The Eternal Connection Between the Jewish People and Jerusalem

from Jerusalem through the Windows of Time, by Abraham Stahl

Jerusalem in Prayers

The People Refuse to Give Up Jerusalem

The Great Jewish Rebellion ended in 70CE with the Temple in ruins and Jerusalem practically devoid of Jews. The destruction, however, did not end the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. Within a short time, the Jews attempted to retake the city by force: after Rome's victory, a new rebellion broke out under the leadership of the charismatic Simon, son of Koziba, remembered by the epithet "Bar Kokhba" - Hebrew for "son of a star."

For three years, from 132 to 135CE, battles raged between Bar Kokhba's men and the armies of Rome. The Jews of neighboring countries controlled by the Romans also supported this rebellion. Over the course of the war, Bar Kokhba actually gained control of Jerusalem for a short period, sufficient to mint coins with Jewish symbols, which he dated from "the Redemption of Israel" and "the Liberation of Jerusalem." But the Romans sent a powerful army to the land of Israel and, within three years, managed to suppress the rebellion. They first captured the Galilee - the northern part of the country - and later Jerusalem. Betar, a small town near Jerusalem that served as the rebels' fortification, fell last to the Romans. Bar Kokhba himself was killed at Betar.

According to tradition, Betar's destruction also occurred on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, as did the destruction of both Temples before it.

After the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the Romans rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city, renaming it Aelia Capitolina. Entry was forbidden to Jews, with the exception of the Ninth of Av, when they permitted to visit Jerusalem and mourn the destruction of their land, their city, and their Temple.

From this time hence, Jews have maintained their connection with Jerusalem in different ways - the primary one being prayer - in which they remember Jerusalem on both weekdays and festivals.

The People Preserve the Memory of Jerusalem

  • Have mercy, Lord our God, on Israel Your people, on Jerusalem Your city, on Zion the abode of Your Majesty, on the royal house of David, Your chosen one, and on the great and holy Temple that bears Your name.
    (Grace After Meals, Ashkenazi Tradition)
  • Dwell in Jerusalem, Your city, as You have promised, and speedily establish there the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it as an everlasting structure, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, O God, builder of Jerusalem.
    (Weekday Amidah, Sefardi Tradition)
  • A folk story relates that not only do the Jewish people mourn for the Temple but that the Temple also mourns for the Jewish people. It is told that each year on the night of the Ninth of Av, a sigh and a moan can be heard to emerge from the Western Wall.
    M. M. Biderman, Serid Mikdashenu [Remnant of Our Temple]
  • In various Jewish communities, it is customary to print the kinot booklets used for the prayers of mourning recited on the Ninth of Av on inexpensive paper with simple binding. This custom expresses the faith that the redemption will come speedily, and that it would therefore be a waste to invest in producing a fine edition of these prayers, since soon there will be no need for them. . . .
  • During Napoleon's campaign against Russia, as he passed through asmall Jewish shtetl, he expressed a desire to see the inside of a synagogue. By chance it was the fast of the Ninth of Av, and the Jews were sitting in darkness on the floor weeping as they prayed. When it was explained to Napoleon that the reason for the weeping was for the destruction of the Temple, he asked, "When did this happen?"
    "Two thousand years ago," he was told.
    Upon hearing this, the Emperor declared, "A people who knows how to remember its land for two thousand years, will certainly find the way to return." (Folk story told by the Jews of Russia; Dov Noi, Golah veEretz Yisrael)

Jerusalem and the Diaspora

In the many generations since Bar Kokhba and his rebels fell defeated, powerful empires have risen and fallen, gaining and relinquishing their control over Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish people lived in the Diaspora, but there always remained a community in the Holy Land and Jerusalem

Throughout these periods, depending on the political, religious, and economic situation, the Jewish community of Palestine knew good fortune and bad. There were times when Jerusalem was a well organized community of scholars, yeshivot, and communal institutions; and there were other times, when barely a single Jew lived in Jerusalem. No matter what their situation in Jerusalem and the Diaspora, however, the Jews never forgot their capital and the site of their ancient Temple. The moment circumstances changed for the better, there were always Jews who came from near and far to make Jerusalem their home.

At the Western Wall, you could always meet
Jews from all over the Diaspora: Sefaradim
and Ashkenazim, Jews from North Africa, the
Middle East, and Yemen. Their clothing and
language might be different, but their prayer
and its content were the same: they prayed
in Hebrew for the restoration of Jerusalem.

The aspiration to "go up" to Jerusalem, together with the practical difficulty of realizing this dream, created an imaginary reality, which testified to the deep emotional connection between the Diaspora Jew and his or her beloved Jerusalem.


There was a widespread legend that an underground tunnel - through which it was possible to pass in a very short time - connected the Diaspora to the land of Israel. According to the legend, there was no doubt of the tunnel's existence; its entrance, however, was all but impossible to find. It is told of different scholars, including Rabbi Shalom Shabbazi of Yemen and Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, that they would disappear from their homes on Friday and spend the Sabbath in Jerusalem, returning home only on Saturday night.

A particular old man was sick, and his doctors said that he must drink goat's milk. The man purchased a goat, but one day, without warning, she disappeared. A few days later she returned, her udders filled with milk that had the flavor of paradise. The goat would repeat this strange behavior from time to time until the old man said to his son, "I want to know where the goat is disappearing."

The son tied a rope to the goat's tail, and when she began to wander, he held on to the rope and followed. They entered a cave, and after a long time, they emerged in a fertile country flowing with milk and honey. When the son asked people where he was, they told him,
"You are in the land of Israel."

The son penned a note telling his father what had happened. He wrote that his father should join him in the land of Israel by following the goat through the cave as he had. The son fastened the note to the goat's ear, and she returned home by herself. When the old man saw the goat returning without his son, he was certain that his son had been killed. Realizing that the sight of the goat would always bring him painful memories of his dead son, the man slaughtered her. Only afterward did he discover the note attached to the goat's ear. But what was done, was done. The goat was dead, and the underground route to the Holy Land would remain forever secret.

(Adapted from Shemu'el Yosef Agnon, "The Goat Story")

Guests in Jerusalem

Along with connections to Jerusalem expressed in legend, there were tangible connections of various types. Travelers from countries of the Diaspora visited the Holy Land. Pilgrims visited the holy places, particularly Jerusalem. During most periods, people also immigrated from many countries, settled in the city, and strengthened the indigenous Jewish community

  • Maimonides
    Rabbi Moshe son of Maimon, Maimonides, the greatest Jewish sage and scholar of the Middle Ages, visited Israel in the twelfth century on his way from Morocco to Egypt. He wrote:

". . .We left Acre [on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine] to make the dangerous trip to Jerusalem, and I entered the site of the great and holy Temple and prayed there on Sunday.
On the ninth of [the Hebrew month] Heshvan, I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the graves of my forefathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] at the Cave of Makhpelah. I took a vow that these two days [when I visited Jerusalem and Hebron] would be for me as festivals devoted to prayer and rejoicing... As I was granted to pray in the Holy Land in its destruction, so may I and the entire Jewish people be granted to see her speedily comforted, amen."

(R. Eliezer Azkari, Sefer Haredim)

  • Rabbi Zekharia Ildahari
    In the middle of the sixteenth century, the sage, Rabbi Zekhariah Ildahari of Yemen toured the Holy Land. He visited the different cities, and later wrote in rhymed Hebrew of his visit to Jerusalem. He described how he went around the ruins of the city and prayed for her restoration. Here is his description of an encounter with other Jews he happened to meet on the Mount of Olives:

    ". . . And I saw a group of people - adults,
    children, and old people - under a tree on
    the Mount of Olives. And I arose and
    approached them to see who they were." When
    Rabbi Zekhariah saw that after they finished
    eating and drinking, the members of the group
    went back to reciting psalms and elegies, he
    turned to them and said: ". . .Prepare
    yourselves for the speedy restoration of His
    house, for it is imminent. We will soon
    receive the good tidings of our salvation and
    Redemption. And as you have drunk on His
    holy mountain, and wept for the destruction of His Temple, so shall you drink to its
    reconstruction, when it again stands in its

(Rabbi Zekhariah Ildahari, Sefer haMusar, Chapter 22)

Going Up to Jerusalem from the Ends of the Diaspora

Yehuda Halevi
Others came to settle in Jerusalem. The medieval poet, Yehudah Halevi, wrote in his philosophical work, The Kuzari, of the importance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people and of the obligation to settle here. In his poems, he wrote constantly of Jerusalem. Below are extracts from two of them:

O beautiful one, joy of the universe,
City of the great King,
For you, my soul has longed
From the furthest corner of the West.

My heart is in the East,
And I am at the farthest end of the West,
How can I taste,
How can anything in life be sweet?

In the year 1140, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi went up to the Holy Land. According to tradition, when he arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, he tore his clothing and recited an elegy which he himself had composed:

"O Zion, will you not ask after your captive sons?"

At that moment an Islamic zealot passed by on horseback. The man became enraged at seeing a Jew immersed in fervent prayer and trampled Rabbi Yehudah Halevi to death with his horse.






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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0