Why Jerusalem matters

In a 1929 letter the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem charged Albert Einstein and British Lord Melchett with having designs on the Mosque area atop the Temple Mount.  “Palestine without the Temple is to the Jews like a body without a head” he quotes Einstein as having said.  For the Mufti this, along with other distorted claims, justified riots against Jews in Hebron that year and similar attacks for decades to come.  Nonviolent coexistence was inadmissible.  Any Jewish claim that Jerusalem held religious meaning was an aggression.

Today, Jerusalem enjoys more religious freedom than it ever has in history.  Two thousand years ago, the last time Judaism was freely practiced there, Christianity and Islam had not yet developed.  Jerusalem’s diverse mosaic of religious energy has never been richer.  Occasional flareups of extremists notwithstanding, Christians, Jews, and Muslims have enjoyed sacred rights and responsibilities since her restoration in 1967.  Jewish attachments do not insist upon exclusivity.

Jewish Commonwealth has always been defined by Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem.  King David established it.  Ezra and Nehemiah affirmed it.  Ben Gurion too understood why Jerusalem mattered to our national rebirth in our Third Commonwealth.  What is politically real is also religiously significant.

Why do this week’s portions of Torah begin and end by emphasizing Mt. Sinai (Lev. 25:1, 27:34) as the place from which God’s word emits?  The Tabernacle had become the setting where Moses would meet God.  Why bring us back to Mt. Sinai at the close of the Torah’s third book?  Perhaps because the punitive consequences of betrayal are so harsh, God’s Torah seeks to ground us back at Mt. Sinai.  It is no accident that the word for covenant (brit) appears eight times in Chapter 26.  No matter how treacherous and unmoored we become, Sinai anchors us to navigate our way home.

What Sinai does for us biblically, Jerusalem does for us historically.  In the coming week when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the wondrous restoration of Jerusalem, may the glorious reality that Jerusalem is again ours embrace the Psalmist’s challenge, “Jerusalem rebuilt as a city rejoined as a unity” (Ps. 122:3).

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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