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Perhaps no other city in human history has been as contested, fought over, destroyed and rebuilt as many times as Jerusalem. A Jebusite fortress, it resisted Jewish attempts to conquer it for hundreds of years until finally succumbing to King David. He made it the capital of Israel and the prophets Gad and Natan confirmed that this was the place that God had chosen for His Temple and resting place on earth, so to speak. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The city then lay in ruins and eventually was populated by Samaritans and other tribes that then were drawn to live in the Land of Israel. After seventy years of Babylonian exile, the Jews led by Ezra and Zerubavel returned.



Their attempt to rebuild the city of Jerusalem was violently opposed by the Samaritans and was subtly undermined by the ruling Persian authorities as well. However, under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, with one hand on the spear and the other on the trowel of the brick, the walls of the city were rebuilt, the Temple came into being (although in a rather humble form) and the Jews repopulated Jerusalem. In the time of King David the city was south of the Temple Mount. In Second Temple times, most of the city lay west of the Temple Mount. But Jewish sovereignty and hegemony in the city was to be relatively short-lived.



Alexander the Great spared the city destruction in his victorious campaign in the Middle East. However, the Land of Israel was under effective Greek control. It was the central point of the wars between the successors of Alexander, the Ptolmeys in Egypt to the south and the Selucids to the north in Syria. After the successful Hasmonean rebellion against the Selucids, the city once again was in Jewish hands and the Temple was greatly refurbished and sanctified. The internecine wars of the Hasmoneans amongst themselves brought Rome into the picture and in 63 BCE the city fell to Pompeii and his Roman legions.



The Romans did not then destroy the city or the Temple but Jewish national autonomy was effectively ended by the appointment of Antipater and later his son, Herod, as the rulers of Judea and Jerusalem. Herod was a great murderer but he was also a great builder. He made Jerusalem a city of splendor and the Temple that he completely rebuilt was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Vast numbers of tourists flocked to Jerusalem to see its marvels and greatness. But the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule ended in defeat in 70 CE, Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman army and the Temple burned.



A later rebellion against Hadrian in 135 CE also ended in failure and then the Romans razed the city to the ground, plowed under the ruins of the Temple and renamed the city Aelia Capitalina. A generation later Jews returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild it, though the main Jewish population in the Land of Israel was now centered in the Galilee.



With the fall of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem was taken over by the Byzantine Church and many Christian places of worship were built in the city. Relatively few Jews were allowed to live in Jerusalem during Byzantine times and in fact the main center of Jewish life was now located in Babylonia and no longer in the Land of Israel at all. In the seventh century the Moslems overwhelmed the Byzantines and Jerusalem, a city not mentioned even once in the Koran, fell under Islam. The Moslems built great mosques in the city, including the Mosque of Omar with its golden dome on the Temple Mount. In the eleventh century the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, slaughtered its small Jewish population and converted the mosques into churches. In the thirteenth century, under the rule of Saladin, the Crusaders were driven from Jerusalem and the Jews were allowed to reenter the city, albeit as a second-class dhimi community. In 1267, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) appears in Jerusalem but is hard pressed to find a minyan of Jews for prayer. In the sixteenth century, many Spanish exiles came to live in Jerusalem. But it is in the eighteenth century that substantial numbers of Jews, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic come to settle in Jerusalem.



By 1846, the Jews were the majority population in Jerusalem. Over the past one hundred sixty years Jerusalem has seen many rulers – Ottoman Turks, British High Commissioners, Jordanian rulers and finally Jewish sovereignty restored. One hopes that this is really the end of the story and that only the Temple Mount remains to be restored to its original God-given purpose. Yet the fact that we are able to live in Jewish Jerusalem today under our own sovereignty should certainly be a source of joy and hope for all of us.



Shabat shalom.

Berel Wein

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