Leonard Grunstein

Jerusalem On My Mind

It was over 3,000 years ago, when Biblical King David declared Jerusalem the capital of the Land of Israel.

The attachment of the Jewish People to Jerusalem is unique and enduring. The Old Testament mentions Jerusalem more than six hundred and fifty times. The New Testament mentions it more than one hundred and fifty times. The Quran, on the other hand, mentions it not at all. Who can forget the stirring declaration in Psalms 137:5, ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its skill’. There is no comparable expression of this sentiment in non-Jewish scripture.

In Judaism, Jerusalem is a living focus of prayer and mourning rituals. Thus, when praying, it is virtually a universal practice in classic Judaism to face Jerusalem. Neither Christian nor Muslim ritual and practice require this orientation in prayer. Indeed, Muslim custom is to face Mecca, not Jerusalem.

Mourning rituals are also uniquely associated with Jerusalem. Thus, the traditional formulaic condolence recited to mourners is: ‘May you be comforted among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem’. There is no such custom in Muslim or Christian practice.

Another unique feature of classic Judaism is the requirement to rip clothing upon approaching Jerusalem and the place where the Temple stood, much like is the case when mourning for a parent. The requirement is first to rend garments, in the place covering the heart, for the Temple, and then extend the rip for Jerusalem. There is no comparable custom in Christian or Muslim ritual.

Even the traditional wedding ceremony is not complete until ashes are placed on the forehead of the groom, a glass is shattered by the groom and the verses from Psalms expressing our integral attachment to Jerusalem are sung. These are done to memorialize our grieving for the destruction of the Holy Temple even in moments of extreme joy like a wedding and so as to remember Jerusalem.

The classic Jewish prayer service is replete with references to Jerusalem. Thus, for example, one of the blessings in the quintessential prayer, known as Shemoneh Esrei (literally, Eighteen, because it was originally composed of eighteen blessings) is expressly devoted to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The prayer is recited three times daily, morning, afternoon and evening. It was reportedly composed in the time of the Great Assembly, which included the Prophets Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi, at the advent of the Second Temple period, approximately two thousand five hundred years ago. Many other prayers reference Jerusalem, including a special blessing in the Grace after Meals.

There are also four fasts days devoted to remembering Jerusalem. The most onerous is the twenty-five hour period of rigorous fasting and acute mourning of Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av), associated with the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. There are also the seventeenth day of Tammuz, when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem; the tenth of Tevet, when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians; and the Fast of Gedaliah (third day of Tishre), when the Babylonian appointed Jewish governor was assassinated, ending self-rule in Judea, including Jerusalem.

On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the climactic and reinvigorating moment at the end of the service each year, after a grueling day of fasting and prayer, is the heartfelt declaration of ‘L’Shana HaBa’ah B’Yerushlayim HaBenuyah’ (next year in rebuilt Jerusalem). Many break out in dance, while singing this prayerful refrain. It’s an exhilarating moment that unifies all present in hope and prayer. Similarly, at the end of the Passover Seder, everyone participating in the Seder makes the same declaration. We also break out in singing this refrain and usually dancing, as well. Thus, on the two most well attended rituals in the Jewish world, Yom Kippur and the Passover Seder, the focus and climax of the service is Jerusalem.

These Jewish rituals and practices are living examples of the unique, profound and vital attachment that the Jewish people have to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of their ancient and ancestral homeland of Israel, as well as, the place where the First and Second Temples stood and the prophesied Third Temple is to be built.

It should also be noted that pilgrimages were required to be made to Jerusalem during the First and Second Temple periods, three times a year, to celebrate the holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot in Jerusalem. There is also a separate commandment for men, women and children to assemble in Jerusalem, after the conclusion of the seventh year in the Shemitah cycle, on the Holiday of Sukkot, and hear a reading of portions of the Torah. The first formal system of public schools was also established in Jerusalem.

Those making the journey were miraculously assured a comfortable place and stay in Jerusalem and that their homes would be protected from any harm while they were away in Jerusalem. In addition, there was an obligation, in every first, second, fourth and fifth year of the reoccurring seven-year Shemitah cycle, to set aside a second Tithe of the agricultural produce, which was to be consumed in Jerusalem.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that ancient pilgrimage roads have been unearthed in Israel, which attest to this practice. The recent discovery of the two thousand year old pilgrimage road in the City of David, Jerusalem, leading to the Temple Mount, is especially exciting.

Although the Land of Israel has been conquered by a number of empires during the ages, the Jewish people never entered into any peace treaty with any conqueror voluntarily surrendering title to the Land. Furthermore, no other independent country, comprising only the Land of Israel, was ever established and ruled by any resident and indigent nation other than the Jewish People. Moreover, Jerusalem has only been the capital of Israel and no other nation.

In 1948, the modern State of Israel was reborn. However, in the 1948 war, commenced by Jordan and other Arab nations to prevent the re-emergence of the modern Jewish State of Israel, a substantial portion of Jerusalem (including the Old City with the Temple Mount and Western Wall) was illegally conquered by Jordan. Nevertheless, Jordan did not declare Jerusalem its capital, which continued to be in Amman. Israel managed to retain the western part of Jerusalem, which it made its Capital. In the defensive Six Day War of 1967, Israel succeeded in liberating and reunifying the City of Jerusalem and the undivided City continues as its Capital.

The propaganda effort to disassociate Jews from Israel and Jerusalem is absurd. International Law, the Bible, Quran (5:21 and 17:104) and history recognize the rights of the Jewish People to Israel. Most recently and almost 7 years ago, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel under US Law, pursuant to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.

In terms of history, consider, the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery is more than 3,000 years old. There is no comparable Arab cemetery in Israel; the oldest is from the 11th century. The Waqf’s own 1924 Guide to the Temple Mount confirms, “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute”. The Guide also notes that in 637 Omar occupied Jerusalem.

The Ottoman Empire, which had conquered Israel in the Middle Ages, was on the losing side of World War I. This set the stage for the establishment of new or reconstituted sovereign states, out of the portions of its former empire, which it ceded to the victorious allies for disposition by them.

It was in this context that representatives of the victorious allies, including the United States, Britain, Italy, France and Japan, met in Paris in 1919. They had triumphed over the central powers, Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and they received presentations by various delegations of all sorts of claims to lands previously comprising a part of the German, Ottoman and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. Thus, for example, in Europe, Poland was reborn, the borders of Czechoslovakia and Romania were fixed and recognized.

Thereafter, in 1920, the Supreme Council of Allied Powers met in San Remo, Italy, in order to resolve many of these claims. Under International Law, the Supreme Council had the power to dispose of various territories that were formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire. It was in this capacity that the Supreme Council dealt with the claim of the Jewish people to an area referred to as Palestine (now the country of Israel), based on their historic title to the land. The Jewish people properly sought to reconstitute their national home in their ancient homeland of Israel (then known as Palestine), as an autonomous commonwealth. The Arab people also presented their claims.

The matter of title to the Land of Israel (Palestine) was resolved in favor of the Jewish people and the 1920 San Remo Resolution was adopted, as unanimously confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations, in 1922. By virtue thereof, it became an international agreement, binding on all of the member countries, which, in effect, confirmed title to the area referred to as Palestine (Israel) in the people of Israel, under International Law. The very same resolution provided for the establishment of Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq).

The binding Resolution recited that recognition had been given to “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”. It effectively confirmed the Jewish people as the recognized indigenous people of Palestine (Israel) for over three thousand five hundred years and rejected the claims of others. This absolutely demolishes the fallacious claim that Jews are just modern-day colonialists.

It should be noted that the Resolution did not purport to grant the Jewish people a newly minted right to Palestine; rather, it recorded that recognition had been given to the “grounds for” reconstituting their national home there, as a pre-existing legal right. It also referred to the area of the Palestine Mandate (now known as Israel), as a country. Sovereignty was vested in the Jewish people and under Article 5 it could not be forcibly ceded to anyone else.

The US recognized the Resolution in the 1924 Anglo American Convention. As a US Treaty ratified by the Senate, it is also the ‘supreme Law of the Land’ under Article VI of the Constitution. The rights granted under the Treaty to the Jewish people also survive under Article 70 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Interestingly, when the British illegally adopted the White Paper in 1939, restricting immigration by Jews to then Mandatory Palestine, a bipartisan majority of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the State Department to protest, as a violation of the 1924 Anglo-American Treaty. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also later noted the lack of US approval of the White Paper and reaffirmed support for the recreation of the Jewish commonwealth in Israel.

There have been a number of cases before the Supreme Court of Israel that have dealt with the legal status of Jerusalem. One example is the case of Temple Mount Faithful, et al vs. Attorney General, et al. In that case, the Supreme Court of Israel, in a well-reasoned opinion, issued in 1993, held that Jerusalem, including the area of the Temple Mount, was a part of the State of Israel. It also held that the laws, jurisdiction and administration of the State of Israel applied to Jerusalem.

The legal status of Jerusalem was also considered by the French Court of Appeals of Versailles, in the case of PLO et ano vs. Societe Alstom Transport SA, et al. Mahmoud Abbas appeared for the PLO, as President of the Executive Committee. The decision the Court issued, in 2013, once again confirmed that the State of Israel was vested with sovereignty and title to Jerusalem, under International Law.

On Wednesday June 5, 2024, we celebrated the 57th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem. May Israel soon defeat the evil that is Hamas and return the hostages and valiant soldiers of the IDF home safely. Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.
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