Religious significance

Jerusalem plays an important role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem lists 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques within the city. Despite efforts to maintain peaceful religious coexistence, some sites, such as the Temple Mount, have been a continuous source of friction and controversy.


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Church of the Holy Sepulcher Jerusalem has been sacred to the Jews since King David proclaimed it his capital in the 10th century BCE. Jerusalem was the site of Solomon`s Temple and the Second Temple. It is mentioned in the Bible 632 times. Today, the Western Wall, a remnant of the wall surrounding the Second Temple, is a Jewish holy site second only to the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount itself. Synagogues around the world are traditionally built with the Holy Ark facing Jerusalem, and Arks within Jerusalem face the "Holy of Holies". As prescribed in the Mishna and codified in the Shulchan Aruch, daily prayers are recited while facing towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Many Jews have "Mizrach" plaques hung on a wall of their homes to indicate the direction of prayer.

Christianity reveres Jerusalem not only for its Old Testament history but also for its significance in the life of Jesus. According to the New Testament, Jesus was brought to Jerusalem soon after his birth and later in his life cleansed the Second Temple. The Cenacle, believed to be the site of Jesus` Last Supper, is located on Mount Zion in the same building that houses the Tomb of King David. Another prominent Christian site in Jerusalem is Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion. The Gospel of John describes it as being located outside Jerusalem, but recent archaeological evidence suggests Golgotha is a short distance from the Old City walls, within the present-day confines of the city. The land currently occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is considered one of the top candidates for Golgotha and thus has been a Christian pilgrimage site for the past two thousand years.

Jerusalem is considered the third-holiest city in Islam. For approximately a year, before it was permanently switched to the Kabaa in Mecca, the qibla (direction of prayer) for Muslims was Jerusalem. The city`s lasting place in Islam, however, is primarily due to Muhammad`s Night of Ascension (c. 620 CE). Muslims believe Muhammad was miraculously transported one night from Mecca to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, whereupon he ascended to Heaven to meet previous prophets of Islam. The first verse in the Qur`an`s Surat al-Isra notes the destination of Muhammad`s journey as al-Aqsa (the farthest) mosque, in reference to the location in Jerusalem. Today, the Temple Mount is topped by two Islamic landmarks intended to commemorate the event—al-Aqsa Mosque, derived from the name mentioned in the Qur`an, and the Dome of the Rock, which stands over the Foundation Stone, from which Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

Although Jerusalem is known primarily for its religious significance, the city is also home to many artistic and cultural venues. The Israel Museum attracts nearly one million visitors a year, approximately one-third of them tourists. The 20 acre museum complex comprises several buildings featuring special exhibits and extensive collections of Judaica, archaeological findings, and Israeli and European art. The Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in the mid-twentieth century in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea, are housed in the Museum`s Shrine of the Book. The Youth Wing, which mounts changing exhibits and runs an extensive art education program, is visited by 100,000 children a year. The museum has a large outdoor sculpture garden, and a scale-model of the Second Temple was recently moved from the Holy land Hotel to a new location on the museum grounds. The Rockefeller Museum, located in East Jerusalem, was the first archaeological museum in the Middle East. It was built in 1938 during the British Mandate.

The Jerusalem Theater at nightYad Vashem, Israel`s national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, houses the world`s largest library of Holocaust-related information, with an estimated 100,000 books and articles. The complex contains a state-of-the-art museum that explores the genocide of the Jews through exhibits that focus on the personal stories of individuals and families killed in the Holocaust and an art gallery featuring the work of artists who perished. Yad Vashem also commemorates the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis, and honors the Righteous among the Nations. The Museum on the Seam, which explores issues of coexistence through art is situated on the road dividing eastern and western Jerusalem.

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