Pardes 360: Jerusalem United or Divided? Between Dreams and Realities

Some see her as finally united, others as more divided than ever.

No, I am not referring to East and West Jerusalem, rather to the Jerusalem of Heaven and the Jerusalem of Earth; between the Jerusalem of our dreams and the Jerusalem of our realities.

There has always been a gap between what Jerusalem is supposed to be and what Jerusalem actually is. Isaiah dreamed of a Jerusalem that would serve as the symbol of a nation no longer lifting “up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). While he was living in the Jerusalem of the First Temple time period, he likened it to Sodom and Gomorrah, full of corruption and violence (Isaiah chapter 1). The rabbis of the Talmud declared that one day Jerusalem would be redeemed through justice (T.B. Shabbat 139a) and peace (Deuteronomy Rabbah, 5:15) as they looked back at the destruction of the Second Temple and accredited it to the fact that “they loved money and hated one another” (Tosefta Menachot 13:22-23).

The question, therefore, is how can this gulf between the two Jerusalems, that of our dreams and that of our realities, be understood? Over the course of history some chose to keep the two Jerusalems divided. For example, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, living in first century Egypt wrote: “But that which is called by the Hebrews the city of God is Jerusalem, which name being interpreted means, “the sight of peace.” So they do not look for the city of the living God in the region of the earth, for it is not made of wood or of stone, but seek it in the soul which is free from war, and which proposes to those who are endowed with acuteness of sight a contemplative and peaceful life.” (Philo, On Dreams II, 250). However classic rabbinic literature argued that the two Jerusalems would one day be united. Rabbi Yochanan, one of the leading rabbis of the Talmud living in 3rd century Tiberius said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, declared: I shall not enter the Jerusalem which is above, until I enter the Jerusalem which is below. But is there a Heavenly Jerusalem? Yes there is, as scripture states: ‘Jerusalem, thou art builded as a city that is compact together’ ” (Psalms 122:3). (T.B. Ta’anit 5a). Rabbi Yochanan did not give up on his dream of Jerusalem on Earth transforming into being connected one day to the Jerusalem in Heaven.

May 24, 2017 (Iyar 28), marks 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem’s East and West. The day invokes many to celebrate and rejoice over the miracle of not only the Jews of Israel being saved from a near catastrophe but also the fulfillment of the dream to reunite with the holiest sites of the Jewish people. Others, however, bemoan this day as the beginning of the move away from core Jewish values that Jerusalem is supposed to symbolize such as justice, equality and peace. I believe that both ‘these and those’ are advocating for the Sake of Heaven, for Jerusalem on Earth to be reunited with the Jerusalem in Heaven, but their understanding of what that ideal Jerusalem in Heaven, is very different.

This religious-political disagreement will undoubtedly continue to divide Jews and non-Jews alike around Israel and the world for the near future. However, I personally find some small glimpses of movement towards bridging these diverging ‘Jerusalems of Heaven’, not through any potential political initiatives but rather through initiatives of civil society, such as the Jerusalem Day of Tolerance. Last year the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (a 9Adar/ Dibbur Hadash partner) launched an initiative to transform the nature of Jerusalem Day from a politically divisive day that marks the reunification of the city into a day of tolerance across all the city’s identity divides, including “Jews and Arabs, Jewish denominations, Christians and Muslims, transgenders, asylum seekers and refugees, Jewish Olim, etc.” This initiative will not of course ‘solve’ all the challenges of Jerusalem but I think that it’s an important and inspirational step forward towards ‘requesting peace for Jerusalem (Psalms 122:6), a peace between the conflicting dreams of what peace of Jerusalem, in Heaven and Earth, actually means!

Click here to listen to the accompanying podcast on Jerusalem United or Divided? Between Dreams and Realities.


Pardes 360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect and institutional stance. To read other Pardes 360 articles, click here.

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About Daniel Roth

Daniel is the director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution. He holds a Ph.D. from Bar Ilan University‘s Program for Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation writing on Jewish models of conflict resolution, peacemaking, and reconciliation. Daniel has been teaching advanced rabbinics, Bible, conflict resolution and other subjects at Pardes for over fifteen years. Click here to read more.

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