The Jewish Connection to Jerusalem

Remembering Jerusalem permeates Jewish belief, thought, and practice in profound and powerful ways.

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Continuing to Remember

Following the Biblical accounts, the Second Temple period added 500 more years of memories. These memories are recorded in many of the Apocryphal books, such as the books of the Maccabees, relating the events (mostly in the Jerusalem area) leading to and following the revolt against the Greeks in the second century B.C.E. (commemorated during the Hanukkah festival).

With the rise of the Roman Empire, the city of Jerusalem grew and underwent a major facelift by Herod, the Roman appointed Jewish king who conquered Jerusalem with a Roman army in the year 37 B.C.E. Rabbinic literature records hundreds of events, stories, and descriptions of life in Jerusalem from this period.

Hope from Ruins

After the destruction of the Second Temple Jerusalem, the memory of the city came to embody the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people within the developing tradition of Rabbinic Judaism. Jerusalem was now an ideal that represented redemption, perfection, and wholeness that Jews would study about, pray for, and try to spiritually experience from afar. While Earthly Jerusalem may be in ruins, controlled by foreigners and unreachable, Heavenly Jerusalem was in every Jew's heart, waiting in the wings for the Messianic day when the promise of rebuilt Jerusalem would be fulfilled by God.

How were the Jewish people to keep these memories and hopes alive and part of their lives?

Remembering What Might be Forgotten

A series of "reminders" (rituals, prayers, and special days) developed in Jewish antiquity, and were designed to keep the memory of Jerusalem alive from generation to generation, for example:

-Jerusalem is a central theme in Jewish liturgy and religious poetry. For example, one of the 19 blessings of the Amidah (silent prayer central to all Jewish prayer services) reads: "Return to Your city Jerusalem in mercy, and establish Yourself there as you promised…Blessed are you Lord, builder of Jerusalem." The Amidah prayer is traditionally recited three times a day, while facing Jerusalem.

-Synagogues traditionally face toward Jerusalem.

-At the end of Passover seder and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we exclaim "L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim--Next Year in Jerusalem." (In Israel, one concludes, "L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim habenuyah"--"Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.")

-On Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av, we mourn for the destruction of both Temples, sitting on the floor of the synagogue to read the Book of Lamentations to a haunting cantillation.

In addition to ritual "reminders of Jerusalem," many contemporary Jewish practices, customs, and beliefs can be traced to Jerusalem, providing a constant "meta-message" of the primacy of Jerusalem for anyone who scratches the surface. For example, the order of the synagogue service is modeled after the daily Temple service (Avodah) in Jerusalem. The weekly reading of the Torah was established in Jerusalem after the return from the first exile. The seder meal on Passover is based on seders held by generations of Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem. There are many more examples of home rituals, burial practices, and synagogue practices that can be traced to Jerusalem.

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Rabbi Ed Snitkoff

Rabbi Ed Snitkoff is the Director of the Ramah Israel Seminar and lives in Jerusalem.