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SIDIC Periodical III - 1970/1
The Desctruction of Jerusalem in 70 a. D. (Pages 22 - 23)

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The Heavenly Jerusalem in Jewish Tradition
Alfredo Ravenna


The form Yerushalayim, which seems to be in the plural, has lent itself to various interpretations in the course of centuries. One of these interpretations presupposes a heavenly Jerusalem as well as the earthly one. Ps 122:3, literally "the city that is compact together", in the Aramaic translation (Targum) is interpreted: "Jerusalem that is built in heaven, the city that must be reunited with it on earth". Thus one thinks of another city in heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem, similar to that which is on earth. This idea is expressed more clearly in the Talmud (Ta'anith 5a):

R. Nahman said to R. Isaac: "What is the meaning of the scriptural verse, The Holy One in the midst of thee and I will not come into the city [Ho 11: 9]? Because the Holy One is in the midst of thee I shall not come into the city!" He replied: "Thus said R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, said, 'I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I can enter the earthly Jerusalem'. Is there then a heavenly Jerusalem? Yes; for it is written, Jerusalem, thou art builded as a city that is compact together" [Ps 122:31.

And Rashi explains: "When you have improved your actions, will not the Holy One come into the city? That means, as long as the Holy One is not in your territory, that is, in Jerusalem fully rebuilt, he will not enter the Jerusalem above, and by 'rebuilt' is meant a city to which another has been added, another similar to it, its companion. From this it appears that there is another Jerusalem. Where would this be if not in heaven?"

Since in 2 Ch 2:2, speaking of sacrifices the word Leolam (forever) is used and since these ceased after the destruction of the earthly Temple (Menachot 110a), the experts of Talmud suppose there to be an altar in heaven where the Archangel Michael offers sacrifice. The commentaries on this passage reported in Tossafoth disagree as to what these sacrifices comprise. Some say lambs of fire and others say the souls of the just. There are traces of the latter interpretation in the funeral service: "Michael will open the doors of the sanctuary and will offer your soul as a sacrifice to the Lord".

In a later Midrash (Jellineq), Beth ha-Midrash 5: 63, the matter is explained thus: "When the Temple existed, the High Priest offered sacrifice on earth and Michael offered them in heaven but when the sanctuary was destroyed the Lord said to Michael: I have destroyed my house and burnt my altar Offer me neither pictures of oxen nor pictures of lambs. He answered: Lord of the earth, what will become of your children? The Holy One, blessed be He, answered: You will offer the merits and prayers of the souls of the just hidden under the throne of glory and the children who go to school (the innocent) and I will forgive the sins of Israel (Jr 32:8). And the city shall be rebuilt on its ruins, this is the earthly city, and the sanctuary will remain in its place, which is the heavenly dwelling-place."

In the Apocrypha (Syrian apocalypse of Baruch 4:5, probably composed at the end of the first century after Christ), God says that he built the heavenly Jerusalem at the same time as Paradise: "I showed it to Adam before he sinned but when he transgressed the commandment he was deprived of it as he was of Paradise. Then I showed it to my servant Abraham, in the night, between the animals divided in two (Gn 15:17) and again I showed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai together with a picture of the tent and of all its other objects. And thus I keep it ready as I do Paradise. Go on working as I command you."

According to Henoch 90:29, in the messianic era this heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth to replace the terrestrial one, and the just of all the nations will take their places in it.

According to Zohar 180b the heavenly Jerusalem is supplied with doors, walls and towersguarded by angels with Michael at their head.

All this shows the preoccupation on the one hand to offer a basis for consolation to the peoples tormented by daily miseries, and on the other to lift up the spirit to a higher region.


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