Mountain Jews

We were a wandering people but with a direction — headed toward a place. In his brilliant book, “Sinai and Zion,” biblical scholar Jon Levenson contrasts the legacy of the two mountains.  Sinai is the peak of the wilderness, the time of desert wandering. It was a miraculous time — plagues and revelations, splitting seas and early discoveries of God. 

Zion is the mountain of David, symbolic of the state. There the Temple stands in contrast to the law of Sinai. The wilderness is the prophetic tradition, Zion the tradition of priests and of kings. Judaism embraces the lessons of both mountains, the law that was given at Sinai and the creation of a stable society that was the legacy of Zion.

Throughout Jewish history we have benefited from the dual legacy. In wanderings, Jews could look to Sinai for the law that was portable and accompanied us through our exile. But our eyes were fixed on Zion, knowing that Sinai was a stop along the way to Israel. The return to Zion was a chance to realize the lessons of both mountains: the law and the land, the prophet and Priest, the pilgrim and the citizen. Our wandering was really a journey.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.