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Rending Ones Garment When Visiting Jerusalem

Written by Rabbi Nadel, 11/7/2019

 The Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) instructs one to rend his garment upon seeing the Cities of Judah, Jerusalem, and the site of the Holy Temple in a state of destruction (Churban):

One who sees the Cities of Judah in their destruction says, Your holy cities have become a wilderness, and rends. [One who sees] Jerusalem in its destruction says, Zion has become a wilderness; Jerusalem a wasteland, and rends. [One who sees] the Holy Temple in its destruction says, The Temple of Your holiness and our splendor, where our fathers praised You, has become a fiery conflagration, and all that we desired has become a ruin, and rends.

But today Jerusalem is not laid in ruin! With over 500,000 Jewish residents, Jerusalem is teeming with life; her skies lined with new buildings, as the city continues to grow by leaps and bounds. One cannot help but feel that he is witnessing the fruition of Zechariahs prophecy: Old men and women will once again sit in the streets of Jerusalem and boys and girls will play in her streets (Zech. 8:4-5), before his very eyes.

In fact, following the miraculous birth of the State of Israel, and the dramatic reclamation of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the question of rending ones garment for the Churban became the subject of much discussion and debate. 

At the heart of the controversy is the question of how Churban is defined, and how the political reality impacts on the Halacha. 

In his work on the laws and geography of the Land of Israel, Ishtori Ha-Parchi defines Churban as the absence of Jewish settlement (Kaftor Va-Ferach, Chap. 5). Should an area be settled, one would be exempt from rending his garment. The Beit Yosef at first accepts this definition, but concludes instead by defining Churban as subjugation under foreign rule (OC 561, s.v. haroeh). It is Jewish sovereignty, which determines whether an area is considered to be in a state of Churban, and whether one must rend his garment. Most authorities accept this latter definition of Churban (See Bach, OC 561, s.v. Haroeh; Magen Avraham and Taz, OC 561:1; Peat Ha-Shulchan, Hilchot Eretz Yisrael 3:1; Mishnah Berurah, OC 561:2; Kaf Ha-Chayim, OC 561:4). 

Following the miraculous birth of the State of Israel, a number of authorities ruled that one is no longer obligated to rend his garment when seeing the Cities of Judah (See, for example, Rav Reuven Katz, Shaar Reuven, p. 32; Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ha-Moadim Ba-Halacha, Vol. 2, p. 442). Some, however, questioned whether a secular State, not governed by Jewish Law, should be considered a true Jewish Sovereignty. This controversy would remain dormant for another nineteen years, as Judea was captured and remained under Jordanian control until 1967.

But after the dramatic events of June 1967, many authorities, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Chaim David Halevi, Rav Ovadiah Hedaya, and Rav Shlomo Goren ruled it no longer necessary to rend ones garment upon seeing the Cities of Judah and Jerusalem, as they now were under Jewish Sovereignty. 

Rav  Moshe Feinstein wrote: Because of the kindnesses of Hashem, the Nations do not rule over the Cities of Judah and Jerusalem, and additionally they are settled, it is a great reason not to rend. Even though the Redemption has not come through the King Messiah, and we still fear the Nations, [one should] not rend [his garment] (Igrot Moshe, OC 5:37:1).

Some authorities ruled that one need not rend when seeing the Temple Mount, as now it is under Jewish Sovereignty. In a moving description, Rav Mordechai Fogelman, who served as Rabbi of Kiryat Motskin, and was a member of the council of the Chief Rabbinate, captured the euphoria of post-Six Day War in a responsum: 

On the 7th of Sivan 5727, following a conference of rabbis at Heikhal Shlomo in Jerusalem, I visited the liberated Western Wall together with a number of rabbis. Whoever did not see the joy at the Kotel, has not seen joy in all his days. Thousands flocked to the Kotel and their faces shone with joy and delight. They prayed with fervor and joy and thanksgiving to Hashem. Among those celebrating, there were many who had rent their garments When I saw this, I turned to those with me and said, Now, after the victory against our enemies and after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem, and with it the Maqom ha-Miqdash and the Western Wall, we should no longer rend when visiting - rather, we should recite the Blessing of Shehechiyanu, BeShem UMalchut (Beit Mordechai 1:33).

Rav Fogelman continues and justifies his ruling, arguing that Jewish Sovereignty obviates the need to rend, and that Keriah is an expression of mourning inappropriate considering the great salvation Hashem has bestowed on the Jewish Nation.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook and Rav Shlomo Goren issued similar rulings concerning the Temple Mount in the Religious Zionist newspaper Ha-Tzofeh. However, the initial euphoria of those days in June would ultimately fade and give way to a starker reality. Rav Goren would later retract his ruling when it became clear that the Temple Mount was not under true Jewish Sovereignty, as administration over the site was given to the Islamic Waqf (Meishiv Milchamah, Vol. 3, p. 333. Cf. Torat Ha-Medinah, p. 108). 

But questions of sovereignty and control aside, many authorities rule that one is indeed obligated to rend his garment upon seeing the Temple Mount today, as the Holy Temple is not standing, and therefore in a state of Churban (Igrot Moshe, OC 5:37:1; Igrot Moshe, OC 4:70:11. See also Beikvei Ha-Tzon, p. 106, and Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 79; Makor Chayim Ha-Shalem, pp. 207-209; Chazon Ovadiah, Arbah Taaniot, p. 438). 

As mentioned above, it is the Beit Yosefs definition of Churban as a lack of Jewish Sovereignty that becomes adopted by later authorities. However, upon careful inspection of the text itself, the Beit Yosef defines Churban vis-à-vis the Cities of Judah, and not explicitly the Temple Mount. In addition, while the Beraitta (Moed Katan 26a) instructs one to rend upon seeing the site where the Temple stood (Makom Ha-Mikdash), the Talmud (ad Loc.) instructs [one who sees] the Holy Temple in its destruction to rend, suggesting that it is indeed the state of the Holy Temple itself that is the determining factor, and not control over the site

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