1/12/2006

Holy Cities? An Argument for Iha"tz Kin"e Tvbb"a

There are four towns in Israel that are often followed by the acrostic ‘עיה"ק תובב"א’. Those four towns are Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias, the ‘four holy cities’, which got that epithet in the 16th Century, during the rise of mystical circles which were centered primarily in, you guessed it, those four cities. The acrostic stands for ‘Ir Ha-Kodesh, Tibaneh ve-tikonein be-meheira be-yameinu. Amen’ – may it be rebuilt and established speedily in our days. Amen.

Without taking anything away from the other three towns (one of which is from Roman times, the other from the Crusader era), Jerusalem is the only one which I believe truly deserves the honorific of ‘the Holy City’, and even so, I make a habit of using a different acrostic, one which I invented: עיה"צ ק"נ תובב"א.

It stands for “Ir Ha-tzedek, Kiryah ne-emanah…” – the city of justice; trusty town. It’s based on Yeshaya 1:26, and is followed by immediately by ‘Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness’.

Not to minimize the value of ‘holiness’ and its embodiment in the earthly Jerusalem, but for me, Jerusalem will never become the ‘holy’ city, unless it is first the city of justice and righteousness. Crimes of gross negligence on the municipal level, like the Versailles disaster of several years ago, completely preclude any claim to ‘holiness’. The dramatic and sickening story of manslaughter in the Temple, recorded in Tosefta Kippurim 1:12 and Tosefta Shavu’ot 1:4. The punchline of that Beraita is very telling: “Because of the crime of manslaughter, the Shekhina is removed and the Holy becomes contaminated.”

The Gemara in Megillah, which discusses the order of the Shmoneh Esrei, sees the following progression: ingathering of the exiles( bringing the wicked to justice (the bracha based on the verses cited above) ( extinction of evildoers (and heretics) ( the reputation of the righteous becomes exalted ( which will take place in the rebuilt Jerusalem ( the Davidic line will be restored.

So for all those champing at the bit to get the Messiah here already (stage 6 in this progression), y’all probably should get crackin’ on stage 2.

[Question for those who believe that we should return to Israel and/or establish a government/judiciary there only after the arrival of the Messiah: Do you have a different order in yous Shemoneh Esrei? Or a different version of that Gemara? Just checking.]

I recalled this issue when reading about the disaster in Mina. Just outside Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, this shrine is the site of what seems to be the Islamic equivalent to Tashlich or Se’ir La-azazel, though it also reminds one of the cult of Mercury as described in mSanhedrin 7:6 and mAvoda Zara 4:1. In this disaster, at least 345 people were trampled to death by coreligionists eager to make sure they fulfilled their religious duty before sunset (somehow, I can’t see this happening on the way to mincha). Although ‘Modern Orthodox’ Muslim poskim gave a hetter to do the mitzvah before Chatzos, apparently a whole lot of people decided to listen to the ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ wahabbi poskim, and with disastrous consequences.

Look, I understand that it’s tough to run a religion that has a billion adherents, including far too many that are willing to blow themselves up for its sake. And far be it from me to suggest that a site which allows this type of thing to happen – and to recur – is no ‘holy site’. However, one thing is clear – Jerusalem must become Iha”tz K”n before it becomes Iha”k. Otherwise, Erev Pesach will be a complete disaster.
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