Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


This is a controversial topic.
Please read talk page discussions before making changes.
For alternate uses see Jerusalem (disambiguation)
Jerusalem (Modern Hebrew: ירושלים Yerushaláyim, Biblical Hebrew: ירושלם, Arabic: القدس al-Quds, see also Names of Jerusalem) is an ancient Middle Eastern city of key importance to the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

With today's population of 700,000, it is a richly heterogeneous city, representing a wide range of national, religious, and socioeconomic groups. The section called the "Old City" is surrounded by walls and has four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim.

The status of the city is hotly disputed. The 1949 cease-fire line between Israel and the West Bank, also known as the Green Line, cuts through the city. After Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, it controls the entire city and claims sovereignty over it. According to Israeli Jerusalem Law, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and is the center of Jerusalem District; it serves as the country's seat of government and otherwise functions as capital. Most countries do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over some or all of the city and enforce this view by maintaining their embassies in Tel Aviv or in the suburbs. Palestinians also claim all or part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The origin of the name of the city is uncertain. A common theory is that it combines the names of two Biblical cities which may have been Jerusalem: Jebus (named after the founder of the Jebusites) and Salem (a Canaanite deity). It is also possible to translate the name as either "Foundation of Salem" or "Foundation of Peace". It is also known by some as the City of David and Zion.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Geography
3 Neighborhoods and places
4 Local government
5 Demographics
6 Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict
7 Current status
8 Status as Israel's capital
9 Islamic view of the status of Jerusalem
10 Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism
11 Arguments for and against internationalization
12 See also
13 View of Jerusalem
14 External reference and links



This city has known many wars and various periods of occupation. At one time it was a city of the Jebusites. Later it came under Jewish control. The Bible, supported by archeological finds, records that King David defeated the Jebusites in war and captured the city without destroying it. David then expanded the city to the south, and declared it the capital city of the united Kingdom of Israel.

Later, still according to the Bible, the First Jewish Temple was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon. The Temple became a major cultural center in the region, eventually overcoming other ritual centers such as Shilo and Bethel. By the end of the "First Temple Period," Jerusalem was the sole acting religious shrine in the kingdom and a center of regular pilgrimage. It was at this time that historical records begin to corroborate the biblical history, and the kings of Judah are historically identifiable, and we learn of the significance the Temple had.

Near the end of the reign of King Solomon, the northern ten tribes split off to form the Kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria. Jerusalem then become the capital of the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah.

Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah for some 400 years. It had survived (or, as some historians claim, averted) an Assyrian siege in 701 BC, unlike Samaria, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, which had fallen in 722 BC. However, the city was overcome by the Babylonians in 598 BC, who then took the young king Jehoiachin into eternal captivity, together with most of the aristocracy of that time. However, the country rebelled again under Zedekiah, prompting the city's repeated conquest and destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was burnt, and the city's walls were ruined, thus rendering what remained of the city unprotected.

After several decades of captivity and the Persian conquest of Bablyon, the Persians allowed the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the city's walls and the Temple. It has continued to be the capital of Judah, as a province under the Persians, Greek and Romans, with a relatively short period of independence. The Temple complex was upgraded and the Temple itself rebuilt under Herod the Great. That structure is known as the Second Temple.

First millennium

"Shekel Israel, year 3". Reverse: "Jerusalem the Holy" and a pomegranate branch.]]
, Rome.]]

The city was ruined yet again when a civil war accompanied by a revolt against Rome in Judea led to the city's repeated sack and ruin, by the hands of Titus at 70 AD.

The Second Temple was burnt, and the whole city was ruined. The only remaining part of the Temple was a portion of an external (retaining) wall which became known as the Western Wall.

Sixty years later, after crushing the Bar Kokhba's revolt, the Roman emperor Hadrian resettled the city as a pagan polis under the name Aelia Capitolina. Jews were forbidden to enter the city, but for a single day of the year, Tisha B'Av, (the Ninth of Av, see Hebrew calendar), when they could weep for the destruction of their city at the Temple's only remaining wall.

The Byzantine Empire, which came to control the region in after the split of the Roman Empire, cherished the city for its Christian history. However, in accordance with traditions of religious tolerance often found in the ancient East, Jews were allowed into it in the 5th century A.D.

Although the Koran does not mention the name "Jerusalem", Islamic tradition holds that it was from Jerusalem that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in the Night Journey, or Isra. The city was one of the Arab empire's first conquests in 638 AD; according to Arab historians of the time, the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab personally went to the city to receive its submission, cleaning out and praying at the Temple Mount in the process. Sixty years later, the Dome of the Rock was built, a structure in which there lies the stone where Muhammad is said to have tethered his mount Buraq during the Isra. This is also reputed to be the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son (Isaac in the Jewish tradition, Ishmael in the Muslim one.) Note that the octagonal and gold-sheeted Dome is not the same thing as the Al-Aqsa Mosque beside it, which was built more than three centuries later.

Second millennium

On July 15, 1099 during the First Crusade, Christian soldiers took Jerusalem after a difficult one month siege. They then proceeded to slaughter most of the city's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Raymond d'Aguiliers, chaplain to Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse, wrote:

Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious ceremonies were ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle-reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood. (Edward Peters, The First Crusade: The chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and other source materials, p. 214)

Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted until 1291, although Jerusalem itself was recaptured by Saladin in 1187. In 1173 Benjamin of Tudela visited Jerusalem. He described it as a small city full of Jacobitess, Armenians, Greeks, and Georgiansns. Two hundred Jews dwelt in a corner of the city under the Tower of David.

The early Arab period was also one of religious tolerance. However, in early 11th century, the Egyptian Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all churches and synagogues in Jerusalem. The Crusaders, at the end of the century, captured Jerusalem and massacred the whole Jewish and Muslim population. They made Jerusalem the center of a feudal state, of which the King of Jerusalem was the chief. Neither Jews nor Muslims were allowed into the city during that time. In 1187, Jerusalem was retaken by Salah ad-Din, who permitted worship of all religions.

In 1219 the walls of the city were taken down by order of the Sultan of Damascus; in 1229, by treaty with Egypt, Jerusalem came into the hands of Frederick II of Germany. In 1239 he began to rebuild the walls; but they were again demolished by Da'ud, the emir of Kerak.

In 1243 Jerusalem came again into the power of the Christians, and the walls were repaired. The Kharezmian Tatars took the city in 1244; and they in turn were driven out by the Egyptians in 1247. In 1260 the Tatars under Hulaku Khan overran the whole land, and the Jews that were in Jerusalem had to flee to the neighboring villages.

In 1244, Sultan Malik al-Muattam razed the city walls, rendering it again defenseless and dealing a heavy blow to the city's status. In the middle of the 13th century, Jerusalem was captured by the Egyptian Mameluks. In 1517, it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a period of renewal under Suleiman the Magnificent - including the rebuilding of magnificent walls of what is now known as the Old City (however, some of the wall foundations are remains of genuine antique walls). The city remained open to all religions, although the empire's faulty management after Suleiman meant slow economical stagnation.

In 1482, the visiting Dominican priest Felix Fabri described Jerusalem as a dwelling place of diverse nations of the world, and is, as it were, a collection of all manner of abominations. As abominations he listed Saracens, Greeks, Syrians, Jacobites, Abyssianians, Nestorians, Armenians, Gregorians, Maronites, Turcomans, Bedouins, Assassins, a sect possibly Druzes, Mamelukes, and the most accursed of all, Jews. Only the Latin Christians long with all their hearts for Christian princes to come and subject all the country to the authority of the Church of Rome. (A. Stewart, Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, Vol 9-10, p. 384-391)

19th-early 20th centuries

The modern history of Jerusalem began in the mid-nineteenth century, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, the city was a backwater, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. Nevertheless, it was, even then, an extremely heterogeneous city because of its significance to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The population was divided into four major communities--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian--and the first three of these could be further divided into countless subgroups, based on precise religious affiliation or country of origin. An example of this would be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was meticulously partitioned between the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches. Tensions between the groups ran so deep that the keys to the shrine were kept with a 'neutral' Muslim family for safekeeping.

At that time, the communities were located mainly around their primary shrines. The Muslim community, then the largest, surrounded the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount (northeast), the Christians lived mainly in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (northwest), the Jews lived mostly on the slope above the Western Wall(southeast), and the Armenians lived near the Zion Gate (southwest). In no way was this division exclusive, however, it did form the basis of the four quarters during the British Mandate period (1917-1948).

Several changes occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, which had long-lasting effects on the city: their implications can be felt today and lie at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over Jerusalem. The first of these was a trickle of Jewish immigrants, from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, which shifted the balance of population. The first such immigrants were ultra-Orthodox Jews: some were elderly individuals, who came to die in Jerusalem and be buried on the Mount of Olives, others were students, who came with their families to await the coming of the Messiah, and adding new life to the local population. At the same time, European colonial powers also began seeking toeholds in the city, hoping to expand their influence their with the imminent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This was also an age of Christian religious revival, and many churches sent missionaries to proselytize among the Muslim and especially the Jewish populations, believing that this would speed the Second Coming of Christ. Finally, the combination of European colonialism and religious zeal was expressed in a new scientific interest in the biblical lands in general and Jerusalem in particular. Archeological and other expeditions made some spectacular finds, which increased interest in Jerusalem even more.

By the 1860s, the city, with an area of only 1 square kilometer, was already overcrowded. Thus began the construction of the New City, the part of Jerusalem outside of the city walls. Seeking new areas to stake their claims, the Russian Orthodox Church began constructing a complex, now known as the Russian Compound, a few hundred meters from Jaffa Gate. The first attempt at residential settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem was begun by Jews, who built a small complex on the hill overlooking Zion Gate, across the Valley of Hinnom. This settlement, known as Mishkenot Shaananim, eventually flourished and set the precedent for other new communities to spring up to the west and north of the Old City. In time, as the communities grew and connected geographically, this became known as the New City.

British conquest

soldiers at the Western Wall after taking part in 1917 British conquest of Jerusalem]]
British were victorious over the Turks in the Middle East and with victory in Palestine, General Sir Edmund Allenby, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force entered Jerusalem on foot, out of respect for the Holy City, on December 11th, 1917. By the time General Allenby took Jerusalem from the Ottomans in 1917, the new city was a patchwork of neighborhoods and communities, each with a distinct ethnic character.

This continued under British rule, as the neighborhoods flourished and the Old City of Jerusalem gradually emerged as little more than an impoverished older neighborhood. One of the British bequests to the city was a town planning order requiring new buildings in the city to be faced with sandstone thus preserving some of the overall look of the city.


Jerusalem is situated in 31° 46′ 45″ N. lat. and 35° 13′ 25″ E. long., upon the southern spur of a plateau the eastern side of which slopes from 2,460 ft. above sea-level north of the Temple area to 2,130 ft. at the southeastern extremity. The western hill is about 2,500 ft. high and slopes southeast from the Judean plateau.

Jerusalem is surrounded upon all sides by valleys, of which those on the north are less pronounced than those on the other three sides. The principal two valleys start northwest of the present city. The first runs eastward with a slight southerly bend (the present Wadi al-Joz), then, deflecting directly south (formerly known as "Kidron Valley," the modern Wadi Sitti Maryam), divides the Mount of Olives from the city. The second runs directly south on the western side of the city, turns eastward at its southeastern extremity, then runs directly east, and joins the first valley near Bir Ayyub ("Job's Well"). It was called in olden times the "Valley of Hinnom," and is the modern Wadi al-Rababi, which is not to be identified with the first-mentioned valley.

A third valley, commencing in the northwest where is now the Damascus Gate, ran south-southeasterly down to the Pool of Siloam, and divided the lower part into two hills (the lower and the upper cities of Josephus). This is probably the later Tyropœon ("Cheese-makers'") Valley. A fourth valley led from the western hill (near the present Jaffa Gate) over to the Temple area: it is represented in modern Jerusalem by David Street. A fifth cut the eastern hill into a northern and a southern part. Later Jerusalem was thus built upon four spurs.

Today, neighbouring towns are Bethlehem and Beit Jala at the southern city border, and Abu Dis to the East.

Neighborhoods and places

West City

East City


Local government


Current mayor of Jerusalem is Uri Lupolianski, member of the local United Torah Judaism faction and the first Ultra-Orthodox Jew to attain this position in the city. See the List of mayors of Jerusalem.


Jerusalem's population at different times
Year Jews Muslims Christians Total
1525 1000 3700 ? 4700
1538 1150 6750 ? 7900
1553 1634 11,750 ? 12,384
1562 1200 11,450 ? 12,650
1844 7120 5000 3390 15,510
1876 12,000 7560 5470 25,030
1896 28,110 8560 8750 45,420
1922 34,000 13,400 14,700 62,600
1931 51,200 19,900 19,300 90,500
1944 97,000 30,600 29,400 157,000
1948 100,000 40,000 25,000 165,000
1967 195,700 54,963 12,646 263,307
1980 292,300 ? ? 407,100
1985 327,700 ? ? 457,700
1987 340,000 121,000 14,000 475,000
1990 378,200 131,800 14,400 524,400
1995 482,000 164,300 16,300 662,600
1996 421,200 ? ? 602,100
2000 448,800 208,700 ? 657,500
2004 464,000 ? ? 692,000

External sources

Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict

The United Nations proposed, in its 1947 plan for the partition of Palestine, for Jerusalem to be a city under international administration. See [1]. However, on January 23, 1950 the Knesset passed a resolution that stated Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.

in center of .]]

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when a Palestinian-Arab state failed to materialize and the British Mandate of Palestine was invaded by Egypt and Jordan, Jerusalem was divided. The Western half of the New City became part of the new state of Israel, while the eastern half, along with the Old City, was annexed by Jordan. Jordan did not allow Jewish access to the Western Wall (known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall) and Temple Mount, Judiasm's holiest sites, in the Old City. Jordan constructed a slum within a few feet of the base of the Western Wall and used the area as a garbage dump, and converted some churches to mosques. Christian access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount was allowed in many cases, but this was seldom in use, as most of the Christians in Jerusalem were UN officials running between the divided parts.

East Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis in the Six-Day War of 1967, along with the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Under Israel, members of all religions were largely granted access to their holy sites. The slum in front of the Wall was removed and a large open air plaza constructed. This plaza is a favored site of Jewish prayer services. However, concerns have been raised about several attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, notably a serious fire in 1969 (arson by a delusional Australian tourist) and tunnels opened beneath that mosque, discovered in 1981, 1988 and 1996 [1]. The status of East Jerusalem remains a highly controversial issue.

See also: Crusades, Temple in Jerusalem, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Orient House

Current status

Israeli law designates Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; only a few countries recognize this designation. See #Status_as_Israel's_capital.

According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Jerusalem was supposed to be an international city, not part of either the proposed Jewish or Arab state. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, West Jerusalem was occupied by Israel, while East Jerusalem (including the Old City) was occupied by Jordan, along with the West Bank. The Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was not internationally recognized, except by the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, and began taking steps to unify the city under Israeli control. It annexed 6.4 km² of Jordanian Jerusalem and 64 km² of the nearby West Bank. (see Maps of Jerusalem pre- and post-1967). Residents of the annexed territory were offered Israeli citizenship on condition they renounce their Jordanian citizenship, which most of them refused to do.

In 1988, Jordan withdrew all its claims to the West Bank (including Jerusalem) in favour of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is also controversial. The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have a 'permanent resident' status, which allows them to move within Israel proper. However should they move out of Israel proper (e.g. into the Palestinian territories), this status will be lost and they will not be able to return. Since many have extended families in the West Bank, only miles away, this often implies enormous hassles. By Israel's Citizenship Law, they are entitled to Israeli citizenship, which they can receive automatically or almost automatically, provided that they do not have any other citizenship. Thus, many Palestinians who would like to hold their Jordanian passports have to retain the status of permanent residents. Some Palestinians decline to accept citizenship since they consider it equivalent to accepting Israel's annexation.

Another issue is the status of family members not recorded in the census preceding the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. They must apply for entry into East Jerusalem for family reunification with the Ministry of the Interior. Palestinians complain that such applications have been arbitrarily denied for purposes of limiting the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem, while Israeli authorities claim they treat Palestinians fairly. These and other aspects have been a source of criticism from Palestinians and Israeli human rights organizations, such as B'Tselem.

Status as Israel's capital

In 1980, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Jerusalem's status as the nation's "eternal and indivisible capital", by passing the Basic Law: Jerusalem — Capital of Israel;.

As of 2004, only two states, Costa Rica and El Salvador, have their embassies in Jerusalem (since 1984), but the Consulate General of Greece as well as that of the United Kingdom and the United States is based there. Additionally, Bolivia and Paraguay have their embassies in Mevasseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem.

All the branches of Israeli government (Presidential, Legislative, Judicial, and Administrative) are seated in Jerusalem. The Knesset building is well known in Jerusalem.

Palestinian aspirations

Palestinian groups claim either all of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) or East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

UN position

The position of the United Nations on the question of Jerusalem is contained in General Assembly resolution 181(11) and subsequent resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council concerning this question.

The UN Security Council, in UN Resolution 478, declared that the 1980 Jerusalem Law declaring Jerusalem as Israel's "eternal and indivisible" capital was "null and void and must be rescinded forthwith" (14-0-1, US abstaining). The resolution instructed member states to withdraw their diplomatic representation from the city as a punitive measure.

Before this resolution, thirteen countries had their embassies in Jerusalem: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Netherlands, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela. Following the UN resolution, all thirteen moved their embassies to Tel Aviv. Costa Rica and El Salvador moved back to Jerusalem in 1984.

United States position

The United States Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed by congress in 1995, states that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999". Since then, the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv is being suspended by the President semi-annually, each time stating that "[the] Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem". As a result of the Embassy Act, official US documents and web sites refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, 2003 states:

"The Congress maintains its commitment to relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and urges the President [...] to immediately begin the process of relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem". [1]

However, President Bush dismissed this section as "advisory", stating that it "impermissibly interferes with the President's constitutional authority". [1] The US Constitution reserves the conduct of foreign policy to the President and acts of Congress which make foreign policy are invalid for that reason.

United Kingdom position

UK govt statement [1]

"In line with the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993 and the Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995, both agreed by Israel and the PLO, the Government regards the status of Jerusalem as still to be determined in permanent status negotiations between the parties. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. We recognise no sovereignty over the city."

"Jerusalem has a unique religious and cultural importance for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and we attach great importance to ensuring access to Jerusalem and freedom of worship there for those of all faiths."

Islamic view of the status of Jerusalem

Muslims have traditionally regarded Jerusalem as having a special religious status, partly because of its link with Jewish figures such as David, Solomon, and Jesus who are regarded as prophets in Islam, and partly because it was the first qibla (direction of prayer) in Islam, but also because the "farthest Mosque" (''al-masjid al-Aqsa) Al-Aqsa Mosque in verse (17:1) of the Qur'an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on which the mosque of that name now stands:

سبحان الذي أسرى بعبده ليلاً من المسجد الحرام إلى المسجد الأقصى الذي باركنا حوله
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless (Yusuf Ali's translation)

After the conquest of Jerusalem by Arab armies, parts of the city soon took on a Muslim aspect. In 688 the Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, also known as Noble Sanctuary; in 728 the cupola over the Al Aqsa Al-Aqsa Mosque;a mosque was erected, the same being restored in 758-775 by Al-Mahdi. In 831 Al-Ma'mun restored the Dome of the Rock and built the octagonal wall. In 1016 the Dome was partly destroyed by earthquakes; but it was repaired in 1022.

Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism

Jerusalem in Torah and Tanakh

Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in the Torah and Tanakh (Bible or "Old Testament") which is the Written Law basis for the Oral Law (Mishnah, Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh) studied, practiced and treasured by Jews and Judaism for three millennia. (List of Jewish Prayers and Blessings).

Jerusalem has long been embedded into the religious consciousness of the Jewish people. Jews had always studied and personalized the struggle by King David to capture Jerusalem and his desire to build the Jewish temple there as described in the Book of Samuel and his yearnings about Jerusalem which became part of the popular prayers and songs.

Jerusalem in Psalms

For example, the book of Psalms, which was frequently recited and memorized by Jews for centuries says:

Festivals and Jerusalem

Two major Jewish festivals observed by most
Jews conclude with the words: "Next Year in Jerusalem" ("leshanah haba-ah b'yerushalayim") or "Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem" ("leshanah haba-ah b'yerushalayim habenuyah"):

Stressing the desire to "return to Jerusalem" was printed in the holiest texts of those days, the Hagada of Pesach (Passover) and the Machzor of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) which were fervently read and then treasured at home given pride of place on family bookshelves, reinforcing the notion that the day would come when the Jews would yet go back to their most beloved place on Earth: Jerusalem.

Today, with over a quarter million Jews practicing Orthodox Judaism living in Jerusalem, the Jewish festivals come to life, and result in many synagogues and the Western Wall witnessing tens of thousands of fervent worshipers flooding the Jewish places of worship.

Synagogues face Jerusalem

When the Jews were exiled from their land, first by the Babylonian Empire about 2,500 years ago and then by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, the great rabbis and scholars of the mishnah and Talmud instituted the policy that each synagogue should replicate the original ancient Jewish temple and that it be constructed in such a way that all prayers in the siddur (prayer book) be recited while facing Jerusalem, as that is where the ancient temple stood and it was the only permissible place of the sacrificial offerings.

Thus synagogues in Europe face south; synagogues in North America face east, countries to the south of Israel, such as Yemen or South Africa face north; and those to the east of Israel, face west. Even when in private prayer and not in a synagogue, a Jew would have to face Jerusalem as mandated by Jewish law compiled by the rabbis in the Shulkhan Arukh. In a secular age, this may be hard to grasp, but during all the centuries and millennia when the majority of the Jewish people were practicing Judaism, and those who still do so to this day, the very "existence" of Jerusalem is not just a key "place" in the world, but is also the "center" of religious experiences, constantly re-inforced by prayers and rituals.

Daily Prayers mention Jerusalem

The daily prayers, over the last two thousand years recited by religious Jews three times a day mentions Jerusalem and its functions multiple times. Some examples from the siddur and the amidah are:

(Addressing God): "And to Jerusalem, your city, may you return in compassion, and may you rest within it, as you have spoke. May you rebuild it soon in our days as an eternal structure, and may you speedily establish the throne of (King) David within it. Blessed are you God, the builder of Jerusalem...May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are you God, who restores his presence to Zion."

Blessings including Jerusalem

Additionally when partaking of a daily meal with bread, the following is part of the required "Grace After Meals" which must be recited:
"Have mercy Lord our God, on Israel your people, on Jerusalem your city, on Zion the resting place of your glory, on the monarchy of (King David) your annointed, and on the great and holy (Temple) house upon which your name is called...Rebuild Jerusalem, the holy city, soon in our days. Blessed are you God who rebuilds Jerusalem in his mercy, amen."

When partaking of a light meal, the thanksgiving blessing states:
"...Have mercy, Lord, our God, on Israel, your people; on Jerusalem, your city; and on Zion, the resting place of your glory; upon your altar, and upon your temple. Rebuild Jerusalem, the city of holiness, speedily in our days. Bring us up into it and gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness and bless you upon it in holiness and purity. For you, God, are good and do good to all and we thank you for the land and for the nourishment..."

Mourning recalls Jerusalem

The saddest fast-day on the Jewish religious calendar is the Ninth of Av when Jews traditionally spent the day crying for the loss of their two Holy Temples and the destruction of Jerusalem. This major (24 hour) fast is preceded on the calendar by two minor dawn to dusk fast days, the Tenth of Tevet mourning for the time Babylonia laid siege to the First Temple, and for the tragedy of the Seventeenth of Tammuz when Rome broke through the outer walls of the Second Temple.

The words used when Jews console any mourner during the customary Seven Days of Mourning are:

"May God comfort you among all the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem"

Remembrances of Jerusalem

There was even an ancient custom to leave a patch near the entrance to one's home unpainted as a remembrance of the destruction (zecher lechurban), of the temples and Jerusalem. The sacredness of Jerusalem has never lapsed for Jews and Judaism, and this is illustrated by the fact that Jews consider the
Temple Mount to be sacred ground to the very present as it is remembered and acknowledged as the exact spot of the Holy Temples.

Jerusalem at weddings

There is a custom practiced by some, prior to when a Jewish groom walks to take his place beneath the bridal canopy, that a tiny amount of ash be touched upon his forehead earlier, so that he not allow his own rejoicing to be "greater" than the ongoing need to recall Jerusalem's fall. The well-known custom of the groom breaking a glass with the heel of his shoe after the ceremony, is also related to the subject of mourning for Jerusalem. The groom recites the sentance from Psalms "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." (Psalms 137:5, KJV; words not in original Hebrew italicized)

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Jews have always known and believed that in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall is the only "surviving" edifice of the Second Temple from the era of the Roman conquests. Apparently, there are esoteric texts in Midrash that mention God's promise to keep this one remnant of the outer temple wall standing as a memorial and reminder of the past. Hence the significance of the "Western Wall" (kotel hama'aravi), or the "Wailing Wall" which also attests to the fact that non-Jews in the area were always conscious of the Jews' propensity to cry whenever they came before it.

Rabbis and Jerusalem

The lives of some of the foremost rabbis (scholars and leaders) in the history of Judaism are intertwined with the gradual rebuilding of Jerusalem following its desolation at the hands of the Roman Empire. In fact, the Talmud records that the rabbinical leader Yohanan ben Zakkai (c. 70 C.E.) urged a peaceful surrender, in order to save the city from destruction, but was not heeded as the city was under the control of the Zealots.

The roots of the earliest modern-day "return to Zion" by the Jews, has been traced to Yehuda Halevi, who died in about 1140. Jewish legend relates that as he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated "Zionide" Tzion ha-lo Tish'ali and that at that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab.

Then, it is Nahmanides, the Ramban, who, in 1267 emigrated to the land of Israel, and came for a short stay to live in Jerusalem. He wrote that he found barely ten Jews, as it had been desolated by the Crusades, nevertheless, together they built a synagogue that is the oldest that still stands to this day, known as the "Ramban Synagogue".

Both Elijah ben Solomon (d. 1797) known as the Vilna Gaon, and Israel ben Eliezer (d. 1760) known as the Ba'al Shem Tov instructed and sent small successive waves of their disciples to settle in Jerusalem then under Turkish Ottoman rule. They created a Jewish religious infrastructure that remains the core of the ultra Orthodox Judaism Haredi Jewish community in Jerusalem to this day.

The British Mandate of Palestine authorities created the new offices of "Chief Rabbi" in 1921 for both Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews with central offices in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (d. 1935) moved to Jerusalem to set up this office, associated with the "Religious Zionist" Mafdal group, becoming the first modern Chief Rabbi together with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yaakov Meir. The official structure housing the Chief Rabbinate was completed in 1958 and is known as Heichal Shlomo.

Jerusalem is also home to a number of the world's largest yeshivot (Talmudical and Rabbinical schools), and has become the undisputed capital of Jewish scholarly, religious and spiritual life for most of world Jewry.

Six Day War aftermath

Seen marching into the center of walled Old Jerusalem in this June 1967 photo, are (left to right): Israeli Generals Uzi Narkiss; Moshe Dayan (Minister of Defense, center); and Yitzchak Rabin, (Chief of Staff, right):

The Western Wall's short stretch of ancient stones in Jerusalem, facing the Temple Mount now has a huge public plaza built behind it, built after Jerusalem's capture by Israel Defense Force following the Six Day War in 1967, which was considered by secular and religious Jews as a new day of "Liberation" and a new Israeli holiday was created: Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim). The most popular secular Hebrew song is "Jerusalem of Gold" (Yerushalayim shel zahav) and was first composed and sung when Jerusalem was captured from the Kingdom of Jordan in 1967.

Many large state gatherings of the State of Israel take place there now, including the official swearing-in of different Israel army officers units, national ceremonies such as memorial services for fallen Israeli soldiers on Yom Hazikaron, huge celebrations on Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut), huge gatherings of tens of thousands on Jewish religious holidays, and on-going daily prayers by regular attendees, as well as being perhaps the major high-point for tourists visiting Jerusalem, all of which, each in their own way, reflect the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people past and present.

Arguments for and against internationalization

The proposal that Jerusalem should be a city under international administration is still made at times by Christians, the only interested party without a significant population in the city. (Internationalization is the proposal favoured by the Pope.) Most negotiations regarding the future status of Jerusalem have however been based on partition; for example, one scheme would have Israel keep the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall (the "Wailing Wall"), with the rest of the Old City and the Temple Mount being transferred to a new Palestinian state. Some Israelis are opposed to any division of Jerusalem, based on cultural, historic, and religious grounds. Others believe that areas such as the Old City which are sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam should be under international or multilateral control. Palestinians have argued for an open city, though its feasibility has been challenged in light of the past treatment of Jewish sites at the hands of some Arabs, their recent destruction of the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, the failure of international bodies, such as the League of Nations Mandatory power and the United Nations, to prevent Arab destruction of religious sites, and the curtailment of freedom to worship at those sites.

See also

View of Jerusalem

(Click image to view larger version)

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem taken from the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives. The graves of the cemetery can be seen below, with the Valley of King David to the left. Directly in front is Jerusalem's Old City Walls enclosing the Old City, with the Dome of the Rock prominent.

External reference and links