The Jewish Connection to Jerusalem
Remembering Jerusalem permeates Jewish belief, thought, and practice in profound and powerful ways.
This article provides an overview of the importance of Jerusalem in Judaism. The role of Jerusalem is so important that a single article cannot cover all aspects. In addition to the examples given here, Jerusalem was of great importance in the Jewish mystical tradition, especially in the Zohar. The memory of the city was a driving force that shaped the destinies of great figures in Judaism, such as Yehuda Halevi, whose poetry reflects his yearning. In modern times, the centrality of Jerusalem is an important element in Zionist thought.
Building From Broken Shards
With the sound of shattering glass at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, generations of Jews were reminded that Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people were in exile. With this ritual the vow recorded in book of Psalms was actualized: "If I forget thee Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy" (Psalm 137).
While we are overjoyed for the couple, at the same time, we remember that this small shattering glass is filled with sad memories mixed with hopeful dreams.
Beginning to Remember
Yehuda Amichai, a well-known Israeli poet, wrote about remembering Jerusalem in a collection called "Songs of Zion the Beautiful":
Jerusalem's a place where everyone remembers
he's forgotten something
But doesn't remember what it is.
This spiritual process of longing to remember and thereby touch that which is eternal is the essence of Judaism! And this remembering always connects to Jerusalem in one way or another…
While referred to a number of times in early Biblical accounts from Abraham to Joshua, Jerusalem has been the central city of Judaism since the year 1000 B.C.E., when King David conquered this small, remote Canaanite town and made it the capital of his kingdom. With the building of the Temple by King Solomon following the death of King David, the city becomes the focus of three pilgrimages each year for thousands of Jews celebrating the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. These pilgrimages are in keeping with the command in the Torah to visit and worship "…in the place that God will choose, for the Lord God blesses you with produce and blesses the work of your hands and you shall rejoice" (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Jerusalem is a major focus of Biblical literature and the likely venue where much of this literature was written and preserved. The kings of Judah lived and died here, as recorded in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Prophets were based in Jerusalem, interpreting the Torah and establishing the great moral and ethical standards of Judaism. The Book of Lamentations, often attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, laments over the destruction of First Temple Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the First Temple and the rebuilding of the Second Temple (60 years later) are recorded in the books of Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.