When we think of Israel as “the Holy Land,” what implications does that have for us today? Does the Land of Israel have the same holiness that it did in the days of the prophets? Does Jerusalem have unique religious holiness? Can one, for example, bring sacrifices today, even though the Temple is not standing?
The Mishna teaches that one of the basic differences between Shiloh, where the mishkan stood for 369 years after the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel following the exodus from Egypt, and the permanent mikdash in Jerusalem is that the kedusha of Shiloh ceased to exist with the destruction of the Tabernacle, but the holiness of Jerusalem remains forever.
The Gemara quotes a Mishna from Massekhet Eduyyot in which Rabbi Yehoshua teaches a tradition as follows:
- Sacrifices can be brought even if the Temple is not standing;
- Kodashei kodashim – sacrifices that need to be eaten within the precincts of the Temple – can be eaten even if there are no Temple walls in existence; and
- Kodashim kalim – sacrifices that must be eaten within the city of Jerusalem – can be eaten even if there are no city walls.
His reasoning is that once the holiness of the second Temple was established, it remains for all future generations.
The idea that the holiness given to the Land of Israel may have been established in such a way that it would last forever is subject to a dispute among the rishonim.
Tosafot accept the simple reading of the Gemara, which seems to view the holiness of the Land of Israel and that of Jerusalem as being the same, so if the destruction of the Temple removes the holiness from the Land, it does so for Jerusalem as well. The Rambam, on the other hand, sees the two as distinct and rules that even if the holiness of the Land is removed, kedushat Yerushalayim – which stems from the presence of God – can never be removed. With the return of the Jews to Israel under Ezra haSofer and the building of the second Temple, the center of the kedusha was the rebuilt Temple – the seat of the Almighty – and the rest of the Land derived its holiness from Jerusalem. Thus the Rambam rules that even with the destruction of the Temple, kedushat Ezra remains forever.