Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people since antiquity and is the holiest city in Judaism. Indeed, Jews around the world pray facing Jerusalem, Jewish grooms break a glass on their wedding day in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem, and during the Passover Seder, Jews pray to be “next year in Jerusalem.”
As Psalms 137:5-6 proclaim, “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!”
The Talmud similarly declares in Kiddushin 49b, “Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”
Thus it is not surprising that Jewish holy sites can be found all over Jerusalem.
The main Jewish pilgrimage site in Jerusalem is the Kotel, otherwise known as the Western Wall. Jews from around the world travel to the Kotel in order to lament the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and to place notes of prayer inside the cracks of its walls. The Kotel has been a place of Jewish worship for centuries, with the earliest source mentioning the holiness of the site dating from the fourth century. The Kotel itself is part of the retaining wall of what is known as the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), the center of Jewish life in ancient Israel.
According to Jewish tradition, the Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples stood, is located on the very site where Biblical patriarch Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Another important Jewish holy site in Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives. Jewish tradition teaches that Jews who are buried on the Mount of Olives will be the first to be resurrected when the messianic age is ushered in.
Nearby, there are Jewish graves dating from the Temple perids. The Caves of the Prophets and King David’s Tomb are also very close in proximity.
The modern section of the Mount of Olives also has old gravestones, which date as far back as 1636. Many great Jewish saints, leaders and scholars ranging from Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay to Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook to former Israeli Prime Minister Menechem Begin are buried there.
After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, Jewish ritual transferred to the synagogue, of which there are many in Jerusalem. The oldest active synagogue in Jerusalem is the Ramban Synagogue, which was founded by Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman aka Nachmanides in 1267.After the Disputation of Barcelona, Nachmanides was forced to flee Spain. He had argued very persuasively that Dominican friar Pablo Christiani is wrong to argue that the Talmud and other rabbinical texts proves that Jesus was the messiah, after being forced by James I of Aragon to debate the subject, a brave action which prevented the demoralization of the Spanish Jewish community yet which jeopardized his safety. Nachmanides then journeyed to Eretz Yisrael and decided at age 72 to establish this marvelous synagogue which inspired a number of his Jewish contemporaries to relocate to Jerusalem, centuries before the establishment of the Zionist movement.
Other important synagogues include the Hurva Synagogue, which was originally constructed in the 18th century by followers of Judah Ha-Hesid. It was destroyed during Israel’s War of Independence but reconstructed recently; the Four Sephardic Synagogues, which is a complex of houses of prayer that were built during different periods in Jewish history to serve the spiritual needs of the city’s Sephardic Jewish community; the Beit El Synagogue, which dates back to 1737; the Yanina Synagogue, which is the only synagogue within Israel to preserve the Romaniot Jewish tradition (Romaniot Jews are descended from those who were living in Greece since antiquity); and the Ades Synagogue, which was established by Syrian Jews in 1901.
By Rachel Avraham