The Jewish Spiritual and Historical Connection to Israel

The Jewish connection to Jerusalem begins with the Jewish Bible. The area of special holiness is Mount Moriah, today known as the Temple Mount. This area is located beneath the platform on which the Moslem Shrine, the Dome Of the Rock, now occupies.

In the Jewish Bible, Jerusalem has many names: Salem (Shalem), Moriah, Jebuse (Yevuse), Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), and Zion (Tziyon). The most common term for the city, Yerushalayim, is mentioned 349 times in the Jewish Bible, while Tziyon is mentioned an additional 108 times.

The earliest mention of the site is Genesis 4:18, when Abraham interacts with Malchizedek, King of Shalem. According to Jewish tradition the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) also takes place in the “land of Moriah” on the site of the present-day Temple Mount. Abraham chooses the site specifically because he sensed how God’s presence is strongly connected to this site.

In the Kabbalah, the Jewish metaphysical tradition, the rock of Mount Moriah is known as the “Even Shtiyah” — the Drinking Stone. This is the spiritual center of the universe, the place from where the world is spiritually “watered.”

Later patriarchal stories in Genesis are also connected with the site:

— When Isaac goes out into the fields to pray prior to meeting Rebecca for the first time (Genesis 24:63-67), he is standing on Mount Moriah.

— Jacob’s dream of the ladder to heaven with the angels ascending and descending (Genesis 27:10-22) takes place on this site.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have always associated Mount Moriah as the place where God’s presence can be felt more intensely than any other place on earth. That is why, for the Jewish people, the Temple Mount is the single holiest place.

This connection is still very much alive and well in contemporary Jewish practice:

–When religious Jews pray three times a day, they always turn toward Jerusalem. (Someone praying in Jerusalem faces the direction of the Temple Mount.)

–Jerusalem is mentioned numerous times in Jewish daily prayers and in the “Grace After Meals.”

–Jews close the Passover Seder with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem.” These same words are invoked to conclude the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur.

–The Jewish national day of mourning, Tisha B’Av, commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

–During a Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a glass as a sign of mourning to commemorate the destruction of the two Temples which stood on Mount Moriah.

–The breaking of the glass is accompanied by the recitation of part of Psalm 137: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest Joy.”

Religious Jews often keep a small section of one wall in their house unplastered and unpainted, as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

The early history of Jerusalem is also rooted in the Bible. In addition to the events already mentioned, the Book of Joshua (ch. 10) describes how Adoni-Tzedek, the Canaanite king of Jerusalem, wages war against the Jews.

During the approximately 400-year period from the entrance of the Jewish people into the land, through the period of the Judges, Jerusalem remained a non-Jewish city. It was not until the reign of King David (ca. 1,000 BCE) that Jerusalem was captured from the Canaanites (2-Samuel 5) and converted into the political/spiritual capital of the Jewish people. (Archaeologists agree that the original Canaanite city and the City of David was located in what is now the Arab village of Silwan, a few meters south of the “modern” walls of the Old City.)

David purchased the peak of Mount Moriah (2-Samuel 24:18-25) as the site for the future Temple and gathered the necessary building supplies. The Book of 1-Kings (ch. 6-8) describes in great detail how David’s son, King Solomon, built and dedicated the Temple: “And it came to pass after the 408th year after the Children of Israel left Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel… that he began to build the house of the Lord” (1-Kings 6:1).

Solomon’s Temple is also known as the first Beit HaMikdash (the First Temple). While all archaeologists agree that it stood on Mount Moriah, probably on the site of the present Gold Dome of the Rock, its exact location is unknown.

Four hundred and ten years after its completion, it was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians when they besieged Jerusalem and no trace of it remains.

After the Babylonian destruction, most of the Jewish population of Israel was forcibly exiled from the land. This forced exile on the road to Babylon is mentioned in the famous verse from Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”

Fifty years later, after Babylon was captured by Persia, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Under the leadership of Zerubavel and Nechemiah, the Jews rebuilt both the Temple and walls around the city (Nechemia 4-6).

During both the First and Second Temple periods, the Temple was the central focus of the Jewish world both in Israel and the diaspora. Its upkeep was paid for by all Jews worldwide. The Kohanim (priests) and Levites served in the Temple, and three times a year — during the holidays of Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot — all Jews were commanded to come to Jerusalem and visit the Temple.

This rebuilt temple is known as the Second Temple (Bayit Sheni). It stood for 420 years on the same site as the First Temple, on Mount Moriah. The Second Temple was remodeled several times, but reached its most magnificent form during the reign of King Herod the Great (37-4 BCE). The great Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived during the end of the Second Temple period, gives detailed descriptions of both Herod’s construction and the layout of the Temple compound (see “Antiquities” ch. 15 and “Jewish Wars” ch. 5).

The Second Temple period ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. It is possible that the Jews tried to rebuild the Temple at later periods, but they were never successful, and for over 600 years the site of the Temple Mount lay in ruins. The only remains are the massive retaining walls that encompass Mount Moriah, built by Herod to support the platform on which the Temple stood.

Excerpt from AISH

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