When the Dollin family finished their Seder last Sunday night, together with Jews throughout the world and throughout history, we sang: L’shana HaBaah, Birushalayim: next year in Jerusalem. We say the same thing as our last prayer on Yom Kippur. In the Bible, the word Jerusalem appears 667 times. In the Talmud, the word appears over 1,000 times. Jerusalem appears in our prayer liturgy dozens of times. When we pray, we face Jerusalem. When not in Jerusalem, Jews throughout history have yearned to be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been a part of the Jewish personality for 3010 years since David founded the city in the year 1000 BCE.
I thought I would take us on a quick historical tour this morning to give both ancient Jerusalem and modern Jerusalem some context as the holy city has been in the news lately --particularly regarding the plan by the municipality of Jerusalem to build an additional 1600 apartments in a Jewish suburb called Ramat Shlomo. It has created a bit of a stir internationally and has strained the US-Israel relationship. We will hear much more about Jerusalem in the news in the weeks and months ahead so I thought I would speak about it a bit today.
The Jerusalem story begins with King David who captured a small fortified hill in the Judean Hills from a Canaanite tribe called the Jebusites. The hill was steep and easy to protect. It also had water from a small spring adjacent to the hill.
David’s son Solomon expanded the city by building a temple just to the North. For the next 1000 years, give or take a few years, that temple, destroyed once and rebuilt, was the central focus of the Jewish people. In King Herod’s day, the Temple was expanded into an enormous complex that struck awe in the hearts of Israelites that would visit it from all over the land -three times annually. One of those times was Pesach when each Israelite family would offer up a lamb to be sacrificed by the Priests and eaten in Jerusalem by the family.
The second Temple was destroyed in 70CE by the Romans to the horror of the Jewish people. For the next 2000 years, Jews would yearn for the Temple to one day be rebuilt ---the laws of the Temple sacrifices were studied in every bet midrash in every country in the world where Jews lived. Jewish prayer would speak of the Temple. To this day on Shabbat and the Holidays, a special section of the service is reserved for commemorating the ritual that took place in the Temple. We will chant that very service today in a few moments.
Over time, most Jews came to believe the Temple would only be rebuilt when the messiah comes. Never the less, Jerusalem the city, retained a mystical holiness and its memory would always remain in the mind of Jews. As we read in the Psalms, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy."
After Jerusalem fell to the Romans, the Romans created a classic Roman city on its ruins they called Aelia Capotolina in which they worshiped pagan gods. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, Jerusalem became a Christian city with little attention paid to the Temple Mount but a lot of focus on the development of what became the Church Middle East, and Caliph Umar captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine overlords. He cleaned up the Temple Mount that had been used as a garbage dump and built a mosque on it. That began a uncomfortable sharing of the Holy City between Christians, Muslims and Jews that exists to the present day.
In 688, work began to create a dome around a protruding rock on the Temple Mount that was believed to be the rock upon which Abraham offered up Isaac for sacrifice. Muslims also believe it was from this rock that Mohammed ascended to heaven. The Al Aksa Mosque was first built in the year 705.
Crusaders sacked Jerusalem in 1099 killing everyone in sight and made Jerusalem Christian again, creating churches on the Temple Mount. The Muslims recaptured the city under Saladin, about a hundred years later and it became a Muslim city once again. Mamluks from the Eurasian Steppes, converts to Islam, were the next to invade and they took Jerusalem in the 13th century and held it until 1516 when Jerusalem was taken over by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman empire held the city for the next 400 years. Then came the British. General Allenby entered the Jaffa Gate in December of 1917.
Zionism was well under way by then. The first Zionist Congress in Basel was in 1897. Jews had always lived in Jerusalem but now, many more came. Already by 1850, Jews were a majority. By 1922, there were 34,000 Jews in Jerusalem, 15,000 Christians and 13,500 Muslims. By the mid 1800’s, neighborhoods began to sprout up outside the city walls to the west. By 1880, there were 9 Jewish neighborhoods in the new city. Arabs and Christians built outside the city walls as well. Building in Jerusalem, both on the west side and the east side, continues to the present day.
There was conflict in the Holy Land between Arabs and the growing Jewish presence during the British Mandate. The British turned the problem over to the newly created United Nations. In 1947, the UN approved a partition plan: separate Arab and Jewish territories with a non-binding resolution to keep Jerusalem under international auspices, what they called a “corpus seperatum.” The Jews accepted the partition plan. The Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab countries rejected it. Israel was attacked, the Jewish population of Jerusalem was under seize, the Israeli army broke the seize and captured West Jerusalem. They signed an armistice with Jordan who had annexed the Old City and East Jerusalem. The city was divided between Israel and Jordan for the next 19 years. During this time, Jordan destroyed over 50 synagogues in the Jewish quarter, one of them the Hurvah synagogue built in 1864. That synagogue was just rebuilt and rededicated last month, on March 16th. Fatah official, Khatem Abd el-Khader, called the recent renovation and dedication of the Hurva synagogue a "provocation", warned Israel that it was "playing with fire" and called on Palestinians to "converge on Al-Aksa to save it.” Violence erupted and one might ask just who provoked whom?
The Jordanians after 1948 according to the terms of the armistice agreement, were obligated to let Jews visit the Western Wall, the Kotel. They did not allow it. The Christian population in Jordanian Jerusalem fell from 25,000 to 11,000 as restrictive laws were imposed on Christian institutions as well. The Holy Sites in the Old City were completely cut off to the Jewish people. The ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was compromised and cut off from the Jewish people. At the same time, the Knesset, government offices, offices of foreign affairs and police as well as the president’s residence were built in West Jerusalem.
In 1967, Israel begged the Jordanians to stay out of the inevitable war with Syria and Egypt. Never the less, on May 30th, King Hussein signed an military pact with Nasser who had blockaded the Straits of Tiran, put 100,000 Egyptian troops into the Sinai and vowed to drive the Jews into the sea. Israel attacked on June 5th, surrounded the Old City and captured it on June 7th. Jerusalem was now in sovereign Jewish hands. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol announced that Jerusalem was “the eternal capital of Israel.” On June 27th, 1967, the Knesset annexed all of Jerusalem, east and west. In 1965, Teddy Kollek had become mayor of Jewish Jerusalem. After the '67 war, Jerusalem city boundaries were drawn up and Kollek began building a unified city with full access to all holy sites guaranteed by law.
Some international bodies claim that Israel’s annexation of West Jerusalem after 1948 was illegal according to international law. They also claim that the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem was illegal. There is considerable debate on this subject. Israel claims it is not illegal and that Israel and the Jewish people have a historic right to Jerusalem that goes back 3 millennia. I, for one, agree with that position.
From 1967 until the Oslo process in the 90’s, no Israeli administration, Labor or Likkud, right or left, even considered re-dividing Jerusalem. Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin did put Jerusalem theoretically on the negotiating table but even he held firm for Jewish sovereignty over the entire city saying, “if they told us that the price of peace is giving up on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, my reply would be ‘let’s do without peace’.” In 2000, Prime Minister Barak considered offering some sections of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital along the lines of a rather tortured division of the city proposed by President Clinton. But PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected the whole deal and a second Intifada broke out. At a post summit conference, Chairman Arafat revealed his designs on a united Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty as he said: “not only [over] the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Temple Mount mosques, and the Armenian quarter, but it is Jerusalem in its entirety, entirety, entirety.” So, after a 3000 year journey, we come to the present. At a ill-timed moment in history, a mid level Israeli bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven stage process in the construction of 1600 apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in a northeastern suburb of Jerusalem. Construction in this part of Jerusalem has been going on for years with nary a complaint by Jew or Palestinian. This neighborhood itself is a large Jewish religious neighborhood surrounded to each side by even larger Jewish neighborhoods. This neighborhood would never be a part of any peace plan. The residents of this neighborhood as well as most residents of Jerusalem are scratching their heads perplexed that Ramat Shlomo became the source of an international incident. No one in Israel would consider “Ramat Shlomo” a settlement like you might find on some hill top in the West Bank. In fact, no part of Jerusalem, east or west can be considered a settlement as it is has been annexed Israeli territory since ‘67 which means all residents of Jerusalem, Arab and Jew, are full citizens of the State of Israel. This is not the case in the West Bank and that is why the West Bank has always been in play in peace negotiations.
The ill-will expressed publicly two weeks ago between the US administration and Israel has pretty much blown over. I suspect, however, that the issue of Jerusalem will come up again if any kind of peace process actually begins again. But perhaps the conflict of the past few weeks is an important one. It brings to light that re-dividing Jerusalem in any meaningful way would meet severe resistance by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. That would make it unlikely that an Israeli administration would be able to offer it up again at the peace table.
So that’s Jerusalem. The name means city of peace but it has engendered conflict throughout its 3000 year history. We can only pray that one day, Jerusalem, as the capital city of the State of Israel, will be able to live up to its name.