If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem

A fellow blogger I recently met mentioned on Facebook (sad, but this is how people communicate these days) that it seems only religious people in Jerusalem commemorate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day.

No, it’s definitely not as widely celebrated as Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, when the entire country heads outdoors to roast some meat (except the vegetarians – I saw some cool roasted eggplants too).  I think this gets right to the heart of the issue of Jerusalem and what it stands for as the focal point of the Jewish people.

Most Israelis, especially non-religious ones, who live outside of the area don’t visit Jerusalem until they’re taken on tours by the army as part of the education (i.e. what they’re fighting for).  If Israelis don’t recognize the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, I certainly can’t expect foreign politicians or the media to.

On an almost daily basis I read about the political negotiations Israel faces, either the latest row with the United States over building in Jerusalem, or the “proximity talks” with the Palestinians.  Following the political negotiations about how to (Gd forbid) divide the city, one can easily forget the central issue.  It’s not about the land!  You can’t just nip here and tuck there, and then hope for the best.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (Psalm 137, 5-7).

Two-thousand years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem remains central to Judaism.  It’s hard to even know where to start.  A short list: Jerusalem is mentioned in the Amidah, the central part of the prayer service said three times a day, every single day; grace after meals; “Next year in Jerusalem” is said at the end of the Passover Seder and the last part of the Yom Kippur service, Neilah.  So of course, for religious Jews living in Jerusalem, being able to freely live in Jews in the Jewish capital is a very big deal and what to celebrate.  Certainly, the capture of the Old City on the third day of the Six Day War was viewed by many around the world as a Gdly intervention and sparked a pride in Jewish nationhood.

Celebrations from last year:

But most people know about that.  Here are some not-so-widely publicized facts about the significance of Israel and Jerusalem to the Jewish people:  Jewish law bends over backwards to maintain Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, a happy marriage.  But check out this technicality.  On the underlying understanding that it is a mitzvah to live in Israel and in Jerusalem, and since it’s invalid to make a legal claim based on a grievance causing one to violate halacha, refusing to live in Jerusalem or in Israel is grounds for divorce and removal from the ketubah, the legal document of a Jewish marriage.  In the Gemara (מסכת כתובות ק’י) it says:

ת’ר הוא אומר לעלות והיא אומרת שלא לעלות כופין אונה לעלות ואם לא, תצא בלא כתובה.  היא אומרת לילות והוא אומר שלא לילות כופין אותו לילות ואם לאו יודעא ועתן כתובה.  היא אומרת לצאת והוא אומר שלא לצאת כופין אותה שלא לצאת ואם לאו תצא בלא כתובה, הוא אומר לצאת, והיא אומרת שלא לצאת, כופין אותו שלא לצאת ואם לאו יוצעא ויתן כתובה

Basically this says that if the husband or the wife wants to make aliyah, which here means both moving to Israel and moving from elsewhere in Israel to Jerusalem, the other spouse is forced to go, and if they don’t, it’s grounds for divorce and removal from the rights granted in the ketubah.

The point is, Jews are inseparable from Jerusalem, and the current political negotiation about the status of the city too often ignores this.  Elie Wiesel made this point much more eloquently than I ever could in his open letter to President Obama.

I explore how this foundation is also the key factor in combatting intermarriage and raising Jewish support for Israel in a separate post.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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