Jerusalem’s Destiny is Peaceful Unity

Jerusalem GraphicThis month marks the Golden Anniversary (50th) of the reunification of Jerusalem of Gold! Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, is the most recent Jewish “holiday” on the Hebrew calendar, celebrated on the 28th Iyar (six weeks after the Passover Seder, and one week before the eve of Shavuot). Although the Six Day War took place in June in 1967, its Hebrew commemoration occurs on May 24, 2017.

When Israel declared its independence in 1948, the new Jewish state was immediately attacked by its neighbors, and Jordan took over East Jerusalem and the Old City. Jewish residents were forced out and forbidden to visit their Jewish holy sites. Under Jordanian rule, half the old city’s fifty-eight synagogues were demolished and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was plundered.

In 1967, Israel undertook a preemptive strike in the face of imminent attack by neighboring Arab states. On June 7, 1967 Israeli forces re-captured the Old City of Jerusalem. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan then proclaimed:  “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour—and with added emphasis at this hour—our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.”

Despite our delight at now being able to visit Judaism’s holiest of sites in Jerusalem’s old city, we likewise feel uneasy. It is difficult to experience unmitigated joy when we consider the political consequences of that war. In the past fifty years, neither Jews nor Arabs have felt whole without Jerusalem and separation agreements have proven elusive as emotions flare over a few feet of Jerusalem stone.

Can we celebrate the national capital of the Jewish heart without being nationalistic to the point of excluding others for whom Jerusalem is likewise crucial? Jerusalem is a hot button politically and even spiritually among the Jewish people. We passionately debate whether or not the American embassy should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; whether Jerusalem can compromise for peace or even if we have partners for peace; whether we Jews ourselves can sufficiently settle our own religious differences to worship together on this sacred piece of real estate.

As we struggle with these complexities, we can learn from Dr. David Hartmann, z’l, who quoted the Talmudic text Tosefta Sotah 7:12: “A person might think, ‘Since the House of Shammai declare unclean and the House of Hillel clean, this one prohibits and that one permits, how, then, can I learn Torah?’  Scripture says, ‘Words … the words …. These are the words.…’

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All the words have been given by a single Shepherd; one God … has spoken them. So make yourself a heart of many rooms and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai AND the words of the House of Hillel ….”

We can hold more than one thought in our hearts and minds. With a heart of many rooms, we can both venerate Jerusalem as the eternal indivisible Jewish capital, and value the necessary compromises required to attain peace, our tradition’s highest value. While at the moment these two thoughts seem contradictory, we must hold both in our hearts until the vision of the Psalmist comes true … that one day Jerusalem may yet become “Ir shehubra lah yahdav … A city uniting all” (Psalm 122:4).

May this dream come true before the next 50 years!