The issue of rending one's garments (keriah) when seeing Jerusalem and the site of the Temple is an issue that has come to the fore again in the past half-century, as Jews have once again been able to come and go freely from their holy city. While the issue is basically a straightforward one, we are going to look at the source for this practice and the discussion that ensues among Rishonim and later poskim regarding some of the details.

The gemara on Moed Katan 26a lists several reasons why a person would have to tear keriah and would not be allowed to ever sew up the tear. The first listed is on the death of one's parents, which serves as the model for all of the others. Both Moed Katan and Masechet Semachot (one of the "minor tractates" that date from the Geonic age) state that for one's parents, one is obligated to tear all of his garments by hand to the point of uncovering one's heart (women only rip the upper garment), and the rip may never be resewn. The same rules apply for all of the cases listed on Moed Katan 26a, which includes seeing Jerusalem or the site of the Temple. The gemara later gives a direct source for tearing one's garments as mourning for the Temple, citing a verse wherein people from other cities came to post-destruction Jerusalem with torn garments.

With regard to basic procedures, a person is actually obligated to tear for three different things - upon seeing Arei Yehuda (cities of Judah) destroyed, upon seeing Jerusalem destroyed, and upon seeing the site of the Temple. For each instance, the gemara mandates relevant verses that be recited preceding the tearing of the garment.

It is not always necessary that a person tear his garments three times. The gemara states that one who sees the Temple site first (Rashi - he entered the Temple site in a box and thus saw it first; Rambam - he entered through the wilderness and thus reached the Temple site first) tears his clothes for that and merely increase the tear when he sees the rest of Jerusalem (a tear is a rip of one tefach, appx. 3-4 inches; an increase is a ma shehu - the slightest amount). However, if a person first sees Jerusalem, then he tears a full tear for both the city and the Temple site, distancing the second tear three index finger (etzba) lengths from the first one. Furthermore, the Magid Mishna (Hil. Ta'anit 5:16) quotes the Ramban who states that if one tore upon seeing Arei Yehuda, then he tears again upon seeing Jerusalem itself. However, if he sees Jerusalem first, then he does not have to tear again when he sees the other cities, as Jerusalem is one of them and is the holiest of them. As we saw by the Temple site, once one has rent his garments for a place that is on a higher level of holiness, he does not need to fully tear them again upon seeing a place on a lower level. And since Jerusalem is actually one of the Arei Yehuda, a person does not even have to increase his current rip upon seeing the other cities. Rav Yechiel Michel Tukechinsky states that today we do not tear for Arei Yehuda for two reasons. The first reason is that we do not know the exact location of the Arei Yehuda referred to in the gemara. The second reason is that since now the most popular route to Yerushalayim is from the west, then Yerushalayim is actually the first of the Arei Yehuda that is seen, thus obviating the need to tear for any of the other cities.

The next issue is when one becomes obligated to tear his clothes. The gemara states that one tears them when he reaches Tzofim, and Rambam codifies this in Hilchot Ta'anit 5:16. What is Tzofim? The Bach (O.C. 561), citing the gemara in Pesachim 49a, claims that it is a village from which the Temple site could be seen. The Ri claims that it is any place from which the Temple site could be seen, although this explanation will be problematic, as we shall see. Rav Moshe Feinstein (O.C. 3:85) quotes the Tosafot Yom Tov on Pesachim, which quotes the Kaftor VaFerach which claims that Tzofim is half an hour outside of Jerusalem, and since the city is surrounded by mountains it is impossible to see the city from any further distance. At any rate, this point is the subject of the strongest debate on this issue. The Beit Yoseif (O.C. 561) states that any seeing of the city that occurs before Tzofim does not count as seeing, and thus any tearing that occurs before this point does not fulfill one's obligation. Thus, such a person would have to tear a second time after sighting the city from within Tzofim. The Bach quotes the Rosh and the Rif, both of whom say that one may rend his garments before reaching Tzofim. The Bach himself states that one should not do so, but if he does he is not obligated to tear them a second time. Rav Moshe Feinstein states that Tzofim is a distance established by the Sages so as to set down the law, but tearing from beyond that point would not be invalid. He compares it to a case of one who receives a letter from a friend whom he has not seen for over thirty days. Normally, if a person has not seen a friend for such a period of time, he is obligated to say Shehecheyanu when he finally sees him. However, if he receives a letter in the interim, the joy of the meeting is decreased, and there is no requirement to bless. So too here, the seeing that occurs from beyond Tzofim decreases the emotions that occur when the city is seen from within Tzofim, and thus no second tearing is required.

Rav Tukechinsky offers a few more points about what we have to see in order to tear. He notes that Yerushalayim in this case is a reference only to the Old City, but not the entire expanse of modern-day Yerushalayim. This raises one question that I have yet to resolve: technically, even parts of the Old City are not from the time of the Temple. For example, the wall by Jaffa Gate and the so-called Tower of David are actually from a later Muslim period, and thus it would stand to reason that the law regarding them is no different than tearing one’s garments when seeing Ben-Yehuda Street! As far as I know, the Old City is usually treated as one entity, and one would tear even for the areas that were erected later, although this question may deserve a bit more attention. A second point made by Rav Tukechinsky is that with regard to seeing the site of the Temple, the reference in that case refers specifically to seeing the floor of the Temple Mount. Thus, one would tear if he was looking down onto the mountain from the mountains to the east or if one walked up to the gates in the Muslim Quarter that lead up to the Mount. However, one would not recite the verse to be said specifically about the Temple Mount upon seeing the Dome of the Rock or the Western Wall, as they are connected to the mountain but are not the mountain itself.

What state do these locations have to be in to obligate one to tear his garments? More directly, do we still have to tear nowadays when Jerusalem is no longer lying in ruins? The Beit Yoseif and Bach claim that as long as the area is in the hands of non-Jews there is an obligation to tear. The Likutim states that when one sees the Temple site he is obligated to rend his garments, bow down, and weep and mourn. He claims that this is done not because of any particular commandment, but rather it should be a logical reaction. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shut Minchat Shlomo 73) claims that as long as there are still non-Jewish houses of worship and graveyards in Jerusalem and we are unable to get rid of them the city is still considered to be "destroyed," and one is obligated in keriah.

Finally, the Yerushalmi (Berachot 9:2) brings a case of a merchant who constantly went in and out of Jerusalem who asked if he had to tear every time. The law in such a case is that one only has a new obligation if he has gone at least 30 days without seeing Jerusalem, similar to the law that one only says a bracha on not having seen a friend if he had not seen him for at least 30 days. A person who is born in Jerusalem does not tear his clothes when he becomes obligated in mitzvot, as he is not obligated before that time, and once he reaches such an age he has seen the city within 30 days and the impact for him is not one that would create on obligation for him. However, if such a person travels, they become like anyone else if they return after 30 days. This last point highlights the somewhat subjective nature of this law that we have seen in a few other instances, that in addition to the black-on-white law of keriah, there is an aspect that in dependent on the individual's "relationship" to the city.


Back to Chabura-Net's Home Page