4.40. Naomi Shemer, song ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ (1967)

Under the British mandate over Palestine between 1920 and 1948, there was a ban on shofar blowing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a ban created in order to avoid religious and political tensions between Jews and Palestinians. In spite of this, the shofar was blown time and again by a number of Jews. The best-known of them was Moshe Segal, who blew the shofar on Yom Kippur 1930 and was thrown in jail by the British. *Cf. Golan, Free Jerusalem 47-57. Even after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the ram’s horn could not be blown on the Mountain or at the Wailing Wall, because these holy places were not situated on Israeli territory.

In early 1967, the national broadcasting corporation Kol Israel realized that the division of Jerusalem and the inaccessibility of the Temple Mount to Jews had not yet been the subject of a song. They decided to change this and asked five songwriters to write songs about Jerusalem, to be introduced at the national song contest on Yom Haʿaẓmaʾut (“Independence Day”) on May 15. Naomi Shemer (1930-2004) was the only one of the five songwriters to accept the commission. She wrote the song Yerushalayim shel zahav (“Jerusalem of Gold”); in a later version, the shofar on the Temple Mount would feature. The song had a compelling melody in D minor with an “orientalizing” F♯ at the end of the first line of the stanza: A4-A-A-A-D4-D-A4-A-G4, G4-G-B♭4-A4-G4-F♯4, and a chorus in F major: D4-D-D-G4-G-G-G-F4 . . . with a series of sequences ending on an applause-provoking climax. A strong point was the easy singability of the song.

[1] The mountain air is clear as water. The scent of pines around
Is carried on the breeze of twilight, and tinkling bells resound.
The trees and stones there softly slumber, a dream enfolds them all.
So solitary lies the city, and at its heart – a wall.
[Refrain] Oh, Jerusalem of gold, and of light and of bronze,
I am the lute for all your songs.

[2] But as I sing to you, my city, and you with crowns adorn,
I am the least of all your children, of all the poets born.
Your name will scorch my lips for ever, like a seraph’s kiss, I’m told,
If I forget thee, golden city, Jerusalem of Gold. [Refrain]

* Translation by Chayah Galai. Reproduced by permission of Chayah Galai and the Israeli Performing Rights Society ACUM. In a discreet manner, the Present of the beloved but inaccessible Old City of Jerusalem is directed by the biblical Past. There are clear parallels between Jerusalem of Gold and the end of the book of Isaiah with its vision of the new Jerusalem. The gold from the song title is found in Isa. 60:17, while the crown from stanza 2 is found in Isa. 61:3, 61:10 and 62:3 as a jewel, given by the bridegroom to his bride. The last half of stanza 2 refers to Ps. 137:5-6: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, . . . 6 let my tongue stick to my palate.” Although many people liked the song, it became a target of criticism as well; *Meir Ariel wrote the parody Yerushalayim shel barzel (“Jerusalem of Iron”). Cf. Goldberg, “Music for the 9th of Av: On Jerusalem, Exile and Homelessness” Shemer was not only accused of musical plagiarism *Shortly before her death in 2004, Shemer confessed to having plagiarized a song by the Basque songwriter Paco Ibañez. Cf. Avrahami and Wurgaft, “Shemer had no reason to feel bad, says Basque singer of copied tune.” Haaretz, May 6, 2005 but also of political otherworldliness, because she represented Jerusalem as ha-ʿir asher badad yoshevet (“the solitary city”) without Palestinians living in it. She responded with an added stanza 3:

[3] The wells ran dry of all their water, forlorn the market square,
The Temple Mount dark and deserted, in the Old City there.
And in the caverns in the mountain, the winds howl to and fro,
And no-one takes the Dead Sea highway, that leads through Jericho. [Refrain]

Though the images of the dry well and the howling wind are clichés, the melody makes up for them. *The song was incorporated in the Reform Siddur Mishkan T’filah 661. At the song contest on May 15, Jerusalem of Gold became more patriotically and even militarily charged, not only because of Shemer’s choice of the singer, the soldier Shuli Natan, but also by the growing political tension and the threat of war with other countries in the region. General Yiẓḥak Rabin, who was in the audience, had to leave after the breaking news that President Nasser of Egypt had ordered a blockade of Israel’s access to the Red Sea. The anxious tension in the hall eased off as Shuli Natan sang and won over the audience in the refrain. The final chord was followed by a moment of silence and then a thunderous applause. *Avrahami and Wurgaft, Haaretz, May 6, 2005.

On June 5th, Jordan started shelling the western, Israeli part of Jerusalem and thus, the war was a fact. Some Israeli ministers thought that these Jordanian actions offered Israel a historic opportunity to conquer the Old City and to undo the division of Jerusalem. However, Defense minister Moshe Dayan exercised restraint, because he expected many casualties in the densely populated area, damage to holy places and a forced withdrawal from the Old City under international pressure. When Dayan heard on June 7th that the United Nations would call for a cease-fire, he changed his mind, and without consulting the cabinet, he gave the signal for the attack on Jerusalem.

With surprising speed and within one single day, Israeli troops captured the Old City of Jerusalem. The Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Shlomo Goren, reached the Temple Mount a few moments after Major General Uzi Narkiss; the Rabbi carried a Torah scroll and frequently blew a shofar—according to some, the same instrument he had blown on Mount Sinai during the Suez Campaign of 1956. *Piron, “Goren, Shlomo.” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition, Vol. 7 777. He embraced Narkiss, knelt on the place where the Temple once stood and loudly recited Deut. 20:3-4: “Hear, O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them. For it is the LORD your God who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory.” Many soldiers began to sing their new favorite song, Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold, and the prevailing mood was a mixture between a flush of victory and religious ecstasy. Major General Narkiss addressed the troops and concluded: “Never has there been such a thing, for those standing here right now. I am speechless. We all kneel before history.” Rabbi Goren blew the shofar again and then the soldiers went to the Wailing Wall.

The radio report by Yossi Ronen—there was no television yet in Israel—gives an impression of the ceremony with the blessing, the Israeli national anthem Ha-Tikvah, the Kaddish for the fallen soldiers and two elements from the Yom Kippur service: the tekiʿah gedolah on the shofar, followed by the collectively expressed desire “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem!” *The Koren Yom Kippur Maḥzor 1200. Cf. Chapter 3.2. that was brought up to date by Rabbi Goren:

Yossi Ronen: “I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.”
Soldiers reciting the “Shehechianu” blessing: “Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day.”
Rabbi Shlomo Goren: “Blessed art Thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem.”
Soldiers: “Amen!”
Soldiers sing “Hatikva” next to the Western Wall.
Rabbi Goren: “We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel.”
Soldiers weeping.
Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar.
Rabbi Goren: “Merciful God in heaven, may the heroes and the pure be under Thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to God and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest…”
Soldiers weeping loud.
“. . . and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.”
Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.
Rabbi Goren: “THIS year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!” *Ronen, Liberation of the Temple Mount and Western Wall.

The conquest of the Temple Mount and Rabbi Goren’s shofar blasts inspired Naomi Shemer, who stayed with the troops in El-Arish in the Sinai, to add a stanza to her song. In stanza 4 she had altered the “I” of stanza 2 and the refrain into a ”we,” and the same day she sang it for the troops:

[4] The wells are filled again with water, the square with joyous crowd,
On the Temple Mount within the City, the shofar rings out loud.
Within the caverns in the mountains a thousand suns will glow,
We’ll take the Dead Sea road together, that runs through Jericho. [Refrain]

Stanza 4 again refers to the book of Isaiah: the populating of the deserted Jerusalem appears in Isa. 54:3, 60:15 and 62:4; the flocking crowd in 60:4 and the jubilant people in 65:18; the Temple Mount and the Temple are being restored in 60:7 and 65:25; the shofar sounds in 58:1: “Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!” and the light of the sun shines in 60:19.

Despite these biblical allusions and references, Shemer’s song does not represent Jerusalem as a really religious chronotope; the “tinkling bells” are not presented as religious symbols, and the shofar blasts are not connected to prayers, while God is not mentioned at all. Whereas Rabbi Goren’s shofar blasts on the Temple Mount were both a religious internally persuasive discourse and a political and military authoritative discourse, Shemer’s shofar blasts in stanza 4 do not reveal an apparent religious inspiration. That the song has religious connotations rather than denotations, becomes apparent in a judgment like the following, made no less than 45 years after date: “I believe that Shemer’s ‘Yerushalayim shel Zahav’ has opened a very important door for many of us—a door into deeper levels of Jewish spirituality, buried under dusty, ancient, endless layers of human interpretations of a soul’s connection with God.” *Cantor Meeka Simerly, “Naomi Shemer’s Artistic Expression: Poetry, Prayer, or Both?” 23. Actually, Shemer’s superaddressee in this song was Zionism rather than the God of Israel, which was confirmed by the sociologist Motti Regev and the musicologist Edwin Seroussi: “[T]his was one of the first modern Israeli songs about Jerusalem written from a national, rather than a traditional religious, perspective.” *Regev and Seroussi, “Popular Music and Nationalist Ideology” 117. In a characteristic down-to-earth remark, the Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld pointed at the opportunistic element in Shemer’s song and its presentation:

Once it [the war] was over . . . all caution was thrown in the wind, and the feeling prevailed that a miracle had just occurred. Such a victory, many felt, could only have come about as a result of divine intervention. A crop of new popular songs sprouted almost immediately. The most famous (actually written just before the war but quickly modified to suit the circumstances) was devoted to “Golden Jerusalem[.]” *Van Creveld, The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force 198.

In Rabbi Goren’s shofar blowings on the Temple Mount as well as in Shemer’s song with its reference to these shofar blasts, the Past of the biblical and liturgical shofar verses and blasts is altered by the Present of the campaign of the Israel Defense Forces. While Rabbi Goren tried to restore the shofar’s biblical military functions of “assembly” and “attack,” Shemer saw the biblical conquerors of Jericho as the predecessors of the Israeli troops in Jericho and Jerusalem. Both Goren and Shemer longed for a return to the Old City. History seemed to consist of biblical times and the 20th century, with nothing in between. In Shemer’s song, the conquered land is empty and it falls into Israeli hands as if by magic, even without the shofar blowing down a city wall. The Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces wished the Temple on the Mount, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, to be rebuilt, in the place of the 7th-century Islamic Dome of the Rock. The literal interpretation of his prayer: “THIS year in a rebuilt Jerusalem!” was evidenced by an article by Major General Narkiss with a conversation between Rabbi Goren and himself, posthumously published in Haaretz in 1997. *Cf. Gorenberg, The End of Days 100. Narkiss had returned to the Temple Mount after Goren had blown the shofar at the Wailing Wall, and when the Major General allowed himself a moment’s rest to think over the events of the past few hours, he was approached by the Rabbi:

“Uzi, . . . Now’s the time to put one hundred kilos of explosives in the Mosque of Omar, *the Dome of the Rock* and that’s it, once and for all we’ll be done with it.”

I said to him, “Rabbi, stop.”

Goren said, “Uzi, you will go down in history for this.”

I answered, “I’ve already put my name in Jerusalem’s history.”

But Rabbi Goren kept going. “You don’t grasp the immense meaning of this. This is an opportunity that can be exploited now, this minute. Tomorrow it will be impossible.”

I said to him, “Rabbi, if you don’t stop now, I’m taking you from here to jail.”

The ultimate monologue of Goren’s intended bomb attack was a denial of the similarities between certain Jewish and Islamic traditions. Both the Jewish Temple and the Islamic Dome of the Rock were built on the place where, according to both traditions, Abraham/Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son Isaac. *In the Qurʾan, Surah 37:102, Ibrahim’s son is not mentioned by his name. The Jewish Har Ha-Bayit (“Temple Mount”) where the coming of the Messiah will be announced by the shofar at the end of times, corresponds to the Islamic Haram Al-Sharif (“Holy Sanctuary”), where the angel Israfil will appear to blow the ram’s horn, the al-sur. *Tamari, Iconotextual Studies in the Muslim Ideology of Umayyad Architecture and Urbanism 6. And according to the art historian Shmuel Tamari, Arabic lexicographers connected Israfil with the winged seraphim and God’s throne as described in Isa. 6:2. *Ibid. 6. Cf. Chapter 4.20 about Birnbaum’s drawing, inspired by Isa. 6.


Next Chapter