Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

A Covenant that Offers A Prayer

The Amana penned by Menachem Elon, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, is an intricate mosaic dealing with the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish life from the time of Abraham to the present.
by David Strassler

MENACHEM ELON, deputy president of Israel's Supreme Court and leading expert in Hebrew law, is above all a Torah scholar. When asked about the Jerusalem Covenant he composed, he reaches for the biblical commentaries that line the bookshelves of his chambers and points to the texts that served as his inspiration.

A cursory glance at the Jerusalem Covenant, or "Amana" in Hebrew, gives the impression that the document is merely a collection of Scriptural and Talmudic quotations dealing with Jerusalem. But it is much more. Elon's covenant is an intricate mosaic dealing with the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish life from the time of Patriarch Abraham to the present, leading to its culmination: "Our faithfulness to you we shall bequeath to our children after us. For evermore, our home shall be within you."

According to Avner Ovadiah, spokesman for the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs, Elon was asked to compose the covenant, because "he is universally accepted and because of the authority of the Supreme Court."

Elon was hesitant at first, mainly because he thought that composing a consensus document on such a weighty matter would be exceptionally demanding. He was also acutely aware of the covenant's historical importance and that it would be signed by the captains of state in Israel and the leaders of Jewish communities and organizations all over the world. History weighed on him heavily while he deliberated.

Elon said that he was moved by the hope that the covenant would add content and a ceremonial aspect to Jerusalem Day, and "though this might be pretentious," that the covenant could assume the dimension of a prayer, to be read and studied on that day every year. "I cannot conceive of a greater privilege (zchut) than this prayer becoming an accepted prayer for Jerusalem for the entire Jewish people," he says.

Officials at the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs were confident that Elon was eminently capable of writing a consensus document, and their faith has been borne out by the final product. The style is classical Hebrew and clearly evinces the justice's great love of Jerusalem.

Elon, born 68 years ago in Germany to parents of Galician origin, moved to Holland with his family shortly after the rise of the Nazis, and settled in Palestine in 1935. He studied at the famed Hebron Yeshiva, where he was ordained, and was among the founders of a yeshiva high school before studying law.

In 1948, he served as military prosecutor of the 9th Brigade during the War of Independence. He was in private practice from 1951 until his appointment as senior assistant to the attorney-general in 1955.

Elon became a full professor of Jewish law at Hebrew University in 1972, and five years later was appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1977, he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize.

In visits to the US, where he lectures at Harvard Law School and New York Law School, he has an opportunity to meet a cross-section of the Jewish community. "The Jews I lecture to are not necessarily those who pray or identify with Israel," he notes, "but they are about Jerusalem." In writing the Amana, he was determined to write a document that could be accepted by all.

The covenant - which draws from Scripture, Talmud, Midrash and Piyyut (religious poetry) - was inspired by the covenant renewal ceremony convened by Ezra and Nehemiah for the Jews who returned to Israel from the Babylonian Exile (Nehemiah 9-10). It consists of seven paragraphs, the number seven having special significance in Judaism: Shabbat, the sabbatical year, the seven metaphorical walls which surround Jerusalem and the seven gates of the Temple ('azara'). Even today, Jerusalem has seven gates: Jaffa Gate, New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod's Gate, Lions Gate, Dung Gate and Zion Gate. According to legend, Jerusalem will again have seven gates in days to come and will shine "from one end of the world to the other."

The document also has 40 notes (appearing in the booklet, not in the original document or the facsimiles) "as an aid for men and women studying the covenant on Jerusalem Day." The number 40 is also significant (the Jews wandered in the desert 40 years before entering Israel.)

Elon chuckles when is suggested that the covenant and the accompanying booklet may become Masechet Yom Yerushalayim, "Tractate" Jerusalem Day, but seriously considers the suggestion that the booklet be expanded to include all the sources, for study at home and in schools.

Elon's inspiration was Psalm 122, the original Jerusalem document, he says. David prayed:

I rejoiced when they said to me,

"We are going to the house of the Lord."

Our feet stood inside your gates, O Jerusalem,

Jerusalem built up, a city knit together,

to which tribes would make pilgrimage,

the tribes of the Lord,

as was enjoined upon Israel

to praise the name of the Lord.

There the thrones of judgment stood,

thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the well being of Jerusalem;

may those who love you be at peace.

May there be well being within your ramparts,

peace in yours palaces.

For the sake of my kin and friends,

I pray for your well being;

for the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I seek your good.

(Jewish Publication Society, 1975 edition)

Elon's use of passages centering on the Hebrew root "hbr" illustrates his midrashic approach. He elaborates on the Psalm's verse "a city knit [hubra] together," with the talmudic passages: "which knits [mehaberet] Israel together," and "which knits the heavenly Jerusalem with the earthly Jerusalem." Another example is his exposition on the word mother, drawing from the sources to show Jerusalem as the mother city (the original meaning of metropolis) of the Jewish people and of justice and righteousness.

The paragraph in the Amana that deals with Judaism's tolerance gives Elon the opportunity to draw on one of his Supreme Court decisions, the 1988 Vaconsales vs. Turgeman case. In that case, the court decided to return a Brazilian child who had been stolen. Elon says that it was the most difficult, heartrending decision he ever had to make. But, in addition to the crime of kidnapping (of which the Turgemans were unaware), the child was a Catholic and her mother wanted to raise her according to her own religion. Elon is gratified by a recent article in the Hebrew press which described the loving care the child is receiving. "It was a tremendous relief," he says.

Another contemporary note in the covenant is the reference to the order of OC Central Command Uzi Narkiss during the Six Day War, "not to damage to holy places" of other faiths.

Time will tell whether Jerusalem Day eventually assumes the status of a holiday. And if it does, an expanded version of the booklet accompanying Elon's Amana may very well be the study text on that day.

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