Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-
IlanUniversity in RamatGan, Israel.A project of the
Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman
Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi.Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-
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In Honor of Jerusalem Day
Rabbi Dr. Isaac Krauss
Midrasha for Women
The verse, “Our feet stood inside your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem
built up, a city knit together” (Ps. 122:2-3) has been interpreted in a variety
of ways. Rabbi Johanan explained that the city was
“knit together” in a metaphysical sense, uniting heavenly Jerusalem
with Jerusalem on earth (Babylonian
Talmud, Ta’anit 5a).
Rabbi Joshua ben
Levi understood it in halakhic terms:
“A city that makes all Israelhaverim” (Jerusalem Talmud,
was the term used to apply to those Jerusalemites who were particularly
stringent about the laws of purity.Many
exegetes removed Rabbi Joshua ben Levi’s saying from
its halakhic context and gave it social
significance.In my opinion, a close
look at Psalm 122 supports the social interpretation of this verse, and therein
lies the special character of Jerusalem.
An expression of the social aspect of the city can be seen
in the Talmudic discussion in Tractate BavaKama (82):“Ten things were said of Jerusalem,” among them:
cantilevered construction and balconies are
not to be built in it; garbage dumps are not to be made in it; furnaces are not
to be made in it; chickens are not to be raised in it; etc.
These are what today might be called
Among the ten things that do not apply in Jerusalem we find
another, surprising group of items:the
laws making a house with an eruptive plague unclean; the regulations of the
heifer whose neck is to be broken (in cases where a murdered person is found
and it is not known who is to blame); and the rites concerning a city that has
been subverted to worship other gods, even if, heaven forefend, it should
satisfy the criteria defining such a city.All of these do not apply. It might seem that these regulations should
be followed extra carefully, not made inapplicable, precisely because of Jerusalem’s
status as the HolyCity.
So why do these regulations not apply in it?
The reason given in the gemara and common to all these cases is the
fact that Jerusalem was not
assigned to any specific tribe when the land was apportioned (
all three instances – the plagued house, the ritual of the heifer whose neck is
broken, and the rules concerning a city subverted to worship other gods – one
of the criteria in the law pertains to ownership.
With regard to plagued houses, it says, “
when … I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land
you possess” (Lev. ); but Jerusalem
is not possessed by any person.Since Jerusalem
was not apportioned among the tribes, no possession can be had there, and therefore
these laws do not hold in the city.
What is the ideological
significance in the observation that Jerusalem
was not apportioned among the tribes?Is
it that having a portion in Jerusalem
would signify ownership, but Jerusalem
is an ex-territorial place?If we
examine this law, we observe that it has two components: In terms of ownership,
Jerusalem is not the property of
any one tribe nor, to be sure, is it the property of a private individual.
This is the source of the gemara’s remark in Tractate
Yoma (loc. sit.), “Houses are not to be let
in Jerusalem, since it does not
belong to them.”
In terms of ideology, the people of Israel is comprised of
twelve tribes, each having its own individual character, as the Torah describes
in the blessing Jacob gave his sons and in Moses’ blessings of the tribes.
The fact that Jerusalem
was not divided among the tribes gives it a dimension of unity.
This unity comes not from a rejection of the
“other,” but on the contrary, from accepting the “other” and thereby forming an
integrated whole; it is like the High Priest’s breastplate, comprised of twelve
different hues, for the twelve tribes of Israel.
These two characteristics of Jerusalem,
pertaining to property and ideology, have the power to make all Israel
friends--haverim; every tribe and every
individual can lend expression there to his own, unique character.
In view of the above, we see that the saying, “Next year in
Jerusalem rebuilt,” is still
relevant in reinforcing the geographical connection and the social
connection.In our era it is our duty to
stress the fact that Jerusalem was
not divided among the tribes; one must rise above sectarian considerations that
say “Jerusalem belongs to me,”
meaning myself and no one else.It is in
the power of Jerusalem to make
everyone friends by putting into practice the concluding lines of the
psalm:“‘May there be well-being within
your ramparts, peace in your citadels.’For the sake of my kin and friends, I pray for your well-being; for the
sake of the house of the Lord our G-d, I seek your good” (Ps. 122:8-9).