Long before other religions appeared on the scene, the Jewish tradition teaches that Abraham attempted to sacrifice his child Isaac on the very spot of the present-day Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This was also the location where Judaism teaches that Isaac went to pray before meeting Rebecca and where Jacab had his famous dream. From this moment onward, Jerusalem would be of pivotal importance to the Jewish people. 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.” Indeed, Jerusalem is mentioned 349 times by name in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, thus demonstrating Jewish attachment to the city.
While Jerusalem would not become a Jewish city until King David’s reign, the Book of Joshua describes how Adoni-Tzedek, the Canaanite King of Jerusalem, waged war against the Jews. Interestingly, the Amarna Letters that were discovered in Egypt and are dated to be around the time of Joshua, include a letter to the Egyptian Pharoah by Abdi-Heba, mayor of Jerusalem, who claimed, “May the king give thought to his land; the land of the king is lost. All of it has attacked me.” At another instance, Abdi Heba is recorded as writing to the Egyptian Pharoah, “The Habiru sack the territories of the king. If there are archers (here) this year, all the territories of the king will remain (intact); but if there are no archers, the territories of the king, my Lord, will be lost!” Historian Robert Wolfe believes that the Habiru mentioned in the Amarna Letters were actually Hebrews.
According to American archaeologist Eric Cline, “archaeologists 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.”
From the reign of King David up until 70 CE, with the sole exception of a brief seventy-year exile in Babylonia, Jerusalem would be a predominately Jewish city. However, even after the Romans would expel the Jews from Jerusalem, there were always Jews who still remained in Israel and the Jewish religion was transformed in order to maintain a Jewish life and keep Jewish traditions until the re-restoration of the Temple again. In the past, Jewish life revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem and thus the Jewish people needed substitute traditions to follow until the advent of the messianic age.
For example, the prayers in the synagogue symbolize the sacrifices of korban ha-tamid that used to be performed in the Temple. In every single synagogue throughout the world, Jews pray in the direction of Jerusalem. In Jewish weddings, the groom who broke the glass symbolically remembers the destruction of the Temple. At the Passover Seder, Jews passionately proclaim “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Holidays were introduced into the religion with the sole purpose of remembering the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Nevertheless, it is important to note that a great fraction of the 613 laws that Jews are commanded to do cannot be performed without the existence of a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism. No other religion on the face of the planet holds Jerusalem in the same esteem that Jews do.
Furthermore, whenever Jews were given the ability to do so, they always returned to Jerusalem. When the Persians sought to overthrow Byzantine rule in Jerusalem, the Jews supported them and according to archaeological evidence, actually succeeded to control Jerusalem for five years under Persian domination around AD 614. According to one chronicle in the Genizah, Umar gave the Jews permission to settle in Jerusalem and seventy Jewish families moved to the Holy City after the Byzantines were overthrown. Indeed, with the sole exception of Byzantine and Crusader times, there was always a Jewish community in Jerusalem. No other nation on earth has had such an ancient and continuous presence within the Holy City!
In 1854, Karl Marx wrote in the Daily Tribune that Jerusalem had a population of 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 were Muslim and 8,000 were Jews. Indeed, Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the 1840’s, well-before the rise of the Zionist movement. Sephardic Jews had settled in Jerusalem following the Spanish Inquisition and they were later on joined by European Hassadim. Both the Sephardim and the Hassidim were drawn to Jerusalem because of the city’s crucial importance to the Jewish faith. When Israel was declared to be a state, Jerusalem became the capital city of Israel, for Jerusalem has always been the center of the Jewish world for at least four thousand years. Given this history, Jews should have a right to build in any part of their ancestral capital city, especially given the fact that the ancient city of Jerusalem that King David presided over was located in Kfar Ha-Shiloach (Silwan), in today’s East Jerusalem.
By Rachel Avraham
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