Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Jerusalem ?

Whose Land ?

Casearea or Jerusalem?

by Moshe Kohn
If you hear that Casearea and Jerusalem are both in ruins or that both are flourishing peacefully, do not believe it. Believe only a report that Caesarea is in ruins and Jerusalem is flourishing or that Jerusalem is in ruins and Caesarea is flourishing.
Rabbi Yitzhak, Megilla

It was Herod king of Judea (73-4 BCE) who enlarged Caesarea into a metropolis, changing its name from Straton’s Tower (after the Sidonian king believed to have built it in the 4th century BCE) to Caesarea, after his patron, the emperor.

During the Roman occupation of Eretz Yisrael, it was the occupiers’ administrative capital, which it remained under Christian Byzantine rule.

The city’s population was about half Jewish, half Gentile, and it was the clashes between the two communities that sparked the Jewish revolt against Rome that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Jewish life flourished in Caesarea for several centuries after the Destruction, and it was home to a considerable number of Sages. It was also a major center of Christian learning, being the home of such scholars as Origen and Eusebius.

I DON’T know which of several Sages bearing this name the above Rabbi Yitzhak is, or in exactly which period he lived.

In any event, in his dictum about Jerusalem/Caesarea he meant to convey a spiritual as well as political message, perhaps primarily the former.

In secular history, Herod is designated as "... the Great." In Jewish tradition he is "... the Wicked," the paranoid, megalomaniacal murderer of Sages and of his Hasmonean kin through his wife Mariamne, whom he also had executed. Augustus Caesar reportedly said of his protege: "It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son."

In Christianity, too, he is the wicked slaughterer of "the Innocents" (Matthew 2:16).

Herod was a prolific builder, establishing towns and building or financing the construction of ornate structures throughout the Roman empire. The same Sages who dubbed him "the Wicked" say of Herod’s expansion and beautification of the Second Temple: "Whoever hasn’t seen Herod’s structure has never seen a beautiful edifice" (Bava Kama 4a).

Now especially in Caesarea, but also in Jerusalem, Herod ordered or financed the construction of a variety of entertainment facilities, including hippodromes for human and animal racing, theatres, and stadiums for gladiatorial bouts. His generous donations to the treasury of the Greek Olympics earned him the title of honorary life president.

So I assume that Rabbi Yitzhak did not mean to suggest that Roman or even Byzantine Caesarea and Jerusalem were equally powerful, mortal political/military rivals whom the world could tolerate only one at a time.

Rather, he meant that the hedonistic, "time-killing" spirit of Roman/Herodian/pagan Caesarea and the spirit of Jerusalem which aims to sanctify the world through "time-filling" sublime activity could not exist side by side.

To translate Rabbi Yitzhak’s dictum into modern terms:

Where the spirit of TV, of the professional sports arena, of the pub, of the nightclub, of the gambling casino - the spirit of relativism, boredom, total permissiveness and self-gratification - prevails, Jerusalem is forced under cover; where the spirit of Jerusalem prevails - the spirit of intellectual, ethical and moral advancement of the self and the world - Caesarea is laid low.

JERUSALEM or Caesarea - that is the real issue confronting us as our state celebrates the 46th anniversary of its restoration.

Jerusalem or Caesarea:

Is the Jewish people to remain a special people bearing a special message about a special way to live and of building the world?

Is Israel to be a special base for the elaboration and transmission of the message?

Or is Israel to be merely a Hebrew-speaking "normal" country, with Hebrew-speaking casinos, Hebrew-speaking pubs, Hebrew-cursing sports fans, and Hebrew-speaking varieties of all the noise and noisomeness generated by the dung-beetles of the media?

That is the issue dividing our Jewish society, not the issues exercising the advocates and critics of the "peace" process.

The scornful manner in which so many dovish would-be "normalizers" speak of cherished names in Jewish history - Eretz Yisrael, Shechem, Judea, Patriarch Abraham - suggests that what moves them is less a simple faith that relinquishing territory will buy us peace, than a desire to be rid of the "Jerusalem" concepts those names represent.

Those who reject the spirit of Jerusalem are liable to wake up one morning to discover that they have thereby forfeited the physical Jerusalem. Their protestation, "For peace, everything but Jerusalem," will not avail them.

(This musing was generated by colleague Steve Rodan, who, however, is not responsible if I took the wrong track.)

Tel Aviv/Jerusalem publisher and communal activist Murray Greenfield has composed the following cautionary message about our one-sided "territory-for-peace" process:

"First they asked for Gaza/Jericho - I didn’t live there, so I agreed.
Then they asked for Judea/Samaria - I didn’t live there, so I didn’t care.
Then they demanded the Golan - That was far away, so I didn’t object.
Now they want Jerusalem... "

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