Bar- Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Be- Midbar 5764/ May 22, ţ2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan , 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- Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar- Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,




Jerusalem Kol Yisrael Haverim

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 Israel haverim” (Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah 2.6). Haverim 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 Bava Kama (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 municipal by-laws. 

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 Holy City.   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 ( Yoma 12a).  In 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. 14:34); 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).