Which Parts of Israel Warrant Tearing Keri’ah Today by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


The Gemara (Mo’eid Katan 26a) teaches that one must tear Keri’ah (rend one’s garment) upon seeing[1] the ruins of three sites: Judean cities (Arei Yehudah), Jerusalem, and the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple).[2] In this article, we review this issue’s classical sources and explore its application to each of the three locations in light of Israel’s miraculous military victories in 1948 and 1967.

Judean Cities—Modern Applications

The Tur (Orach Chaim 561) writes that one must rend his garments upon seeing “cities of Israel” in ruins. Rav Yosef Karo (Beit Yosef ad loc.) notes, however, that the Gemara mentions only cities in Judea, so the Tur’s reference to cities from anywhere in the Land of Israel is not specific.[3] Indeed, Rav Karo rules in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 561:1) that the obligation applies exclusively to Judean cities.[4] Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (Eretz Yisrael 22:1) believes that only ruined cities in Judea require Keri’ah, but not areas where a Jewish city never stood.[5]

Rav Hershel Schachter (B’ikvei Hatzon p. 105)[6] discusses whether the Halachah requires Keri’ah only upon seeing Judean cities, as opposed to other Israeli cities, due to Judea’s political stature or her religious sanctity. The Bach (O.C. 561) writes that Judean cities are more “important” than the rest of Israel. He further comments that Judean cities are considered “destroyed” even when Jews continue to live in them, so long as non-Jews govern them.[7] Rav Schachter thus interprets the special “importance” that the Bach attributes to Judean cities as their political significance. Since Judea includes Jerusalem, which served as the capital city during the First and Second Temple Periods, tearing upon seeing Judea’s ruins mourns the loss of Jewish political sovereignty.

Alternatively, one could view this Keri’ah as grieving the desecration of a holy region. Although we generally do not view Judea as holier than the rest of Eretz Yisrael, the Gemara does single out Judea in one case. While discussing several laws of the Jewish calendar, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11b) states that the Sanhedrin (Supreme Religious Court) must convene in Judea, as opposed to elsewhere in Israel, if it wishes to add a leap month to the Jewish year. The Gemara explains that Judea is “the residence of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” Although no early sources explicitly link Keri’ah to this law regarding leap years, the Levush (O.C. 561:1) does write that Judean cities warrant Keri’ah “because they are near Jerusalem.” Rav Moshe Shapiro (Har Hakodesh, p. 1) suggests that the higher level of holiness of Judea stems from its physical proximity to the Holy City, the same holiness implied by the Talmudic passage in Sanhedrin regarding the calendar. Indeed, the Ramban, in a celebrated letter describing his travels in Eretz Yisrael (in the mid-thirteenth century), notes that “the greater the sanctity of a place, the more profound is its desolation; Jerusalem is more desolate than anywhere else, and Judea more so than the Galilee” (Kitvei HaRamban 1:368).

In our time, Jews maintain sovereign control over much of Judea, but the Beit Hamikdash remains in ruins. Hence, Rav Schachter suggests that the obligation to tear Keri’ah upon seeing Judea depends on the two possible understandings of its purpose. If the obligation to tear Keri’ah for Judean cities flows from their religious sanctity, then Rav Schachter argues that we must continue tearing until the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt. Since the Gemara explains that the religious sanctity derives from Judea being “the residence of the Shechinah,” we must continue to mourn Judea’s destruction until the Shechinah returns to its home on the Temple Mount.

According to the Bach, however, it follows that one should not tear upon seeing Judean cities today. As we have already mentioned, the Bach rules that one should even tear upon Judean cities inhabited by Jews so long as non-Jews maintain sovereign control over their location. Requiring Keri’ah under such circumstances implies that sovereignty determines a city’s status, so Israeli control over Judean cities should thus negate the need for Keri’ah.[8] Based on this logic, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe, O.C. 5:37:1) and Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Hamo’adim Bahalachah 2:442)[9] rule that we do not tear upon seeing Judean cities following their liberation by the Israeli army.[10] Rav Schachter notes that the Halachah follows the Bach’s reasoning, rather than the approach that links Keri’ah to Judea’s religious sanctity, as the Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 561:1) cites only the Bach’s opinion.[11] Indeed, common practice among virtually all observant circles today is not to tear upon seeing Judean cities, such as Beersheba.[12]

Rav Schachter remarks that some have criticized this approach, arguing that we must tear Keri’ah until a Jewish government that operates completely in accordance with Halachah controls Judea.[13] Rav Schachter (note 10) rejects their argument, noting that during the First Temple Period there was no obligation to tear when seeing Judean cities even though many of the Jewish kings worshiped idols. One could present a similar argument regarding the Second Temple Period, when many of the Hasmonean rulers practiced Sadduceean Judaism and persecuted Torah scholars, yet nobody tore Keri’ah for the Judean cities under Hasmonean rule.

Tearing upon Seeing Jerusalem

Halachic authorities debate whether Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem in 1967 exempts us from tearing Keri’ah upon seeing the ancient city of Jerusalem. Many Poskim believe that the obligation to tear Keri’ah has ceased now that Jews maintain control over Jerusalem. They contend that the obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem derives from the loss of Jerusalem as the political capital of a Jewish government. Thus, now that a Jewish government once again controls Jerusalem, the obligation to tear Keri’ah no longer applies.[14]

Rav Schachter (B’ikvei Hatzon, pp. 107–108) recounts that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik disagreed, asserting that the obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem applies even after 1967.[15] Rav Soloveitchik argues that the obligation to tear flows from Jerusalem’s status as an extension of the Beit HaMikdash, as the Mishnah (Keilim 1:6–9) implies when it delineates ten levels of holiness within Eretz Yisrael. As an expression of Jerusalem’s unique holiness, the Mishnah cites the law that one may not eat certain sacrifices and tithes (Kodashim Kalim and Ma’aser Sheini) outside the city limits. Rav Soloveitchik extrapolates from this Mishnah that Jerusalem functions as an extension of the Beit HaMikdash, where sacrifices are brought, and this role grants the city its sanctity. Another proof for this assertion is that the Tanach (Bible) sometimes refers to Jerusalem as “before Hashem,” and elsewhere the Tanach employs the same term for the Beit HaMikdash.[16] Describing both places with identical terminology indicates that Jerusalem’s lofty status is intertwined with that of the Beit HaMikdash. Accordingly, Rav Soloveitchik believes that just as we must continue tearing Keri’ah upon seeing the site of the Beit HaMikdash until its restoration, so too must we still tear upon seeing Jerusalem, Jewish sovereignty notwithstanding.

Poskim have not yet reached a consensus regarding whether Keri’ah for Jerusalem stems from the city’s role as our political capital (hence eliminating the need for Keri’ah in our time) or its holiness and bond with the Beit HaMikdash. In practice, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe, O.C. 4:70:11) rules not to tear upon seeing Jerusalem. Although Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:73) disagree, Rav Schachter notes that common practice follows Rav Moshe’s position.[17] Rav Schachter explains that when Poskim dispute a law of mourning, we normally follow the lenient opinion (Halachah KeDivrei HaMeikel BeAveil).[18]

As another practical approach to the dispute regarding Keri’ah for Jerusalem, Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Mo’adim Uzmanim 5:348 note 2) suggests that when tearing Keri’ah over the loss of the Beit HaMikdash one should also have Jerusalem’s destruction in mind. Moreover, he adds that tearing one’s clothes for no reason violates the Biblical prohibition against needless destruction (Bal Tashchit).[19] Thus, acting stringently regarding the rabbinic obligation to tear upon seeing Jerusalem risks transgressing a Biblical prohibition.[20]

Tearing Upon Seeing the Site of the Beit HaMikdash

Virtually all Poskim require tearing Keri’ah upon seeing the Makom HaMikdash even today.[21] Rav Schachter cites Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik as explaining that tearing at the Makom HaMikdash mourns the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash itself, as opposed to the loss of Jewish sovereignty over the area. Thus, until we rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, the obligation to tear Keri’ah at its location remains binding. Indeed, common practice among virtually all observant circles follows his view.

Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (Eretz Yisrael 22:7) writes that at first glance it would appear that the obligation to tear one’s clothes over the Makom HaMikdash should commence only if one sees the actual ground of the Temple Courtyard ruins. He notes, however, that the Bach (O.C. 561) and the Pe’at HaShulchan (3:2) record the practice to tear as soon as one sees the Dome of the Rock. Rav Tukachinsky explains that although the Dome of the Rock is not technically a part of the Temple’s ruins, seeing a mosque on the Temple Mount nonetheless warrants Keri’ah, because it powerfully conveys the lack of a Jewish Temple on that location. Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot Vehanhagot 1:331) also notes that in fact people generally tear Keri’ah upon seeing the Dome of the Rock even if they do not see the actual ground upon which the Beit HaMikdash once stood. Although Rav Shternbuch comments that this practice has an acceptable halachic basis, he adds that he personally goes to a building that overlooks the Temple Mount in order to see the precise spot of the Churban, and only then does he tear his clothes (also see Mo’adim Uzmanim 7:211).


The obligation to tear Keri’ah over Judean cities, Jerusalem, and the site of the Beit HaMikdash reflects our deep religious and nationalistic connections to Eretz Yisrael throughout Jewish history. It also expresses our longing for a time when the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt and these laws will no longer apply.

[1] “Seeing” refers throughout this article to seeing in person. By contrast, if one sees the Temple Mount on a television set or computer monitor, Rav Yehuda Henkin wrote me that no obligation to tear Keri’ah exists. For the status of these screens in other areas of Halachah that involve sight, see Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak (2:84:10), Teshuvot Yabia Omer (Orach Chaim 6:12) and Teshuvot Yechaveh Daat (2:28, 4:7, and 4:17). In both Yabia Omer and Yechaveh Daat, Rav Ovadia Yosef strongly cautions against misinterpreting his analysis of television’s halachic status as an endorsement of the terribly negative values that most television programs introduce into one’s home.

[2] For analysis of this Keri’ah’s precise purpose, see Teshuvot Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim 5:37:1) and B’ikvei Hatzon (Chapter 18).

[3] See Torat Hamedinah, pp. 103–113.

[4] It is unclear how to define Judea for purposes of Keri’ah, for it can refer to either the boundaries of the tribe of Judah alone or the entire Kingdom of Judah from the First Temple Period, which also included the tribe of Benjamin’s land. Rav Moshe Nachum Shapiro (Har Hakodesh, Panim Me’irot and Panim Chadashot p. 1) argues the latter possibility. See also Pe’at David on Birkei Yosef 561:1 and Rav Shlomo Wahrman’s letter to me that is included in the introduction to Grey Matter II.

[5] Rav Tukachinsky seeks to defend the practice in his time not to tear Keri’ah over Judean cities (in the early 1950’s, when Israel’s borders included some of ancient Judea, but much of Judea remained under Jordanian rule). He thus suggests that people refrained from tearing Keri’ah because they did not know the precise locations of ancient cities. He adds that they also generally did not see Judean cities before they had already seen Jerusalem, a reason that we cite later in this article to exempt one from Keri’ah upon seeing Judean cities even nowadays.

[6] This entire chapter in B’ikvei Hatzon originally appeared in Torah Sheb’al Peh 22:173–183.

[7] The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 561:1) cites a story about Rav Gershon Kitover (the famed brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov) that illustrates why we must tear Keri’ah upon seeing cities located in areas of non-Jewish sovereignty even when they are physically built and Jews reside there. When Rav Gershon first arrived in Jerusalem (in the mid-eighteenth century), he exclaimed that although the “earthly Jerusalem” (the physical city) is built, the “heavenly Jerusalem” nevertheless remains destroyed.

[8] Rav Yehuda Henkin (Teshuvot Bnei Banim 2:24) challenges this reasoning. He questions whether the fact that non-Jewish sovereignty renders a city “in ruins” proves that Jewish sovereignty alone suffices to render it “rebuilt.” Perhaps, he suggests, one must tear Keri’ah upon seeing a physically desolate ancient city that is inhabited entirely by non-Jews, even if it is under Jewish sovereignty, and the aforementioned authorities merely add that non-Jewish sovereignty over an inhabited Jewish community also requires Keri’ah.

[9] We refer to the 1980 printing of Rav Zevin’s book, but he reprinted it many times with different pagination. To find our reference in other editions, see the final page of his chapter about the destruction of Jerusalem.

[10] Rav Zevin’s ruling has received much publicity due to the glaring omission of his enthusiastic reference to the State of Israel, “With the establishment of the State of Israel (how fortunate we are that we have merited this!),” by the book’s English translators (The Festivals in Halachah 2:294). For the debate surrounding this phrase’s omission, see Tradition (22:4:120–121 and 23:1:98–99).

[11] The Magen Avraham (561:1) also cites only the Bach’s view.

[12] See, however, Rav Moshe Nachum Shapiro, Har Hakodesh (Panim Chadashot p. 6) and Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (Teshuvot Binyan Av 4:30) who are inclined to believe that one is obligated to tear Keri’ah upon seeing Judean cities where Israel maintains only military control and which are inhabited entirely by non-Jews.

[13] See Teshuvot Sheivet Halevi (7:78), who raises this point regarding Keri’ah over Jerusalem. See also Mo’adim Uzmanim (7:211), who suggests that the secular aspect of the Israeli government might cause so much dismay to some people that they would not feel a strong additional sense of Churban upon seeing the Temple Mount.

[14] Rav Shlomo Goren (Torat Hamedinah, pp. 103–113) argues that the obligation to tear Keri’ah upon seeing Jerusalem depends on Jewish sovereignty. Besides the political sovereignty that Israel currently enjoys over Jerusalem, Rav Goren argues that the fact that most Jerusalem residents are Jewish further serves to exempt Jerusalem from Keri’ah.

[15] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:73) writes that the obligation to tear Keri’ah over Jerusalem remains in effect so long as the city continues to be filled with foreign houses of worship.

[16] See Devarim 14:23 and Tehillim 98:6 (as interpreted by the Gemara, Rosh Hashanah 27a).

[17] Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (Binyan Av 4:30) cites a number of Poskim who require tearing Keri’ah for Jerusalem even today. On the other hand, Rav Shlomo Goren (Torat Hamedinah, pp. 103–113) exempts Jerusalem from Keri’ah, and Rav Yehuda Henkin (Teshuvot Bnei Banim 2:24) also presents Rav Moshe’s view as generally accepted.

[18] See Mo’eid Katan 19b, 22a, and 26b. The Gemara appears to exclude Keri’ah from this principle, thus requiring one to tear Keri’ah even in disputed cases. Rav Yehuda Henkin (Bnei Banim 2:24), however, explains that we treat doubts involving Keri’ah strictly only in cases where one clearly must mourn a loss, but the obligation to perform the specific act of Keri’ah is disputed. By contrast, the dispute over how to define a state of ruin questions the very obligation to mourn, as those who define “ruin” as a lack of sovereignty reject the basis for any form of mourning once Jews govern Jerusalem. Hence, regarding Keri’ah over Jerusalem, the Halachah should follow the lenient view.

[19] See Devarim 20:19 with the Torah Temimah’s comments and Bava Kama 91b.

[20] See Pitchei Teshuvah (Yoreh Deah 340:1).

[21] Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe, O.C. 4:70:11 and 5:37:1), Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (reported by Rav Schachter), Rav Shmuel Wosner (Teshuvot Sheivet Halevi 7:78), and Rav Shlomo Goren (Torat Hamedinah pp. 103–113). See also Mo’adim Uzmanim 7:211, who seeks to defend the custom of those who tear Keri’ah only the first time in their lives that they see the Temple Mount. He adds, though, that “those who are meticulous” about performing Mitzvot do tear Keri’ah whenever thirty days have passed since they last saw it, and that it is particularly difficult to defend the practice of not tearing another Keri’ah when a full year has passed since one last saw the Temple Mount.

Presumptive Eiruv and the Percolation Transition – Part 1 by Dr. Robert Savit

A Berachah for the Miracle in Lake Success? by Rabbi Chaim Jachter