The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Jerusalem (Modern Hebrew: יְרוּשָׁלַיִם Yerushaláyim, Biblical and trad. Sephardi Hebrew: יְרוּשָׁלַםִ, Arabic: القدس al-Quds, see also names of Jerusalem) is an ancient Middle Eastern city of key importance to the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

With today's population of 681,000, it is a richly heterogeneous city, representing a wide range of national, religious, and socioeconomic groups. The section called the "Old City" is surrounded by walls and has four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim.

The status of the city is hotly disputed. The 1949 cease-fire line between Israel and Jordan, also known as the Green Line, cuts through the city. Since Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, it has controlled the entire city and claims sovereignty over it. According to Israeli Jerusalem Law, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and is the center of Jerusalem District; it serves as the country's seat of government and otherwise functions as capital. Many countries do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over some or all of the city and enforce this view by maintaining their embassies in Tel Aviv or in the suburbs. Palestinians also claim all or part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Aerial view of Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock in the center and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the upper left of the compound
Aerial view of Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock in the center and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the upper left of the compound


The origin of the name of the city is uncertain. According to the Book of Samuel it was given the name "Jerusalem" (Hebrew Yerushaláyim) by King David but the precise meaning of this name is unclear. It is possible to understand the name as either "Heritage of Salem" or "Heritage of Peace" - a contraction of "heritage" (yerusha) and Salem (Shalem literally "complete") or "peace" (shalom). (See the Biblical commentator the Ramban for explanation.) "Salem" is the original name used in Genesis 14:18 for the city. Similarly the Amarna Letters call the city Uru Salim in Akkadian, a cognate of the Hebrew Ir Shalem ("city of Salem").



This city has known many wars and various periods of occupation. According to Jewish tradition it was founded by Abraham's forefathers Shem and Eber. In Genesis it was ruled by Melchizedek, regarded in Jewish tradition as being a priest of God and identical to Shem. Later it was conquered by the Jebusites. After this it came under Jewish control. The Bible records that King David defeated the Jebusites in war and captured the city without destroying it. David then expanded the city to the south, and declared it the capital city of the united Kingdom of Israel.

Later, still according to the Bible, the First Jewish Temple was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon. The Temple became a major cultural center in the region, eventually overcoming other ritual centers such as Shilo and Bethel. By the end of the "First Temple Period," Jerusalem was the sole acting religious shrine in the kingdom and a center of regular pilgrimage. It was at this time that historical records begin to corroborate the biblical history, the kings of Judah are historically identifiable, and we learn of the significance the Temple had.

Near the end of the reign of King Solomon, the northern ten tribes split off to form the Kingdom of Israel with its capital at Samaria. Jerusalem then become the capital of the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah.

Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah for some 400 years. It had survived (or, as some historians claim, averted) an Assyrian siege in 701 BC, unlike Samaria, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, which had fallen some twenty years previously. However, the city was overcome by the Babylonians in 586 BC, who then took the young king Jehoiachin into eternal captivity, together with most of the aristocracy of that time. However, the country rebelled again under Zedekiah, prompting the city's repeated conquest and destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was burnt, and the city's walls were ruined, thus rendering what remained of the city unprotected.

After several decades of captivity and the Persian conquest of Babylon, the Persians allowed the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the city's walls and the Temple. It has continued to be the capital of Judah, as a province under the Persians, Greek and Romans, with a relatively short period of independence. The Temple complex was upgraded and the Temple itself rebuilt under Herod the Great. That structure is known as the Second Temple.

First millennium

A coin issued by the rebels in AD . : " Israel, year 3". : "Jerusalem the Holy" and a branch.
A coin issued by the rebels in AD 68. Obverse: "Shekel Israel, year 3". Reverse: "Jerusalem the Holy" and a pomegranate branch.
Sack of Jerusalem. A fragment from the , Rome.
Sack of Jerusalem. A fragment from the Arch of Titus, Rome.

The city was ruined yet again when a civil war accompanied by a revolt against Rome in Judea led to the city's repeated sack and ruin at the hands of Titus in AD 70.

The Second Temple was burnt, and the whole city was ruined. The only remaining part of the Temple was a portion of an external (retaining) wall which became known as the Western Wall.

Sixty years later, after crushing the Bar Kokhba's revolt, the Roman emperor Hadrian resettled the city as a pagan polis under the name Aelia Capitolina. Jews were forbidden to enter the city, but for a single day of the year, Tisha B'Av, (the Ninth of Av, see Hebrew calendar), when they could weep for the destruction of their city at the Temple's only remaining wall.

The Byzantines cherished the city for its Christian history. However, in accordance with traditions of religious tolerance often found in the ancient East, Jews were allowed into it in the 5th century.

Although the Qur'an does not mention the name "Jerusalem", the Hadith specifies that it was from Jerusalem that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in the Night Journey, or Isra and Miraj. The city was one of the Arab Caliphate's first conquests in AD 638; according to Arab historians of the time, the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab personally went to the city to receive its submission, cleaning out and praying at the Temple Mount in the process. Some Muslim and non-Muslim sources add that he built a mosque there. Sixty years later, the Dome of the Rock was built, a structure in which there lies the stone where Muhammad is said to have tethered his mount Buraq during the Isra. This is also reputed to be the place where Abraham went to sacrifice his son (Isaac in the Jewish tradition, Ishmael in the Muslim one.) Note that the octagonal and gold-sheeted Dome is not the same thing as the Al-Aqsa Mosque beside it, which was built more than three centuries later.

Under the early centuries of Muslim rule, the city prospered; the geographers Ibn Hawqal and al-Istakhri (10th century) describe it as "the most fertile province of Palestine", while its native son the geographer al-Muqaddasi (born 946) devoted many pages to its praises in his most famous work, The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Climes.

Second millennium

The early Arab period was also one of religious tolerance. However, in early 11th century, the insane Egyptian Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of all churches and synagogues in Jerusalem, a policy reversed by his successors. Reports of this were one cause of the First Crusade, which marched off from Europe to the area, and, on July 15, 1099, Christian soldiers took Jerusalem after a difficult one month siege. They then proceeded to slaughter most of the city's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Raymond d'Aguiliers, chaplain to Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse, wrote:

Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious ceremonies were ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle-reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood. (Edward Peters, The First Crusade: The chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and other source materials, p. 214)

Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a feudal state, of which the King of Jerusalem was the chief. Neither Jews nor Muslims were allowed into the city during that time. The Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted until 1291; however, Jerusalem itself was recaptured by Saladin in 1187, who permitted worship of all religions.

In 1173 Benjamin of Tudela visited Jerusalem. He described it as a small city full of Jacobites, Armenians, Greeks, and Georgians. Two hundred Jews dwelt in a corner of the city under the Tower of David.

In 1219 the walls of the city were taken down by order of the Sultan of Damascus ; in 1229, by treaty with Egypt, Jerusalem came into the hands of Frederick II of Germany. In 1239 he began to rebuild the walls; but they were again demolished by Da'ud, the emir of Kerak.

Medieval (Migdal David) in Jerusalem today
Medieval Tower of David (Migdal David) in Jerusalem today

In 1243 Jerusalem came again into the power of the Christians, and the walls were repaired. The Kharezmian Tatars took the city in 1244; and they in turn were driven out by the Egyptians in 1247. In 1260 the Tatars under Hulaku Khan overran the whole land, and the Jews that were in Jerusalem had to flee to the neighboring villages.

In 1244, Sultan Malik al-Muattam razed the city walls, rendering it again defenseless and dealing a heavy blow to the city's status. In the middle of the 13th century, Jerusalem was captured by the Egyptian Mameluks. In 1517, it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a period of renewal and peace under Suleiman the Magnificent - including the rebuilding of magnificent walls of what is now known as the Old City (however, some of the wall foundations are remains of genuine antique walls). The rule of Suleiman and the following Ottoman Sultans brought an age of "religious peace"; Jew, Christian and Muslim enjoyed the freedom of religion the Ottomans granted them and it was possible to find a synagogue, a church and a mosque in the same street. The city remained open to all religions, although the empire's faulty management after Suleiman meant slow economical stagnation.

In 1482, the visiting Dominican priest Felix Fabri described Jerusalem as a dwelling place of diverse nations of the world, and is, as it were, a collection of all manner of abominations. As abominations he listed Saracens, Greeks, Syrians, Jacobites, Abyssianians, Nestorians, Armenians, Gregorians, Maronites, Turcomans, Bedouins, Assassins, a sect possibly Druze, Mamelukes, and the most accursed of all, Jews. Only the Latin Christians long with all their hearts for Christian princes to come and subject all the country to the authority of the Church of Rome. (A. Stewart, Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, Vol 9-10, p. 384-391)

19th-early 20th centuries

The modern history of Jerusalem began in the mid-nineteenth century, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, the city was a backwater, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. Nevertheless, it was, even then, an extremely heterogeneous city because of its significance to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The population was divided into four major communities--Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian--and the first three of these could be further divided into countless subgroups, based on precise religious affiliation or country of origin. An example of this would be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was meticulously partitioned between the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches. Tensions between the groups ran so deep that the keys to the shrine were kept with a 'neutral' Muslim family for safekeeping.

At that time, the communities were located mainly around their primary shrines. The Muslim community, then the largest, surrounded the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount (northeast), the Christians lived mainly in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (northwest), the Jews lived mostly on the slope above the Western Wall (southeast), and the Armenians lived near the Zion Gate (southwest). In no way was this division exclusive, however, it did form the basis of the four quarters during the British Mandate period (1917-1948).

1888 German map of Jerusalem
1888 German map of Jerusalem

Several changes occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, which had long-lasting effects on the city: their implications can be felt today and lie at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over Jerusalem. The first of these was a trickle of Jewish immigrants, from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, which shifted the balance of population. The first such immigrants were Orthodox Jews: some were elderly individuals, who came to die in Jerusalem and be buried on the Mount of Olives; others were students, who came with their families to await the coming of the Messiah, and adding new life to the local population. At the same time, European colonial powers also began seeking toeholds in the city, hoping to expand their influence pending the imminent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This was also an age of Christian religious revival, and many churches sent missionaries to proselytize among the Muslim and especially the Jewish populations, believing that this would speed the Second Coming of Christ. Finally, the combination of European colonialism and religious zeal was expressed in a new scientific interest in the biblical lands in general and Jerusalem in particular. Archeological and other expeditions made some spectacular finds, which increased interest in Jerusalem even more.

By the 1860s, the city, with an area of only 1 square kilometer, was already overcrowded. Thus began the construction of the New City, the part of Jerusalem outside of the city walls. Seeking new areas to stake their claims, the Russian Orthodox Church began constructing a complex, now known as the Russian Compound, a few hundred meters from Jaffa Gate . The first attempt at residential settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem was begun by Jews, who built a small complex on the hill overlooking Zion Gate , across the Valley of Hinnom. This settlement, known as Mishkenot Shaananim , eventually flourished and set the precedent for other new communities to spring up to the west and north of the Old City. In time, as the communities grew and connected geographically, this became known as the New City.

British conquest

The British were victorious over the Turks in the Middle East and with victory in Palestine, General Sir Edmund Allenby, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force entered Jerusalem on foot, out of respect for the Holy City, on December 11th, 1917. By the time General Allenby took Jerusalem from the Ottomans in 1917, the new city was a patchwork of neighborhoods and communities, each with a distinct ethnic character.

This continued under British rule, as the neighborhoods flourished and the Old City of Jerusalem gradually emerged as little more than an impoverished older neighborhood. One of the British bequests to the city was a town planning order requiring new buildings in the city to be faced with sandstone and thus preserving some of the overall look of the city.


Jerusalem is situated in , upon the southern spur of a plateau the eastern side of which slopes from 2,460 ft. above sea-level north of the Temple area to 2,130 ft. at the southeastern extremity. The western hill is about 2,500 ft. high and slopes southeast from the Judean plateau.

Jerusalem is surrounded upon all sides by valleys, of which those on the north are less pronounced than those on the other three sides. The principal two valleys start northwest of the present city. The first runs eastward with a slight southerly bend (the present Wadi al-Joz), then, deflecting directly south (formerly known as "Kidron Valley," the modern Wadi Sitti Maryam), divides the Mount of Olives from the city. The second runs directly south on the western side of the city, turns eastward at its southeastern extremity, then runs directly east, and joins the first valley near Bir Ayyub ("Job's Well"). It was called in olden times the "Valley of Hinnom," and is the modern Wadi al-Rababi, which is not to be identified with the first-mentioned valley.

A third valley, commencing in the northwest where is now the Damascus Gate, ran south-southeasterly down to the Pool of Siloam, and divided the lower part into two hills (the lower and the upper cities of Josephus). This is probably the later Tyropoeon ("Cheese-makers'") valley. A fourth valley led from the western hill (near the present Jaffa Gate) over to the Temple area: it is represented in modern Jerusalem by David Street. A fifth cut the eastern hill into a northern and a southern part. Later Jerusalem was thus built upon four spurs.

Today, neighboring towns are Bethlehem and Beit Jala at the southern city border, and Abu Dis to the East.

Neighborhoods, places and monuments



Buildings and Monuments

see also: Museums in Jerusalem


Archeological Monuments

  • The tombs of the Kings


Local government


See the List of mayors of Jerusalem

Current mayor of Jerusalem is Uri Lupolianski, member of the local United Torah Judaism faction and the first Haredi Jew to attain this position in the city.


Jerusalem's population at different times
Year Jews Muslims Christians Total
1525 1000 3700  ?  ?
1538 1150 6750  ?  ?
1553 1634 11,750  ?  ?
1562 1200 11,450  ?  ?
1844 7120 5000 3390 15,510
1876 12,000 7560 5470 25,030
1896 28,110 8560 8750 45,420
1922 34,000 13,400 14,700 62,600
1931 51,200 19,900 19,300 90,500
1944 97,000 30,600 29,400 157,000
1948 100,000 40,000 25,000 165,000
1967 195,700 54,963 12,646 263,307
1980 292,300  ?  ? 407,100
1985 327,700  ?  ? 457,700
1987 340,000 121,000 14,000 475,000
1990 378,200 131,800 14,400 524,400
1995 482,000 164,300 16,300 662,600
1996 421,200  ?  ? 602,100
2000 448,800 208,700  ? 657,500
2004 464,000  ?  ? 692,000

External sources

Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict

The United Nations proposed, in its 1947 plan for the partition of Palestine, for Jerusalem to be a city under international administration. However, on January 23, 1950 the Knesset passed a resolution that stated Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when a Palestinian-Arab state failed to materialize and the British Mandate of Palestine was invaded by Egypt and Jordan, Jerusalem was divided. The Western half of the New City became part of the new state of Israel, while the eastern half, along with the Old City, was annexed by Jordan. Jordan did not allow Jewish access to the Western Wall (known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall) and Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest sites, in the Old City. Jordan constructed a slum within a few feet of the base of the Western Wall and used the area as a garbage dump, and converted some churches to mosques. Christian access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount was allowed in many cases, but this was seldom in use, as most of the Christians in Jerusalem were UN officials running between the divided parts.

East Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis in the Six-Day War of 1967, along with the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Under Israel, members of all religions were largely granted access to their holy sites. The slum in front of the Wall was removed and a large open air plaza constructed. This plaza is a favored site of Jewish prayer services. However, concerns have been raised about several attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, notably a serious fire in 1969 (arson by a delusional Australian tourist) and tunnels opened beneath that mosque, discovered in 1981, 1988 and 1996. The status of East Jerusalem remains a highly controversial issue.

See also: Crusades, Temple in Jerusalem, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Orient House

Current status

Israeli law designates Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; only a few countries recognize this designation. See #Status_as_Israel's_capital.

According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Jerusalem was supposed to be an international city, not part of either the proposed Jewish or Arab state. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, West Jerusalem was occupied by Israel, while East Jerusalem (including the Old City) was occupied by Jordan, along with the West Bank. The Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was not internationally recognized, except by the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, and began taking steps to unify the city under Israeli control. It annexed 6.4 km² of Jordanian Jerusalem and 64 km² of the nearby West Bank. (see Maps of Jerusalem pre- and post-1967). Residents of the annexed territory were offered Israeli citizenship on condition they renounce their Jordanian citizenship, which most of them refused to do.

In 1988, Jordan withdrew all its claims to the West Bank (including Jerusalem) in favor of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is also controversial. The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have a 'permanent resident' status, which allows them to move within Israel proper. However should they move out of Israel proper (e.g. into the Palestinian territories), this status will be lost and they will not be able to return. Since many have extended families in the West Bank, only miles away, this often implies enormous hassles. By Israel's Citizenship Law, they are entitled to Israeli citizenship, which they can receive automatically or almost automatically, provided that they do not have any other citizenship. Thus, many Palestinians who would like to hold their Jordanian passports have to retain the status of permanent residents. Some Palestinians decline to accept citizenship since they consider it equivalent to accepting Israel's annexation.

Another issue is the status of family members not recorded in the census preceding the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. They must apply for entry into East Jerusalem for family reunification with the Ministry of the Interior. Palestinians complain that such applications have been arbitrarily denied for purposes of limiting the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem, while Israeli authorities claim they treat Palestinians fairly. These and other aspects have been a source of criticism from Palestinians and Israeli human rights organizations, such as B'Tselem.

Status as Israel's capital

The modern Knesset building, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem today
The modern Knesset building, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem today

In 1980, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Jerusalem's status as the nation's "eternal and indivisible capital", by passing the Basic Law: Jerusalem — Capital of Israel.

As of 2004, only two states, Costa Rica and El Salvador, have their embassies in Jerusalem (since 1984), but the Consulate General of Greece as well as that of the United Kingdom and the United States is based there. Additionally, Bolivia and Paraguay have their embassies in Mevasseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem.

All the branches of Israeli government (Presidential, Legislative, Judicial, and Administrative) are seated in Jerusalem. The Knesset building is well known in Jerusalem.

Palestinian aspirations

Palestinian groups claim either all of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) or East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

UN position

The position of the United Nations on the question of Jerusalem is contained in General Assembly resolution 181(11) and subsequent resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council concerning this question.

The UN Security Council, in UN Resolution 478, declared that the 1980 Jerusalem Law declaring Jerusalem as Israel's "eternal and indivisible" capital was "null and void and must be rescinded forthwith" (14-0-1, US abstaining). The resolution instructed member states to withdraw their diplomatic representation from the city as a punitive measure.

Before this resolution, thirteen countries had their embassies in Jerusalem: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Netherlands, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela. Following the UN resolution, all thirteen moved their embassies to Tel Aviv. Costa Rica and El Salvador moved back to Jerusalem in 1984.

United States position

The United States Jerusalem Embassy Act , passed by congress in 1995, states that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999". Since then, the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv is being suspended by the President semi-annually, each time stating that "[the] Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem". As a result of the Embassy Act, official U.S. documents and web sites refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act , 2003 states:

"The Congress maintains its commitment to relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and urges the President [...] to immediately begin the process of relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem". [1]

However, President Bush dismissed this section as "advisory", stating that it "impermissibly interferes with the President's constitutional authority". [2] The US Constitution reserves the conduct of foreign policy to the President and acts of Congress which make foreign policy are invalid for that reason.

United Kingdom position

UK government statement [3]

"In line with the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993 and the Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995, both agreed by Israel and the PLO, the Government regards the status of Jerusalem as still to be determined in permanent status negotiations between the parties. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. We recognise no sovereignty over the city."
"Jerusalem has a unique religious and cultural importance for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and we attach great importance to ensuring access to Jerusalem and freedom of worship there for those of all faiths."

Jerusalem in Islam

Muslims traditionally regard Jerusalem as having a special religious status, partly because of its link with people regarded as Prophets of Islam - particularly David, Solomon, and Jesus - and partly because it was the first qibla (direction of prayer) in Islam before the kabah in Makka, but also because the "farthest Mosque" (al-masjid al-Aqsa) in verse (17:1) of the Qur'an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on which the mosque of that name now stands:

سبحان الذي أسرى بعبده ليلاً من المسجد الحرام إلى المسجد الأقصى الذي باركنا حوله
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless (Yusuf Ali's translation)

On that night, the night of the Isra and Mi'raj (Rajab 27), Muhammad is believed to have been taken by the flying steed Buraq to visit Jerusalem, and thence heaven, in a single night. Many Muslims celebrate its anniversary with gatherings and feasting, although Wahhabis and several other groups take the position that no regular festivals are permissible except the two Eids.

Several hadiths refer to Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis) as the place where all mankind will be gathered on the Day of Judgement.

The earliest dated stone inscriptions containing verses from the Qur'an appear to be Abd al-Malik's in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, from 72 AH.

After the conquest of Jerusalem by the armies of the second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, parts of the city soon took on a Muslim aspect. According to Muslim historians, the city insisted on surrendering to the Caliph directly rather than to any general, and he signed a pact with its Christian inhabitants, the Covenant of Umar . He was horrified to find the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif being used as a rubbish dump, and ordered that it be cleaned up and prayed there. However, when the Bishop invited him to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he refused, fearing lest he create a precedent for its use as a mosque. According to some Muslim historians, he also built a crude mosque on the Temple Mount, which would be replaced by Abd al-Malik. The Byzantine chronicler Theophanes Confessor (751-818) gives a slightly different picture of this event, claiming that Umar "began to restore the Temple at Jerusalem" with encouragement from local Jews.

In 688 the Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, also known as Noble Sanctuary; in 728 the cupola over the Al-Aqsa Mosque was erected, the same being restored in 758-775 by Al-Mahdi. In 831 Al-Ma'mun restored the Dome of the Rock and built the octagonal wall. In 1016 the Dome was partly destroyed by earthquakes; but it was repaired in 1022.

In the context of proposals to radically reinterpret early Islamic history, certain Orientalists, eg John Wansbrough, have proposed that Muhammad's Night Journey to Jerusalem - the Isra and Miraj, one of the principal foundations of Jerusalem's sanctity in Islam - was a later invention intended to account for an otherwise obscure verse. Others, such as Patricia Crone , have proposed that Jerusalem was in fact the original Islamic holy city, and that the sanctity of Mecca and Medina was a later innovation. Neither of these controversial theories enjoys wide acceptance, least of all among Muslims. However, outside of academic circles, the former theory enjoys a particular popularity among those who would deny Muslim claims to the city.

Jerusalem in the Torah and Tanakh / Old Testament

Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in the Torah and Tanakh, or Old Testament, a text sacred to both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism it is considered the Written Law, the basis for the Oral Law (Mishnah, Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh) studied, practiced and treasured by Jews and Judaism for three millennia. (List of Jewish Prayers and Blessings). In Christianity, it is considered as the account of God's relationship with His chosen people - the original covenant - and the essential prelude to the events narrated in the New Testament, including both universal commandments (eg the Ten Commandments) and obsolete or Judaism-specific ones.

For example, the book of Psalms, which has been frequently recited and memorized by Jews and Christians for centuries, says: (etc.)

  • "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion." (Psalms 137:1)
  • "For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning . If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof; O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us." (Psalms 137:3-8) (King James Version, with italics for words not in the original Hebrew)
  • "O God, the nations have entered into your inheritance, they have defiled the sanctuary of your holiness, they have turned Jerusalem into heaps of rubble...they have shed their blood like water round Jerusalem..." (Psalms 79:1-3);
  • "...O Jerusalem, the built up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together...Pray for the peace of Jerusalem..." (Psalms 122:2-6);
  • "Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains as God surrounds his people forever" (Psalms 125:3);
  • "The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcast of Israel he will gather in...Praise God O Jerusalem, laud your God O Zion." (Psalms 147:2-12)

Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism

Jerusalem in Torah and Tanakh

Jerusalem has long been embedded into the religious consciousness of the Jewish people. [[Jew]s have always studied and personalized the struggle by King David to capture Jerusalem and his desire to build the Jewish temple there as described in the Book of Samuel and his yearnings about Jerusalem which became part of the popular prayers and songs.

Festivals and Jerusalem

Religious Jews today with Lulavim (palm branches) celebrating Sukkot (Tabernacles) at the Western Wall, Jerusalem
Religious Jews today with Lulavim (palm branches) celebrating Sukkot (Tabernacles) at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

Two major Jewish festivals observed by most Jews conclude with the words: "Next Year in Jerusalem" ("l'shanah haba'ah birushalayim") or "Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem" ("l'shanah haba'ah birushalayim hab'nuyah"):

  • At the end of the Passover Seder on each night, the night's meal and recitation of prayers about the miracles of the ancient Exodus from Egypt concludes with the loud repetitious singing of "Next Year in Jerusalem".
  • The holiest day on the Jewish calendar Yom Kippur also concludes with the singing and exclamation of "Next Year in Jerusalem".

Stressing the desire to "return to Jerusalem" was printed in the holiest texts of those days, the Hagada of Pesach (Passover) and the Machzor of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) which were fervently read and then treasured at home given pride of place on family bookshelves, reinforcing the notion that the day would come when the Jews would yet go back to their most beloved place on Earth: Jerusalem.

Today, with over a quarter million Jews practicing Orthodox Judaism living in Jerusalem, the Jewish festivals come to life, and result in many synagogues and the Western Wall witnessing tens of thousands of fervent worshipers flooding the Jewish places of worship.

Synagogues face Jerusalem

When the Jews were exiled from their land, first by the Babylonian Empire about 2,500 years ago and then by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, the great rabbis and scholars of the mishnah and Talmud instituted the policy that each synagogue should replicate the original ancient Jewish temple and that it be constructed in such a way that all prayers in the siddur (prayer book) be recited while facing Jerusalem, as that is where the ancient temple stood and it was the only permissible place of the sacrificial offerings.

Thus synagogues in Europe face south; synagogues in North America face east, countries to the south of Israel, such as Yemen or South Africa face north; and those to the east of Israel, face west. Even when in private prayer and not in a synagogue, a Jew would have to face Jerusalem as mandated by Jewish law compiled by the rabbis in the Shulkhan Arukh. In a secular age, this may be hard to grasp, but during all the centuries and millennia when the majority of the Jewish people were practicing Judaism, and those who still do so to this day, the very "existence" of Jerusalem is not just a key "place" in the world, but is also the "center" of religious experiences, constantly reinforced by prayers and rituals.

Daily Prayers mention Jerusalem

Opposite the Western Wall in Jerusalem, at the Western Wall Plaza, a huge yeshiva building used for Torah study and prayers is built today
Opposite the Western Wall in Jerusalem, at the Western Wall Plaza, a huge yeshiva building used for Torah study and prayers is built today

The daily prayers, over the last two thousand years recited by religious Jews three times a day mentions Jerusalem and its functions multiple times. Some examples from the siddur and the amidah are:

(Addressing God): "And to Jerusalem, your city, may you return in compassion, and may you rest within it, as you have spoke. May you rebuild it soon in our days as an eternal structure, and may you speedily establish the throne of (King) David within it. Blessed are you God, the builder of Jerusalem...May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are you God, who restores his presence to Zion."

Blessings including Jerusalem

Additionally when partaking of a daily meal with bread, the following is part of the required "Grace After Meals" which must be recited:

"Have mercy Lord our God, on Israel your people, on Jerusalem your city, on Zion the resting place of your glory, on the monarchy of (King David) your anointed, and on the great and holy (Temple) house upon which your name is called...Rebuild Jerusalem, the holy city, soon in our days. Blessed are you God who rebuilds Jerusalem in his mercy, amen."

When partaking of a light meal, the thanksgiving blessing states:

"...Have mercy, Lord, our God, on Israel, your people; on Jerusalem, your city; and on Zion, the resting place of your glory; upon your altar, and upon your temple. Rebuild Jerusalem, the city of holiness, speedily in our days. Bring us up into it and gladden us in its rebuilding and let us eat from its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness and bless you upon it in holiness and purity. For you, God, are good and do good to all and we thank you for the land and for the nourishment..."

Mourning recalls Jerusalem

Artist's impression of the Jerusalem Second Temple's fiery destruction 2,000 years ago by Rome
Artist's impression of the Jerusalem Second Temple's fiery destruction 2,000 years ago by Rome

The saddest fast-day on the Jewish religious calendar is the Ninth of Av when Jews traditionally spent the day crying for the loss of their two Holy Temples and the destruction of Jerusalem. This major (24 hour) fast is preceded on the calendar by two minor dawn to dusk fast days, the Tenth of Tevet mourning for the time Babylonia laid siege to the First Temple, and for the tragedy of the Seventeenth of Tammuz when Rome broke through the outer walls of the Second Temple.

The words used when Jews console any mourner during the customary Seven Days of Mourning are:

"May God comfort you among all the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem"

Remembrances of Jerusalem

There was even an ancient custom to leave a patch near the entrance to one's home unpainted as a remembrance of the destruction (zecher lechurban), of the temples and Jerusalem. The sacredness of Jerusalem has never lapsed for Jews and Judaism, and this is illustrated by the fact that Jews consider the Temple Mount to be sacred ground to the very present as it is remembered and acknowledged as the exact spot of the Holy Temples.

Jerusalem at weddings

Jewish groom today, center, with right foot raised, about to break glass cup with his heel, recalling Jerusalem's destruction
Jewish groom today, center, with right foot raised, about to break glass cup with his heel, recalling Jerusalem's destruction

There is a custom practiced by some, prior to when a Jewish groom walks to take his place beneath the bridal canopy, that a tiny amount of ash be touched upon his forehead earlier, so that he not allow his own rejoicing to be "greater" than the ongoing need to recall Jerusalem's fall. The well-known custom of the groom breaking a glass with the heel of his shoe after the ceremony is also related to the subject of mourning for Jerusalem. The groom recites the sentence from Psalms "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." (Psalms 137:5). The translation given is from the KJV, the italicized words are not present in the Hebrew. All traditional Jewish commentators, however, agree with this translation; it was common in Biblical Hebrew to not explicitly express any possible negative consequence.

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Jews have always known and believed that in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall is the only "surviving" edifice of the Second Temple from the era of the Roman conquests. Apparently, there are esoteric texts in Midrash that mention God's promise to keep this one remnant of the outer temple wall standing as a memorial and reminder of the past. Hence the significance of the "Western Wall" (kotel hama'aravi), or the "Wailing Wall" which also attests to the fact that non-Jews in the area were always conscious of the Jews' propensity to cry whenever they came before it.

Rabbis and Jerusalem

The lives of some of the foremost rabbis (scholars and leaders) in the history of Judaism are intertwined with the gradual rebuilding of Jerusalem following its desolation at the hands of the Roman Empire. In fact, the Talmud records that the rabbinical leader Yohanan ben Zakkai (c. 70 C.E.) urged a peaceful surrender, in order to save the city from destruction, but was not heeded as the city was under the control of the Zealots.

The roots of the earliest modern-day "return to Zion" by the Jews, has been traced to Yehuda Halevi, who died in about 1140. Jewish legend relates that as he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated "Zionide" Tzion ha-lo Tish'ali and that at that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab.

Interior of restored Ramban synagogue in Jerusalem today
Interior of restored Ramban synagogue in Jerusalem today

Then, it is Nahmanides, the Ramban, who, in 1267 emigrated to the land of Israel, and came for a short stay to live in Jerusalem. He wrote that he found barely ten Jews, as it had been desolated by the Crusades, nevertheless, together they built a synagogue that is the oldest that still stands to this day, known as the "Ramban Synagogue".

Both Elijah ben Solomon (d. 1797) known as the Vilna Gaon, and Israel ben Eliezer (d. 1760) known as the Ba'al Shem Tov instructed and sent small successive waves of their disciples to settle in Jerusalem then under Turkish Ottoman rule. They created a Jewish religious infrastructure that remains the core of the Haredi Jewish community in Jerusalem to this day.

The British Mandate of Palestine authorities created the new offices of "Chief Rabbi" in 1921 for both Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews with central offices in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (d. 1935) moved to Jerusalem to set up this office, associated with the "Religious Zionist" Mafdal group, becoming the first modern Chief Rabbi together with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yaakov Meir. The official structure housing the Chief Rabbinate was completed in 1958 and is known as Heichal Shlomo.

Jerusalem is also home to a number of the world's largest yeshivot (Talmudical and Rabbinical schools), and has become the undisputed capital of Jewish scholarly, religious and spiritual life for most of world Jewry.

Six Day War aftermath

General Moshe Dayan (center); General Yitschak Rabin (right); General Uzi Narkiss (left), entering Jerusalem in June 1967
General Moshe Dayan (center); General Yitschak Rabin (right); General Uzi Narkiss (left), entering Jerusalem in June 1967

Seen marching into the center of walled Old Jerusalem in this June 1967 photo, are (left to right): Israeli Generals Uzi Narkiss; Moshe Dayan (Minister of Defense, center); and Yitzchak Rabin, (Chief of Staff, right):

The Western Wall's short stretch of ancient stones in Jerusalem, facing the Temple Mount now has a huge public plaza built behind it, built after Jerusalem's capture by Israel Defense Force following the Six Day War in 1967, which was considered by secular and religious Jews as a new day of "Liberation" and a new Israeli holiday was created: Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim). The most popular secular Hebrew song is "Jerusalem of Gold" (Yerushalayim shel zahav) and was first composed and sung when Jerusalem was captured from the Kingdom of Jordan in 1967.

Israeli troops on parade at the Western Wall plaza
Israeli troops on parade at the Western Wall plaza

Many large state gatherings of the State of Israel take place there now, including the official swearing-in of different Israel army officers units, national ceremonies such as memorial services for fallen Israeli soldiers on Yom Hazikaron, huge celebrations on Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut), huge gatherings of tens of thousands on Jewish religious holidays, and on-going daily prayers by regular attendees, as well as being perhaps the major high-point for tourists visiting Jerusalem, all of which, each in their own way, reflect the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people past and present.

Jerusalem in other religions

In Christianity

For Christians, Jerusalem's place in the life of Jesus gives it great importance, in addition to its place in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was brought as a child, to be 'presented' at the Temple (Luke 2:22) and to attend festivals (Luke 2:41). According to the Gospels, Jesus preached and healed in Jerusalem, especially in the Temple courts. There is also an account of Jesus' 'cleansing' of the Temple, chasing various traders out of the sacred precincts (Mark 11:15). At the end of each of the Gospels, there are accounts of Jesus' Last Supper in an 'upper room' in Jerusalem, his arrest in Gethsemane, his trial, his crucifixion at Golgotha, his burial nearby and his resurrection and ascension.

Tradition holds that the place of the Last Supper is the Cenacle, on the second floor of the Mosque of the Prophet David (Masjid an-Nabi Daud), with the supposed tomb of David on the first floor. The place of Jesus' anguished prayer and betrayal, Gethsemane, is probably somewhere near the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives. Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate may have taken place at the Antonia fortress, to the north of the Temple area. Popularly, the exterior pavement where the trial was conducted is beneath the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Other Christians believe that Pilate tried Jesus at Herod's Palace on Mount Zion.

The Via Dolorosa, or way of suffering, is the traditional route to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, and is an important pilgrimage. The route ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (perhaps the most holy place for Christians). The Holy Sepulchre is traditionally believed to be the location of Golgotha and Jesus' nearby tomb. The original church was built in 336 by Constantine I. The Garden Tomb is a popular pilgrimage site near the Damascus Gate . It was suggested by Charles George Gordon that this site, rather than the Holy Sepulchre, is the true place of Golgotha.

The Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles show James the Just, the brother of Jesus, as leader of the early Jerusalem church. He and his successors were the focus for Jewish Christians until the destruction of the city by Emperor Hadrian in 135. The exclusion of Jews from the new city of Aelia meant that gentile bishops were appointed under the authority of the Metropolitans of Caesarea and, ultimately, the Patriarchs of Antioch. Emperor Constantine I and his mother, Helena, endowed Jerusalem with churches and shrines, making it the foremost centre of Christian pilgrimage. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 raised the bishop of Jerusalem to the rank of patriarch, fifth in rank behind Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. However, Byzantine politics meant that Jerusalem simply passed from the Syrian jurisdiction of Antioch to the Greek authorities in Constantinople. For centuries, Greek clergy dominated the Jerusalem church.

In 638, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, handed over the keys of the city to Calif Umar's Muslim forces. The relation between the Christian populace and the Muslim authorities in the city appear to have been good (with the one exception of Calif al-Hakim's execution of the patriarch and destruction of the Holy Sepulchre), and Christian artisans were used to build the Dome of the Rock.

On 15 July 1099, the army of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem and brutalised its inhabitants. The crusaders showed equal, if not greater, animosity towards Eastern Christians to that showed against Muslims. Jerusalem became the capital of a 'Latin Kingdom' with a Latin church and a Latin Patriarch, all under the authority of the Pope. In 1187, when Saladin captured the city, the Holy Sepulchre and many other churches were returned to the care of Eastern Christians.

From the 17th to the 19th century, various Catholic European nations petitioned the Ottoman Empire for Catholic control of the 'holy places'. The Franciscans are the traditional Catholic custodians of the holy places. Control swung back and forth between the western and eastern churches throughout this period. Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I (1839-1861), perhaps out of despair, published a firman that laid out in detail the exact rights and responsibility of each community at the Holy Sepulchre. This document became known as the Status Quo, and is still the basis for the complex protocol of the shrine. The Status Quo was upheld by the British Mandate and Jordan. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and the passing of the Old City into Israeli hands, the Knesset passed a law protecting the holy places. Five Christian communities currently have rights in the Holy Sepulchre: the Greek Patriarchate, Latins (Western Rite Roman Catholics), Armenians, Copts and Syriac Orthodox.

The 'New Jerusalem' is the focus of a vision at the end of the Book of Revelation. It is the perfect city where God lives among his people.

In Mandaeanism

In Mandaeanism, a small, ancient Gnostic sect still found in southern Iraq, Jerusalem is considered a city of wickedness, dedicated to the god of Judaism, whom they call Adunay or Yurba and consider to be an evil spirit; according to Sidra d-Yahia 54, Jerusalem is "the stronghold that Adunay built... [he] brought to it falsehood in plenty, and it meant persecution against my tarmidia (Manda d-Hiia 's disciples)." In the Ginza Rba (15.11), it is said to have come into being as a result of the incestuous union of the seven planets with their evil mother Ruha d-Qudsha, who "left lewdness, perversion, and fornication in it. They said: 'Whoever lives in the city of Jerusalem will not mention the name of God.'" (Elsewhere, however, it more prosaically says the city was built by Solomon.) However, Yahya (John the Baptist), an important figure in the religion, is said to have been born there.

Later on, in the days of Pontius Pilate, it says the good spirit Anush Utra went there, healed the sick and worked miracles, and made converts, confronting Jesus (whom they consider a false prophet) and refuting his arguments; but its inhabitants opposed him and persecuted the converts, 365 of whom were killed (GR 15.11) or forced out (GR 2.1.) Miriai , a Jewish or Chaldean princess, was converted, and fled to the shores of the Euphrates. This angered Anush Utra, who received permission from God to destroy Jerusalem and the temple, smash the "seven columns", and slay the Jews who lived there, after bringing out the remaining "believers". Elsewhere, the Ginza Rba (18) prophesises that Jerusalem "must flourish for a thousand years, remain a thousand years destroyed, and then the entire Tibil (material world) will be destroyed."

In the Abahatan Qadmaiia prayer, repeated during baptism of the dead, the Mandaeans invoke blessings upon the 365 who they believe were killed or forced out of Jerusalem:

"Those 365 priests who came forth from the city of Jerusalem, the city of this masiqta and dukhrana, a forgiveness of sins may there be for them."

Arguments for and against internationalization

The proposal that Jerusalem should be a city under international administration is still made at times by Christians, the only interested party without a significant population in the city. (Internationalization is the proposal favored by the Pope.) Most negotiations regarding the future status of Jerusalem have however been based on partition; for example, one scheme would have Israel keep the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall (the "Wailing Wall"), with the rest of the Old City and the Temple Mount being transferred to a new Palestinian state. Some Israelis are opposed to any division of Jerusalem, based on cultural, historic, and religious grounds. Others believe that areas such as the Old City which are sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam should be under international or multilateral control. Palestinians have argued for an open city, though its feasibility has been challenged given the existence of mutual distrust.

Culture in Jerusalem



Begin Boulevard is Jerusalem's inner city expressway. It goes North to South from Atarot to Malcha .

The Jerusalem Central Bus Station is Jerusalem's intercity bus station. It is served by Egged and Dan buses. City buses are are run by Egged.

Israel Railways operates train service to Southern Jerusalem with 2 stops: The Biblical Zoo and Jerusalem Malcha near the Malcha Mall . In 2009, there will be a new high speed train line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which will terminate at a new underground station under construction underneath the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. There are future plans to extend the line from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to the current Jerusalem Malcha Train Station, the terminus of the current historic (now upgraded) railroad.

Atarot Airport is Jerusalem's airport but it is currently not in use due to the security situation.

See also

View of Jerusalem

View of Jerusalem

(Click image to view larger version)

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem taken from the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives. The graves of the cemetery can be seen below, with the Valley of King David to the left. Directly in front is Jerusalem's Old City Walls enclosing the Old City, with the Dome of the Rock prominent.

Born in Jerusalem

External reference and links

Last updated: 05-11-2005 02:38:53
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