Jerusalem: The Eternal Capital City of the Jewish People
The Jewish peoples’ connection to Jerusalem, the State of Israel’s eternal capital city, is the center of our history and our very existence as a nation. Every Passover Seder, Jews throughout the world proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Whenever a Jewish couple gets married, the groom breaks a glass in symbolic remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem. At synagogues throughout the world, Jews pray in the direction of Jerusalem, which symbolizes the sacrifices that used to be performed in the Jewish Temple in the holy city thousands of years ago. Holidays were introduced into the religion with the sole purpose of remembering the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. For example, the 17 of Tammuz solemnly recalls the Romans breaking through the walls of Jerusalem during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Furthermore, on the 9th of Av, Jews across the globe mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Remembering the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem is engrained into our faith, our culture, our politics and our daily existence.
Jerusalem and Zion are mentioned 821 times in the Jewish Bible and another 3,212 times in the rabbinical literature. Furthermore, a great fraction of the 613 laws that Jews are commanded to do cannot be performed without the existence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, the holiest site on planet earth in the Jewish faith. No other religion in our world views Jerusalem to be this holy. As Psalms 137:5-6 proclaims, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.”
The Jewish historical claim to Jerusalem dates back to antiquity. Archeological evidence proves the biblical claim that King David established Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital city thousands of years ago. According to American archeologist Eric Cline, “In 1993 and 1994, archeologists excavating at Tel Dan in northern Israel discovered an inscription that commemorates a military campaign in Israel by Hazael of Aram about the year 841 BCE and that mentions the House of David.” Thus, as a result of this excavation at Tel Dan, Tel Aviv University ancient historian Nadav Na’aman has stated that in his opinion the facts “strongly support the biblical claims a) that David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital and b) that he founded the royal dynasty of Jerusalem.”
Aside from the House of King David inscription, archeologists have uncovered a royal seal bearing the name of King Hezekieh, son of Ahaz, King of Judah, a direct descendant of King David; a large stone structure bearing the names of government officials under King Zedekiah, the last King of Judah; and of course, there is also the Arch of Titus, which was constructed by Emperor Domitian in honor of the siege of Jerusalem (70 CE). Depicted in the arch are Jewish treasures from Jerusalem including a menorah that was seized from its rightful owners and carried triumphantly to Rome. This arch confirms accounts by the Jewish historian Josephus and rabbinical scholars that Jerusalem was historically the eternal capital city of the Jewish people since ancient times. No other nation that presently exists has such an ancient claim to the holy city.
It is pivotal to note that even after most of the Jewish people were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland by the Romans in 135 CE, there were always Jews who remained in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. When the Persians sought to overthrow Byzantine rule in Jerusalem, the Jews supported them. According to archaeological evidence documented in Cline’s Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, the Jewish people actually succeeded to control Jerusalem for five years under Persian domination around AD 614. According to the Cairo Genizah, Caliph Umar gave the Jews permission to settle in Jerusalem and 70 Jewish families moved to the holy city after the Byzantines were overthrown.
It is also pivotal to note that Diaspora Jews always maintained a close relationship with the city of Jerusalem, despite the bitter 2,000 year diaspora that they suffered. According to Professor Jane Gerber, author of Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience, “Themes of exile and redemption were central to Jewish poetry, reaching new heights of poetic expression in the works of the Golden Age of Spain. Often, the poet laments the lost glory of the Jews or expresses the hope of future redemption, asking how long G-d can continue to ‘cast off the remnants of Joseph.’”
As Yehuda Ha-Levi, who lived between 1085 and 1141, wrote: “'My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the west; Then how can I taste what I eat, how can I enjoy it? How can I fulfill my vows and pledges? While Zion is in the domain of Edom, and I am in the bonds of Arabia? It would be easy for me to leave behind all the good things of Spain; It would be glorious to see the dust of the ruined shrine.” Another medieval Jew, Nachmanides, wrote shortly after immigrating to Eretz Yisrael around 1263, “But the loss of all this and of every other glory my eyes saw is compensated by having now the joy of being a day in thy courts, O Jerusalem, visiting the ruins of the Temple, and crying over the desolate sanctuary, where I am permitted to caress thy stones, to fondle thy dust, and to weep over thy ruins. I wept bitterly but I found joy in my tears. I tore my garments but I felt relieved by it.’”
Nachmanides was far from the only Diaspora Jew to decide to journey to Eretz Yisrael in the Middle Ages. In 1165, Rambam decided to go to the Holy Land and the only reason why he selected not to stay there was because living under crusader domination was unbearable for him. Between 1391 through the fifteenth century, a significant number of Jews immigrated to the Holy Land as a response to persecution in Spain. Entire family groups banded together and rented ships, and made their way to Eretz Yisrael. And many Jewish travelers, like Isaac Ben Joseph Ibn Chelo (1334), Meshullam Ben R. Menahem of Volterra (1481), and Obadiah Jared da Bertinoro (Italy, 1487), wrote about their travels to the Holy Land and mentioned not only their excitement about seeing Israel but also noted the Jewish community that still existed in Eretz Yisrael and the holy city of Jerusalem in their times.
In 1854, Karl Marx wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that Jerusalem had a population of 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 were Muslim and 8,000 were Jews. Indeed, since 1840, the Jews have constituted the largest ethnic group in Jerusalem and they have held an uninterrupted majority in the holy city since the 1860’s. Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish world spiritually, culturally and historically since ancient times. In addition, it is the political capital of the State of Israel since the establishment of the country. Given these facts, it is only fitting that countries across the world are starting to recognize that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital city and more should do so.