Holy Places

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

HOLY PLACES

HOLY PLACES . Because of its history, the Land of Israel possesses places holy to the three monotheistic religions, although the term "holy" means something different to each of these religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (See Map: Holy Places in Israel.) While the veneration of these sites by believers is genuine, the authenticity of the sites themselves is sometimes questionable.

Jewish Holy Places

Although certain sites in Israel (mostly graves) are popularly considered to be holy and as such are venerated and visited, the notion is almost nonexistent in primary Jewish sources. The Mishnah (Kel. 1:6) states: "There are ten degrees of holiness. The land of Israel is holier than any other land … in that from it they may bring the *omer, the first fruits, and the Two Loaves which they may not bring from any other land. The walled cities are still more holy in that they must send forth the lepers from their midst … Within the wall [of Jerusalem] is still more holy for there only may they eat the Lesser Holy Things … The Holy of Holies is still more holy for none may enter therein save only the high priest on the *Day of Atonement at the time of the *Avodah." It seems clear therefore, that holiness, insofar as it can be applied to places, is measured according to the laws and *mitzvot applying to the place in question, and not according to what may once have happened there or to who might be buried there. As a Christian theologian put it:

"For Christians and Muslims that term [sacred sites] is an adequate expression of what matters. Here are sacred places, hallowed by the most holy events, here are the places for pilgrimage, the very focus of highest devotion … But Judaism is different … The sites sacred to Judaism have no shrines. Its religion is not tied to 'sites' but to the land, not to what happened in Jerusalem but to Jerusalem itself " (K. Stendahl, in: Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Autumn 1967), 7).

However, in the course of time, and perhaps under non-Jewish influences, Jews came to regard some places as being holyand prayer offered there as more efficacious than at other places. The most venerated of these places is the *Western Wall, a relic of the Temple of Herod. While Jews were allowed to pray there by the Muslim authorities and, in the modern period, by the British mandatory government, severe restrictions were placed on their presence there, especially after the riots in 1929. From 1948 the Wall, being in the sector of the city occupied by Jordan, was not accessible to Jews, notwithstanding a clause in the armistice agreement to the contrary. With the reunification of the city in 1967 the Wall became the central attraction for Jewish pilgrims. Prayer services are held there daily from sunrise to nightfall and people come at all times for meditation. While there is a popular custom of inserting slips of paper bearing petitions in the cracks of the Wall, some people refrain from even touching it because of its holiness. The Temple site itself is even more holy, but Jewish religious law forbids entry into its precincts, as all people are considered ritually unclean because of the impurity of touching dead persons (Num. 19:11–22).

The other holy places are all graves of biblical figures or famous rabbis and pious men from the mishnaic period until today. In Jerusalem the Mount of Olives was a center of pilgrimage, perhaps because of its proximity to the Temple site or because of the prophecy that on the Day of the Lord (i.e., the Day of Resurrection according to the oral tradition) "His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives" (Zech. 14:4). The mount has served as a general burial ground for many centuries and, according to tradition (ii Chron. 24:20f.), the prophet *Zechariah is buried at its foot. Also in Jerusalem is the tomb of King *David on Mount *Zion, which is certainly spurious. This fact did not, however, prevent it from being a popular focus for pilgrimage especially during the period when the Western Wall was not accessible. The grave of *Simeon the Just in Jerusalem is also popular and, to some degree, serves as a substitute for that of *Simeon b. Yoḥai in Meron (see below). The most important grave is that of the patriarchs in *Hebron. This shrine, known in the Bible as the cave of the *Machpelah, is housed in a building with Herodian walls, which was converted in its last phase into a mosque and was therefore inaccessible to both Jews and Christians for centuries. "Infidels" were allowed to ascend to the seventh step of the entrance, but there is evidence that in the late Middle Ages there was a synagogue next to the mosque. After 1967 this site became a focus for pilgrimage and special hours are set aside for non-Muslim visitors. The traditional tomb of *Rachel is near Bethlehem, while that of her son *Joseph is in Shechem. In Haifa the cave of *Elijah, where according to tradition the prophet hid, is considered holy and a place for pilgrimage.

Most of the graves visited by pilgrims are in Galilee, because most of the rabbis of the Talmud lived and taught there. Particularly important is the town of *Meron where Simeon b. Yoḥai and his son Eleazar are reputedly buried. Extensive popular celebrations take place there on *Lag ba-Omer and a kind of cult has grown up around the grave. *Hillel and *Shammai, among others, are also believed to be buried in Meron. *Safed and *Tiberias are very important centers for pilgrims to the graves of famous scholars. In the former are the reputed graves of *Shemaiah and *Avtalion, *Phinehas b. Jair, R. Joseph *Caro, the kabbalists Isaac *Luria, Moses *Cordovero, and Solomon *Alkabeẓ, as well as many later scholars, saints, and ḥasidic ẓaddikim. Tiberias was a center of rabbinic activity in talmudic times, and the graves of the tannaim*Akiva, *Meir, *Johanan b. Zakkai, and *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and those of the amoraim*Ammi and *Assi as well as of *Maimonides, and Isaiah *Horowitz are frequently visited. Visiting the graves of the pious in the Holy Land was considered an act of piety, and was widespread from the early Middle Ages. The custom of visiting graves itself seems to be of old Arabic origin. Nearly all the Jewish travelers who visited Ereẓ Israel mentioned graves in their accounts and, indeed, many travel books outlining itineraries and listing the graves enjoyed wide circulation. A pilgrimage to a holy grave was considered to have therapeutic value and many customs developed for such visits. Candles were lit at the grave; often the supplicants made ceremonial processions around it and prostrated themselves on it. There was – and still is – a widespread custom of placing a small stone or pebble on the grave and some pilgrims take a stone from it when they leave. It is also common practice to leave a written petition at the grave. As early as the beginning of the tenth century the Karaite scholar Sahl b. Maẓli'aḥ complained: "How can I remain silent when some Jews are behaving like idolators? They sit at the graves, sometimes sleeping there at night, and appeal to the dead: 'Oh! Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili! Heal me! Grant me children!' They kindle lights there and offer incense …" (Pinsker, Likkutei Kadmoniyyot, Nispaḥim, ii p. 32).

Visiting holy graves was considered particularly desirable by the kabbalists of Safed. Isaac Luria, the foremost exponent of that school, is credited with having "revealed" hitherto unknown graves, although the location of most of them is known by oral and earlier written traditions and *itineraries. The purpose of such visits seems to have been to commune with the departed saint and absorb some of his qualities. The grave thus served as a point of focus: the recitation of psalms and prayers, as well as meditation and study there, would enable the pilgrim to reach new heights of spirituality.

Christian Holy Places

These are to be found throughout the country. They are almost all connected with the life and death of *Jesus of Nazareth. During the first two centuries the early Christians expected a rapid end to this present age and had, therefore, little interest in preserving the memory of holy sites. Moreover, as members of a persecuted religion they were unable to make public pilgrimages or erect conspicuous shrines. The story begins, therefore, with the cessation of persecution and the recognition of the Church by *Constantine (312–337 c.e.). Constantine's mother, Helena, visited the Holy Land seeking traces of the life and death of Jesus. She established the place of his birth in Bethlehem and of his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem. On these sites magnificent churches were built, relics of which are embodied in the churches of the Nativity and of the Holy Sepulcher, though the present structures date from various later periods. Churches were also built in other parts of the country at the sites of various miracles and significant events and in commemoration of important Christian figures. There are several holy places around the Sea of Galilee; Kefar Nahum (Capernaum) was the site of many of Jesus' miracles and is considered sacred, as is the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of the Sermon on the Mount. The miracle of the wine is commemorated at Kafr Kana and that of the fish and the bread at Tabgha. Nazareth is regarded as a holy city in that it has a number of churches on holy sites. The site of the baptism on the Jordan River is also considered holy. In Jerusalem the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa are points for pilgrimage, as are the Hall of the Last Supper and the Dormition Abbey (where, according to Christian tradition, Mary fell into an eternal sleep) on Mount Zion. The Monastery of the Cross is reputedly on the site from which the wood for the cross was taken. The splitting of the Christian world into different sects gradually produced intense rivalry about the use of these shrines. At first there was a good deal of mutual accommodation, but in the 11th century there was a major schism between the eastern (Greek Orthodox) and the Latin (Roman Catholic) churches, and thereafter each struggled to exclude the other from their uses. The churches of Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Egypt (the Coptic Church), and Ethiopia also possessed ancient rights in the holy places. After the Arab conquest, legal ownership was claimed by Islam, which retained and regulated the use of shrines of interest for themselves, while selling to Jews or Christians permission to conduct their own worship in those allowed them. The result was continuous and unedifying bribery, and gradually the lesser churches were elbowed out of any central position.

In 1757 the Turkish government established the rights in nine of the most important shrines; this statute, known as the status quo, was confirmed in 1852, guaranteed by the European powers in 1878, and carefully registered by the British in 1929. The only Jewish shrine affected by the status quo was the Western Wall, as access to it involved passage over Muslim property which was claimed as holy to Islam in that Muhammad's steed Burāq was tethered at the top of the wall during the time that the prophet ascended to heaven. In many places the rivalry between the churches was settled by the adoption of different sites to commemorate the same event. There are, thus, two Gardens of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32), two scenes of the Transfiguration (9:2), and so on. The major churches are, however, shared between the sects.

Muslim Holy Places

The main Muslim holy site is the complex of buildings known in Arabic as Ḥaram al-Sharīf and was erected after the Arab conquest of *Jerusalem at various times on the immense platform of the Temple Mount. The site is dominated by the beautiful Dome of the Rock, built by the caliph ʿAbd al-Malik in 72 a.h. (691 c.e.). From the rock at the center of the mosque, *Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven (miʿrāj). Also on the platform is the al-Aqṣā Mosque, completed two years later. The name, meaning "furthermost" (from Mecca), is mentioned in the *Koran (Sura 17:2) in the description of the prophet's miraculous journey from Mecca (isrāʾ). As with most of the other Muslim holy places in the country, the real origin of the veneration lies in Muhammad's respect for the earlier monotheisms. The tombs of the patriarchs in Hebron and of King David on Mount Zion were both regarded as holy. Nabī Rūbīn at Nahal Sorek is revered as the grave of the biblical Reuben. However, there are some exclusively Muslim graves. Among them are those of Ṣāliḥ, who lived before Muhammad and is mentioned in the Koran, in Ramleh, and, in Herzliyyah, Sayyidunā *Ali, a Muslim who fell in the wars against the crusaders in the 13th century. More curious is Nebi Mūsā (the tomb of *Moses), on the road to Jericho, which from the time of Saladin became the scene of an annual pilgrimage dated by the Christian calendar to rival the Easter pilgrimages. Islam also claims a part in the shrines devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Muslims are entitled to pray in the Church of the Nativity and that of the Tomb of the Virgin outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem.

Other Religions

The holy place of the *Samaritans is Mount *Gerizim, where, according to their tradition, Abraham bound Isaac, and the Temple should be built. Every year the sacrifice of the paschal lamb takes place there. For the *Druze, Nabī Shuʿayb, the grave of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is a main focus for pilgrimage at *Kefar Ḥattin. They adore other graves too, e.g., Nabī Sabalān (Heb. Zebulun, one of Jacob's sons), in the Galilee. The *Bahai revere the place in Haifa where Mirza Ali Muhammad is buried. A beautiful shrine has been built there. Near Acre is the grave of Bahāʾ-Allah (after whom that religious movement is called), who was buried in the house in which he lived and died in exile.

The Political Aspect of the Holy Places

With the advance of the *Seljuk Turks in 1071 Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land were severely hampered. A *crusade was called in 1095 in order to free the Holy Sepulcher and safeguard the pilgrimage routes. Jerusalem was finally conquered by the crusaders in 1099 and its shrines were placed under the protection of the Latin ruler, who was proclaimed advocatus (defender) of the Holy Sepulcher. The Orthodox Church subsequently lost much of its influence over the control of the holy places, which fell into the hands of the Latin Church. After the fall of Jerusalem to the Turks in 1187 Christian pilgrimages were again suspended, but Richard i of England gained the right of access for Christians to the Holy Sepulcher five years later. This was not sufficient for Innocent iii who summoned the unsuccessful Fourth Crusade to the shrines in 1198. By the Treaty of Jaffa in 1229 between Emperor Frederick ii and the sultan of *Egypt, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem were reopened to pilgrims. With the conquest of the Holy Land by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century the problem of the holy places took on a new aspect. Political factors of an international nature were introduced. During the four centuries of Ottoman rule (1517–1917) there were many ups and downs in the struggle about the possession of the Holy Places between the two main divisions of Christianity in the East: the Latins and the churches united with Rome and the Greek Orthodox Church and its denominational dependents. Greek influence grew after the fall of Byzantium, owing to the fact that the Greeks were then subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Some of them, having attained important offices at the court of Constantinople, had a direct influence upon the affairs of the Christian holy places. It was consequently not by chance that at the same time the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher was reorganized and its authority over the holy places was reinforced. The reaction of Western Christianity did not fail to come. Francis i, king of France, stepped in as the protector of the Latin interests in the holy places, and in 1535 negotiated a treaty with *Suleiman the Magnificent, which marks the beginning of a new era in regard to the conflicting claims to the holy places. The Greeks reacted in defense of their interests and the balance of the rights in the holy places was shifted several times from the Greeks to the Latins and back. Decisive moments in the history of this struggle were the *Capitulations of 1740, which awarded farreaching rights to the Latins, and the firman of 1757, which reversed the situation in favor of the Orthodox. In the second half of the 18th century, czarist Russia entered the fray in support of the Orthodox. A further important step was the firman given in 1852 by the sultan, ʿAbd al Majīd, confirming de facto the situation in existence since 1757. The international importance of the problem of the holy places, however, was emphasized at the Congress of *Berlin in 1878. That treaty (art. 62) uses the expression "status quo," which since then has been employed to describe the de facto situation in respect to the holy places. Nevertheless, it has never been possible to define this "status quo," as there have never been exact descriptions of the de jure and de facto conditions of the situation. At the end of World War i, with the defeat of the *Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations, with the assent of the principle powers, granted Great Britain the mandate over Palestine (June 24, 1922). According to Article 13 of the mandate, all responsibility "in connection with the holy places and religious buildings or sites in Palestine, including that of preserving existing rights and of guaranteeing access to the holy places, religious buildings and sites, and free access of worship" was placed on the mandatory power.

The latter in turn was responsible solely to the League of Nations in "all matters connected therewith." Article 14 required the appointment by the mandatory of a special commission "to study, define, and determine the rights and claims in connection with the holy places and the rights and claims relating to the different religious communities in Palestine." The composition and function of the commission had to be approved by the Council of the League. Thus, the rights of the mandatory power were circumscribed and matters connected with the holy places were under the supervision of the League of Nations. A very general control was indeed acknowledged. This, however, by no means implied territorial internationalization for the better guarantee of the religious aspects of Jerusalem and the holy places.

In 1947 the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations prepared a list of holy places and sites in Palestine, containing 174 names, 80 of which were in the area of Jerusalem and 94 in other parts of the country. When Great Britain declared that it was no longer willing to administer the mandate, the General Assembly of the United Nations on Nov. 29, 1947, adopted Resolution 189/ii on the basis of suggestions presented by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (unscop). These suggestions called for the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, and the internationalization of Jerusalem. The projected plan aimed to withdraw control from Israel and Jordan over the main holy places in and around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Throughout the period of 1948 to 1967, the physical internationalization of Jerusalem was rejected by the parties directly concerned: Israel, which had the western part of the Holy City, and Jordan which was in possession of the eastern part. By April 3, 1949, the date of the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan, the situation had crystallized. Consequently, the great majority of the holy places and all those to which the "status quo" is applied, remained in Jordanian-held territory. On Dec. 9, 1949, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the internationalization of the entire Jerusalem area and its environs. And later on, the Trusteeship Council adopted a draft statute under which the city was to be constituted a "corpus separatum." More resolutions were adopted in the following years. While the matter was discussed in the international forum, Israel always opposed the scheme of territorial internationalization as being unrealistic and unpracticable. Israel instead suggested a functional internationalization involving an international answerability for freedom of access to the holy places and of worship at them. Following the cease-fire agreement of June 1967, the Holy City was reunified and Bethlehem came under Israel administration; from 1967 all the holy places of the Holy Land were situated in Israel territory. Israel had already enunciated its policy with regard to the holy places when it declared in its Declaration of Independence, "The State … will safeguard the holy places of all religions." But following the events of June 1967 and Israel's increased responsibility with regard to holy places formerly situated in the Jordanian-held zone, a new pronouncement by the Israel government was felt to be appropriate. At a meeting on June 27, 1967, which included the two chief rabbis, the representatives of the Muslim clergy, and the heads of the Christian communities, the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Levi Eshkol, affirmed that the government of Israel held it to be an essential principle of its policy to safeguard the holy places, emphasizing that the internal administration of their sites and measures to be taken for their management would be left entirely to the spiritual heads concerned. On the same day the Knesset passed the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places, which prescribes that whoever in any way desecrates or violates a holy place is liable to seven years' imprisonment and to a five-year term if he is found guilty of preventing free access to such a place.

bibliography:

M. Ish-Shalom, Kivrei Avot (1948); Z. Vilnay, Maẓẓevot Kodesh be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1951), incl. bibl. for Jewish graves; J. Parkes, History of Palestine (1949), 370ff., incl. bibl.; T. Canaan, Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine (1927); S.P. Colbi, Christianity in the Holy Land, Past and Present (1969); H. Lauterpacht, Jerusalem and the Holy Places (1968); B. Collin, Le problème juridique des Lieux-Saints (1956).

[James W. Parkes,

Raphael Posner, and

Saul Paul Colbi]