – 1917), from Constantinople.

Felix Bonfils (1831-1885) :

The Christian link with Jerusalem is essentially a religious one. Except for the short-lived Crusader kingdom, it has not assumed political or secular connotations. During the six centuries of Roman and Byzantine rule, Caesarea, not Jerusalem, was the capital. During the Byzantine era, Christian rulers sought to maintain and enforce the Roman edict forbidding Jews from living in the city. Jews were allowed to enter but once a year, on the 9th of Av, to commemorate the destruction of their Holy Temples. In the few instances in which they tried to remain longer, scores of Jews were murdered by Byzantine soldiers and neighbors.

In 614 CE, Jews played a substantial part in the Persian invasion of Jerusalem “as a nation with its own stake in the victory, since they regarded the war as a struggle for national liberation.”2 When the Persians defeated the Byzantines, Jews reestablished a community in Jerusalem, erecting synagogues and restoring ancient neighborhoods. Their return was shortlived, however. The new Jewish community was massacred by the resurgent Byzantine Emperor Heraclitus in 622 CE. Nevertheless, Jews remained determined to return.

In the wake of the Muslim conquest in 638 by the Caliph Umar al-Khattab, who was one of the first four Orthodox caliphs, Jews were once again allowed back into the city. They established two “Jewish Quarters,” one directly north of the Temple Mount and one to its south. Jews even worked on the Temple Mount as guards. Jews were largely tolerated and even protected during the subsequent Umayyad period, though they were kept in separate quarters and repeatedly taxed. Umayyad rulers were far more concerned with undermining the dominance of their rivals in the holiest Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina. As a result, they launched a campaign to establish Jerusalem as a center for Islam: In 691, Caliph Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad dynasty constructed the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Jewish Temple, a shrine designed to compete with the grand structures of Arabia.

In 715, the Umayyads constructed a mosque near the shrine, known as the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jewish communities were allowed to live in peace during the period, and were even granted some control of areas near the Temple Mount, which the Umayyads still recognized as the site of the Jewish Temple. In 750, the Umayyads were defeated by a rival Muslim power, the Abbassids, based in Baghdad. The new rulers were somewhat less sympathetic to the Jews, and the community endured some intermittent persecution during that time. Still, the Jewish community remained intact and Jews continued to settle in Jerusalem, particularly with the simultaneous decline of the Babylonian center of the Jewish diaspora.

In 863, the rabbinic seminary known as Yeshivat Eretz Israel moved from Tiberias to Jerusalem and became the central Judaic decisor for the entire Middle East region. Indeed, as the Gaonic period of diaspora Jewry began to unfold, Jerusalem remained home to a Gaon – the religious leader – right up until the rabbinic reign of Evyatar Ben Eliahu Hacohen in 1112. The Jews continued to reside in the two “Jewish quarters,” despite the periodic persecution of the Crusades.

Jewish religious life in Jerusalem was rejuvenated in 1267 when the noted Spanish Jewish scholar and biblical commentator Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (1194-1270), or Nachmanides, immigrated to Israel. He settled in Jerusalem and founded a synagogue on Mount Zion. The synagogue later moved to an area in what is now the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, where it continues to serve the Jewish community to this day.

A major wave of Jewish resettlement in Jerusalem came in the wake of the Spanish Inquisition. Fleeing the massacres, torture, and forced conversions of Europe, Jews flowed into Jerusalem and established new synagogues and institutions of leadership. The community remained intact through the 1500s, as described by the legendary Jewish chronicler Joseph HaCohen. It continued to grow through the 1600s, when a new community was established by the rabbi and leader known as Yehuda HaChasid. In the 1700s, waves of Sephardic Jews settled in the city under the leadership of Rabbi Gedaliah of Siematycze.

By 1855, the Jewish quarter had become so overcrowded that it could no longer sustain the thriving Jewish population. Sir Moses Montefiore bought a plot of land across from Mount Zion and built Yemin Moshe, the first significant Jewish enclave outside the city walls. Other Jewish neighborhoods outside the Old City soon followed: Nahalat Shiva (1869) near Jaffa Road, Me’a Sha’arim (1875), Kiryat Neemana (1875) across from the Damascus Gate, and Kfar Shiloah (Silwan) (1884).

When Mark Twain visited the city in 1867 he noted that the Jews were one of Jerusalem’s major populations. Yet all of this Jewish activity in Jerusalem paled in comparison to the influx of the late 1800s, as a new grassroots movement mobilized and brought to life the long-held dream of a massive return to Zion, the symbolic name of Jerusalem (and which also signified the entire Land of Israel).

When thousands of Jews immigrated in what became known as the Hibbat Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement in the 1880s, the Jewish community once again became the single largest community in the city of Jerusalem. In 1864, the Jewish majority in the city numbered 8,000 (together with 4,500 Muslims and 2,500 Christians), according to British records.

Fifty years later, Jews numbered 45,000 out of a total population of 65,000. Finally permitted to live in relative peace, the Jewish people had once again become the dominant population in their ancient capital.

Under British rule (1922-1948), Jerusalem was the seat of the High Commissioner and most administrative offices of the Mandate, as well as of the central institutions of the growing Jewish community.

The Jewish majority persisted in Jerusalem right up until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when surrounding Arab armies invaded the Holy Land and, as the Babylonians, Romans, and Byzantines before them, forced Jews from their homes and a community from its city.

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