The Gemara (Moed Katan 26a) teaches that one must perform Kria (rending one’s garment) upon seeing the following three sites – Judean cities, Jerusalem, and the Bait Hamikdash in ruins. In this essay, we shall review classic and contemporary Halachic sources regarding the application of this Halacha throughout the ages and in contemporary circumstances.
Judean Cities – Modern Applications
The Tur (Orach Chaim 561) seems to believe that the Gemara requires Kria not only upon seeing Judean cities in ruins, but any city in Eretz Yisrael that is in ruins. However, most authorities disagree and believe that the rule applies specifically to Judean cities as noted by the Bait Yosef (ibid). Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 561:1) as explained by the Mishna Brura (561:1) rules that the obligation applies exclusively to Judean cites and not other Israeli cities. Judean cities seems to refer to the section of Eretz Yisrael that was the portion of the tribe of Judah, which extended basically from Jerusalem to the southern boundary of Eretz Yisrael.
The question is why does the Halacha distinguish between Judean cities and other Israeli cities in this context. The Bach (O.C. 561) explains that Judean cities represent the core of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael, as Jerusalem is both the “capital” of Judea and the entire country. The Levush (ibid, as explained by the Har Hakodesh p.1), though, believes that it is because Judean cities enjoy a greater degree of sanctity than other Israeli cities. This assertion is based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11b) that states that the Sanhedrin may proclaim the addition of a month to the Jewish calendar only in Judea because Judea is the residence of the Shechina (divine presence). Indeed, the Ramban in a celebrated letter describing his travels to Eretz Yisrael (in the mid thirteenth century) notes that the greater the sanctity of the Land, the more profound is its desolation; Judea is more desolate than the Galilee, Jerusalem is more desolate than Judea, and the Bait Hamikdash is most desolate of all. The Mishna Brura (ad. loc.) cites only the explanation of the Bach as authoritative.
Rav Hershel Schachter (B’Ikvei Hatzon p.105) writes that there is a major ramification of the Bach and the Levush dispute today that Jews maintain sovereign control over much of Judea, while the Bait Hamikdash is in ruins. Rav Schachter understands that the Levush views (based on the aforementioned Gemara in Sanhedrin 11b) Judean cities as an extension of the Bait Hamikdash. The Levush, accordingly, believes that the obligation to perform Kria on Judean cities (Arei Yehuda) flows from the obligation to perform Kria upon seeing the Bait Hamikdash in ruins. Thus, according to the Levush, one should perform Kria today upon seeing Arei Yehudah even though these cities are under Jewish control, since the Bait Hamikdash is in ruins.
However, according to the Bach, one should not tear upon seeing Judean cities today because the obligation stems from the lack of Jewish control over Eretz Yisrael. Thus, since (Baruch Hashem) Jews control most of Judea the obligation to tear does not apply today. Rav Schachter notes that the Halacha follows the Bach as the Mishna Brura cites his opinion as authoritative. In fact, Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Moadim BaHalacha p.371) in a celebrated passage, rules that we do not tear upon seeing Arei Yehuda after the establishment of our beloved Medinat Yisrael. This ruling appears to be supported by the Magen Avraham (561:1) and Mishna Brura (561:2) who rule that one should tear upon Arei Yehuda even if Jews inhabit these cities, if non-Jews maintain sovereign control of the area. The implication is if Jews enjoy sovereign control over Arei Yehuda then there is no need for Kria. Indeed, common practice among virtually all observant circles today is not to tear upon seeing a Judean city such as Bait Shemesh. For further discussion of this issue, see Rav Yehuda Henkin, Teshuvot Bnei Banim 2:24.
Rav Schachter notes that some have criticized this approach; saying that we must tear until a Jewish government that functions fully in accordance with Halacha is established in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Schachter rejects this approach, noting that during the period of the first Bait Hamikdash and the second Bait Hamikdash there was no obligation to tear when seeing Arei Yehuda even though many of the Jewish rulers of the time worshipped Avoda Zara and murdered our greatest sages.
Implications for our Observance of Yom Haatzmaut
This Halacha has enormous implications for our observance of Yom Haatzmaut. This Halacha teaches that we mourn the loss of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. Thus, we must celebrate the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over portions of Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, Rav Menachem Leibtag (see www.tanach.org, Shiur for Yom Haatzmaut) notes that in the Piyut of Dayyeinu that we recite at the Seder we say “Had you only brought us into Eretz Yisrael and not built the Bait Hamikdash, Dayyeinu Rav Leibtag demonstrates that Dayeinu does not mean that it would have been sufficient and we do not need anything else. Rather, Dayyeinu means that it would have been sufficient reason to obligate us to recite Hallel. We see that we must thank Hashem for establishing sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael even if the Bait Hamikdash is regrettably in ruins.
Moreover, Rav Yehuda Amital, Rav Menachem Genack and others have noted that the Rambam Hilchot Chanukah 3:1, which is cited by the Mishna Brura in his introduction to Hilchot Chanukah, notes that we celebrate Chanukah in part because of the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael for more than two hundred years. The Rambam believes that this is cause for celebration even though many of the Jewish leaders of the time were wicked such as Herod and Yannai (both of whom killed great sages). We see that the restoration of Jewish control over Eretz Yisrael is cause for celebration even though the government falls short of Torah ideals.
Tearing upon seeing the site of the Bait Hamikdash
Rav Hershel Schachter quotes Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook (son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who succeeded his father as the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav and is considered by many as his father’s spiritual and intellectual heir) who rules that since the Israeli government enjoys sovereign control of the site of the Bait Hamikdash the obligation to tear Kria does not apply today. However, Rav Schachter notes that Rav Yosef Soloveitchik considers this approach to be obviously incorrect as the tearing at the Temple site is to mourn the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash and not the loss of Jewish sovereignty over the area. Indeed, common practice among virtually all circles of observant Jews is to tear upon seeing the Makom Hamikdash.
Tearing upon Seeing Jerusalem
An unresolved dispute is whether we should tear Kria upon seeing Jerusalem today. Many Poskim (see the Siddur Minchat Yerushalayim p.1202) believe that there is no need to tear since Jews maintain control over Jerusalem. These authorities believe that the obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem emerges from the loss of Jerusalem as the political capital of the Jewish State. Thus, when Jews control Jerusalem the obligation to tear no longer applies.
Rav Schachter notes that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik disagrees and asserts that the obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem still applies. The Rav believes that the obligation to tear flows from Jerusalem’s status as an extension of the Bait Hamikdash. The Rav cites in this context the Mishna (Keilim 1:6-9) that notes the ten levels of holiness that apply to different locations in Eretz Yisrael. The Mishna states that the holiness of Jerusalem stems from the fact that one may eat certain Korbanot (Kodshei Kalim) and Maaser Sheini there. The Rav argues that we see that the essence of Jerusalem is its status as an extension of the Bait Hamikdash. Another proof to this assertion is that in Sefer Devarim the Torah always refers to both Jerusalem and the Bait Hamikdash as “the place that Hashem will choose to rest His presence there.” The fact that the same term is used to describe both places demonstrates that Jerusalem’s identity is intertwined with that of the Bait Hamikdash. Accordingly, the Rav believes that since we must perform Kria upon seeing the Makom Hamikdash today, despite Jewish sovereignty over the area, we must also tear upon seeing Jerusalem.
Accordingly, the dispute whether we should perform Kria upon seeing Jerusalem today depends on whether the obligation to tear is an expression of mourning the loss of the Bait Hamikdash or the loss of Jewish control over Jerusalem. Rav Schachter notes that common practice is not to tear upon seeing Jerusalem. Rav Schachter explains that since the dispute whether we must tear for Jerusalem applies today remains unresolved, we say Halacha Kidivrei Hameikel Biavel (see Moed Katan 19b), that we follow the lenient opinion regarding Aveilut. Moreover, Rav Schachter notes that if we choose to be strict regarding the rabbinic obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem, then we would thereby be lenient regarding the biblical prohibition to engage in needless destruction (see Pitchei Teshuva Yoreh Deah 340:1 where a similar line of reasoning is employed).
Judean Cities controlled by the Palestinian Authority
In May 2000, I asked both Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yehuda Henkin whether one should perform Kria upon seeing Judean cities that are regrettably controlled by the Palestinian Authority, such as Bait Lechem. Rav Schachter replied that one should tear upon these cities, as the existence of Jewish sovereignty over the area determines the obligation to perform Kria. Rav Henkin, though, argues that one should not perform Kria on these cities, as he believes that it is illogical to not perform Kria upon seeing Jerusalem and yet perform Kria when seeing a Judean city. One should ask his Rav for guidance regarding this question.
Interestingly, the Shaarei Teshuva (561:1, this work was written more than two hundred years ago and is printed in most editions of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim) notes that common practice is not to tear upon seeing the city of Chevron (even before the Israeli recovery of control over Chevron in 1967). The reason is that Chevron is an Ir Miklat (city of refuge, see Yehoshua 20:7) and is technically not defined as a Judean city (even though it is located in Judea). The Shaarei Teshuva, though, cites opinions that believe that this is a “weak” basis to excuse people from tearing upon sitting in Chevron. Rav Hershel Schachter (B’ikvei Hatzon pp.105-106) explains the stringent position at length and explains that even if Chevron is technically not defined as a Judean city its geographic location defines it as part of the core of Jewish control over Eretz Yisrael. The location is what determines the obligation to tear and not its status as a Judean city. Rav Schachter also demonstrates that Chevron is categorized as a Judean city, despite its status as an Ir Miklat.
The obligation to tear Kria over Judean cities, Jerusalem, and the site of the Bait Hamikdash reflects fundamental Torah beliefs about our relationship to Eretz Yisrael and its different components at different junctures in Jewish History. It also expresses our longing for a time when the Bait Hamikdash will be rebuilt and these Halchot rendered moot.