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SA

Jerusalem not just a capital, it’s the seat of G-d

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TALI FEINBERG

Magness brought the story of Jerusalem to life, describing its historical importance in the development of Judaism.

She said people have always been drawn to this rocky, isolated mountain town because it has a perennial freshwater spring, and because since antiquity, it has had spiritual significance for the Israelites and Jewish people.

“In antiquity, people had a national patron or deity who was more important than other deities. Over centuries, the Israelites began to believe that the G-d of Israel was more powerful than other deities, and this G-d would protect them if they ignored other g-ds. They saw Jerusalem as the seat of power of that deity.”

Unlike today, when we see divine power as universal, in ancient times, the Israelites saw G-d as very much dwelling in one place. So, when the Israelites divided into the northern kingdom of Samaria and the southern kingdom of Judea, the Judean priests made Jerusalem their “capital”, building the first Temple there as a way to interact with G-d. When the First Temple was destroyed, it ended the Israelite period of Jewish history, and began the exile to Babylon.

These exiled Israelites yearned to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple because they saw it as a crucial meeting point between them and G-d. Without a Temple in Jerusalem, there was no way to interact with a higher power, said Magness. When the Jews returned from exile 65 years later, Jerusalem was again the centre point or “capital” of Judea, thus beginning the era of the Jewish people as opposed to the Israelites.

Magness emphasised that when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple Mount and built a Temple there, he was literally building a house for Hashem. “The Temple was completely different to what we see as a synagogue today – they are diametrically opposed,” said Magness. While a shul is a meeting point for ordinary people, Temples were the opposite: no ordinary people could enter.

Like other ancient people, the Israelites needed to entice their deity to come down to them, “to open a line of communication”, which is why they built temples on mountaintops and offered sacrifices around the clock. Because of this emphasis on sacrifice, “if we were to go back in time, the Judaism of the temple period would be almost unrecognisable to us – more different than similar to the Judaism we know today,” said Magness.

But it was also different to other ancient religions as it worshiped one G-d above others, it had one Temple, it had no “cult statue”, and it had a caste system in which only men born as Cohanim could be priests. As the centre of all of this was Jerusalem, the place where the Israelites and then the Jewish people communicated with G-d. When the second Temple was destroyed in 70CE, Josephus wrote that “the G-d of Israel has departed Jerusalem”.

Magness said Jews have always expected to build a third Temple because our history shows that this is the natural order of things. Just as a second Temple had been built, Jews felt it would take a few of decades to reach that point again. “All sects of Judaism at the time took for granted that they could only interact with G-d in his ‘home’ in Jerusalem,” she said. “Therefore, when the Temple was not rebuilt, Judaism faced a crisis, eventually evolving into the Judaism we know today.

“Today, we go to the Kotel and put a note between the stones to communicate with G-d. This proves that this idea that Jerusalem is the place where the G-d of Israel dwells is still alive today,” Magness said. “This has been accepted by the other Abrahamic faiths, which is why Jerusalem remains special and central to all three religions.”

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