Why is Jerusalem the capital?

May 3, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Why was Jerusalem chosen as the capital?

A. Jerusalem is no ordinary city and it never was. A physical and spiritual aura always surrounded it.

The Psalmist calls the city the perfection of beauty (Psalm 50:2); the Talmud says that ten measures of beauty came down upon earth and nine were taken by Jerusalem (Kidd. 49b).

It is said to be the most ethical city on earth -­ the faithful city (Isa. 1:21), the city of truth (Zech. 8:3), the city that is united (Psalm 122:3).

It is “the navel of the country” (Josephus) and will become “the metropolis of the world” (Ex. Rabba 23:10) when “out of Zion will go forth Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).

It is mentioned some 750 times in the Bible; Zion is mentioned 180 times and there are countless references to other names such as City of David.

It is to be noted that there are over 150 references to Jerusalem in the New Testament but none in the Koran (it never was an Arab city; Jews have always had a presence there, only the Jews made it their capital, Jews have been the majority population since the 1820s, and the Arab claim derives only from the Hashemite capture of part of the city in 1948-9).

The name Jerusalem means “foundation of (or for) Salem”, but it is universally understood by Jews as “City of Shalom” -­ “Ir Shalom”. The Midrash sees it as a combination of “Yirah” (reverence) and “Shalom” (peace).

So central is Jerusalem to the Jewish (and non-Jewish) world that pre-war Vilna was colloquially called the Jerusalem of Lithuania, and there are at least 60 Jerusalems in the United States ­and even one in New Zealand.

Others may taste, love and be impressed by Jerusalem. But it is only the Jewish people that has been inextricably bound up with the city for 3000 years.

Geographically, culturally, spiritually it is the heart of Judaism.

In ancient days Jerusalem was the location of the Israelite sanctuary; today it is Israel’s sanctum, its heart, soul and spirit.

Jeremiah speaks of “Zion, for whom no-one cares” (Jer. 30:17); Teddy Kollek said, “Jews care intensely about Jerusalem… The Jews have only Jerusalem, and only the Jews have made it their capital”.


Q. What is the point of reading the Ten Commandments on Shavu’ot since everybody knows them anyhow?

A. If everyone knew and lived by them the terrible events that convulse civilisation would never be possible.

Jews sometimes feel that it is all too hard to keep on trying to teach the world, and maybe we should opt for the quieter life.

But after the Holocaust that is quite impossible if we are to remain true to ourselves. Our continuing task is expressed in an ethical will signed merely “Your Mother”, which appeared in a ghetto newspaper in 1940. It read:

“Judaism, my child, is the struggle to bring down God upon earth, a struggle for the sanctification of the human heart. This struggle your people wages not with physical force but with spirit, with sincere, heartfelt prayers, and by constant striving for truth and justice.

“So do you understand, my child, how we are distinct from others, and wherein lies the secret of our existence on earth? Knowing this, will your heart still be heavy, my child? Will you still say you cannot stand your fate? But you must, my child, for so were you commanded; it is your calling. This is your mission, your purpose on earth.

“You must go work alongside people of other nations… and you will tell them that they must come to a brotherhood of nations and to a union of all nations with God. You may ask: ‘How does one speak to them?’ This is how: ‘Thou shalt not murder; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet; love thy neighbour as thyself…’ Do these things and through their merit, my child, you will be victorious.”

This is why reading the Ten Commandments is necessary: it calls us to our task of proclaiming them more widely to the whole world.

There’s always someone listening, and little seeds eventually burst forth into mighty flowers.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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