Israel is the holiest country in the Jewish religion. To live in the land of Israel is considered one of the greatest deeds that a Jew can do in their lifetime. Jews around the world pray in the direction of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital city, which constitutes the center of the Jewish world. It is the holiest city in the Jewish faith. When Jewish grooms break a glass on their wedding day, they remember the destruction of the Temple that used to exist in Jerusalem. Four fast days were introduced into the Jewish religion with the sole purpose of remembering the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. At the Passover Seder, we declare: “Next year in Jerusalem!” Given that Israel truly is the Holy Land, the question remains, what are the five holiest places in the Jewish faith?
In the Jewish faith, the Temple Mount is the holiest spot on the planet. It is the location where Adam was created, where the binding of Isaac took place and where both the First and Second Temples stood. When the Jewish Temple existed, the entire Jewish nation used to perform sacrifices there 3 times per year as commanded by G-d. It was the sacred building in which the Ark of the Covenant which housed the Ten Commandments was stored. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world and the remnants of the Jewish Temple play a pivotal role in the Jewish faith to date, with Jews placing notes inside the Western Wall out of the belief that these prayers reach G-d directly. Psalms 137:5-6 proclaim, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy!”
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is the second holiest location in the Jewish faith. It is the resting place of all of Israel’s beloved biblical patriarchs and matriarchs except for Rachel, who is buried in a separate location. The fact that Avraham, Isaac, Jacob, Leah, Rebecca and Sarah are buried there makes Hebron the second holiest city in Judaism. Adam and Eve are also believed to be buried in the same burial compound within the city. Hebron was one of the first places that Israel’s patriarchs resided upon arrival in ancient Canaan and it is the first location that the Jewish people purchased within the Land of Israel. This implies that Hebron hosts the oldest Jewish community on the planet.
Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem is the third holiest site in the Jewish faith after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. For the past 3,000 years, Jews have prayed at Rachel’s Tomb whenever the Jewish people faced sorrows due to the belief that her prayers to G-d have special powers. Since she herself was childless for many years, many Jewish women with fertility issues pray to have children by her grave. According to the Jewish tradition, the matriarch Rachel has always cried for her people whenever the Jewish people needed her. Jacob reportedly buried Rachel in Bethlehem, instead of in the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron, because he foresaw that his descendants would need her prayers en route to exile in Babylonia.
As Jeremiah 31:15-17 states, “Rachel, weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children who are gone. Thus said Hashem: Restrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears; for there is reward for your labor,’ declares Hashem. ‘They shall return from the enemy’s land and there is hope for the future’ declares Hashem: ‘Your children shall return to their own country.’”
One of the four holiest cities in Judaism is Safed, a beautiful city in the Galilee that has a rich history dating back to ancient times. Although Safed is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, the Jerusalem Talmud does note that Safed was one of five mountaintop points from which the fires were lit to announce the new moon and festivals in ancient Israel. During Ottoman times, Safed was considered a center for Kabballah learning. Great rabbis such as the Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria, Joseph Caro, author of the Shulkan Arukh, and Solomon Alkabetz, who composed the Lechi Dodi prayer that is recited to date in synagogues every Friday evening, lived in Safed. Popular destinations in Safed include the Sephardic Ari Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue within the city; the Caro Synagogue that is named after Joseph Caro and possesses a 500-year-old Torah scroll, and the Alshekh Synagogue, which is named after the leading 16th century Kabbalist Rabbi Moses Alsheikh and has a beautiful blue dome ceiling.
Tiberius, which sits on Lake Kinneret, is considered one of the four holy cities in the Jewish faith. After the Bar Kochba Revolt, Tiberius was the main center of Jewish learning in the Land of Israel. The Sanhedrin, whose rulings affected the entire Jewish Diaspora, met in Tiberius, and the Jerusalem Talmud was written there, despite the fact that the Jews of Tiberius faced intense Byzantine persecution during that period of time. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the city became a famous center for Jewish learning. Led by Rabbi Chaim Abulafia, Rabbi Menahem of Vitbesk and many other great Hassidic Jews, the city transformed into one of the four holiest cities in the Jewish faith even though in biblical times, Tiberius was a burial city and was not populated by the living prior to Herod Antipas establishing a city there. The tombs of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, Moses Maimonides and other famous rabbis are located within the city. According to one legend, the messianic era will begin in Tiberius.