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The Reality of Reunified Jerusalem

I will never forget the day and the exuberant feeling! It was June 8th, 1967. I was a senior in high school and had come to school that morning for our graduation rehearsal. But the real excitement that day was for the unbelievable and unthinkable news. Stirring accounts were being reported by all of the national TV stations. In those days it was the big 3: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Incredible pictures and images of Israel’s capture, liberation, and reunification of Jerusalem accompanied the reports. What had begun a few days earlier as a defensive war by Israel for self-preservation, was now turning into a rout of the 9 opposing Arab armies supported behind the scenes by the Soviet Union.

The day before, June 7th, early morning in Israel, PM Levi Eshkol proposed a cease-fire and peace talks to Jordan’s King Hussein. This proposal followed weeks of failed diplomacy with the Hashemite Kingdom urging them not to join and engage in a war with Israel. King Hussein failed to respond to the offered cease-fire proposal. By 10 am that morning, the Old City of Jerusalem was in the hands of the IDF. Now once again Jerusalem was a unified city. Prior to this moment, beginning with Israel’s independence in May 1948, if you were Israeli or Jewish and in Jerusalem, the only way to get a glimpse of the Old City was to look through the Mandelbaum Gate checkpoint. You could peer into the streets of the Old City but you could only imagine the Kotel and old shuk marketplace. With very few exceptions, Jews were forbidden to enter the Old City.

Lt. General Mordecai (Motta) Gur, responsible for leading his paratroopers to capture the Old City of Jerusalem, was well aware of the long-standing devotion of Jews to Jerusalem and its centrality to Judaism. Addressing his troops upon their recapture of the Old City and holy sites, he said:

“For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you come–you, the paratroopers– and returned it to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall, for which every heartbeat, is ours once again. Many Jews have taken their lives into their hands throughout our history, in order to reach Jerusalem and live here. Endless words of longing have expressed the deep yearning for Jerusalem that beats within the Jewish heart. You have been given the great privilege of completing the circle, of returning to the nation its capital and its holy center…Jerusalem is yours forever.”

Contrary to the fake news and propaganda put out by every Palestinian leader, past and present, and other virulent anti-Israel/anti-Semitic groups, the city of Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish nation since the time of King David, close to 3,000 years ago. Why else would the Levites compose a Psalm centered on Jerusalem? Psalm 137 expresses the sorrowful longing of the exiled Jewish nation at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. “If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right arm forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (Tehillim 137:5-6)

These two verses capture a vital tenet of our religion and culture, the centrality of Jerusalem. So significant is the loss of Jerusalem to our Jewish people that every Jewish wedding ceremony, the moment of a couple’s greatest joy, concludes with the recitation of these verses by the groom, rendering the joyous celebration incomplete. At the end of both the Pesach Seder and the Neilah service on Yom Kippur we express our hope לשנה הבאה בירושלים, “next year in Jerusalem.”

While Jerusalem is mentioned 641 times in the תנ”ך, our Bible, it is not mentioned even once in the Koran. The question arises, however, why isn’t Jerusalem mentioned by name in the Torah? It is only referred to, for example in Devorim 12:11 and 26, as “… the place that the Lord will choose.” The Rambam explains the reason for this obscurity by the Torah in his “Guide for the Perplexed,” Book III chapter 45. “If the nations had learned that this place was to be the center of the highest religious truths, they would occupy it, or fight for it most perseveringly. Those who were then in possession of it might destroy or ruin the place with all their might.” Therefore until the reign of King David, the selection of Jerusalem as the center of Judaism was unknown even to the Jews.

The Rambam’s words ring true today amongst most Palestinians and revisionist Moslem clerics and their followers. Of all the cities that Yasser Arafat could have proposed and designated as the future capital of his invented Palestinian nation, he chose Jerusalem. More recent are the fraudulent and intellectually bogus claims that the two Holy Temples of Israel never existed on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Even The New York Times noted that “Temple denial, increasingly common among Palestinian leaders, also has a long history: After Israel became a state in 1948, the Waqf removed from its guidebooks all references to King Solomon’s Temple, whose location at the site had previously said was ‘beyond dispute.’” (New York Times, 11/22/2014)

Jerusalem of old, as it is today, was the location of the king’s palace (today’s prime minister’s residence) and governmental institutions. During the First and Second Temple periods, the Sanhedrin Ha’Gadol, the Supreme Court of Jewish law, had its chamber within its walls. The verse from Isaiah 2:3 that we recite when taking out the Torah from the ark, כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר השם מירושלים, “For out of Zion will come the Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem,” is a direct reference to the Sanhedrin Ha’Gadol and its location, Jerusalem. Based upon their rulings every mitzvah in the Torah was performed.

Jerusalem of old was a fortified walled city. According to the Rambam, Laws of Shemita and Yovel 12:15, Jerusalem’s sanctity stems from the concept of קדושת מחיצות, “the sanctity of the walls.” Here the Rambam suggests that the special rules that we apply to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount apply today as well even though its walls have subsequently been destroyed. (Mesoras HaRav, Vayikra, p 213.) When the Holy Temple exists, according to the Rambam, the mitzvah of Lulav is not just one day in the Temple and Jerusalem as it is in Tel Aviv, Eilat, or Davie, Florida. Rather, it is a mitzvah from the Torah all 7 days, throughout the entire city of Jerusalem, just as it is within the Temple itself.

All Torah scholars concur that the Pesach sacrifice, due to its level of holiness, had to be consumed during the Seder within Jerusalem’s city limits. Thus due to its original walls, we see that the entire city of Jerusalem had and has today a certain legal status by virtue of being an extension of the Holy Temple’s courtyard. As an aside, the Talmud tells us that the women of Jerusalem never needed to use perfume. Why not? The aroma and fragrance from the incense used on the altar of the Holy Temple permeated the air of Jerusalem. Here again, we see that due to its close relationship with the Holy Temple, Jerusalem had a sweet and beautiful smell.

While we do not need President Trump or other world leaders to confer any status or special recognition on Jerusalem, we are nonetheless very grateful to him and the other world leaders for their courageous acts of moving their countries’ embassies there. The relocation of these embassies is a concrete and visible testament to the rest of the world, the non-Jewish world, of the reality that the entire city of Jerusalem is our rightful and eternal capital.

This coming Monday, May 10th we give praise and thanks to Hashem for Jerusalem’s reunification. We pray every day that soon Jerusalem will be whole and complete, restored to its former glory with the building of the Third Temple in its midst.

May Hashem continue His protecting care over Israel and bestow His blessings upon all those who stand and recognize the reality of Jerusalem, עיר הקודש.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan