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What Is Zion?

What Is Zion?

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Question:

I keep encountering quotes from the Bible about Zion, but I can’t work it out. Is Zion a specific mountain? So who is the “daughter of Zion”?

Answer:

The Hebrew name Tzion (ציון), or “Zion” as it is commonly translated, appears at least 157 times in the Bible. These verses refer alternately to a “Mount Zion,”1 “the daughter of Zion,”2 “virgin daughter of Zion,”3 and many of them are just plain “Zion.”

Besides being popular in scriptural reference, Zion is described as being quite adored by the Almighty, such as in Psalms 78:68, “He chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved,” and again in Psalms 87:2, “The L‑rd loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”

Where or What Is Zion?

The first few times that Zion is mentioned, the verse actually gives another piece of identification of the fortress of Zion: “It is the city of David” (II Samuel 5:7, I Kings 8:1), which is the area in Jerusalem where King David established his kingdom.

In other places, such as in the verse, “Mount Zion on which You dwelt,”4 the reference is to the presence of G‑d in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.5 The same is true of the verse in Isaiah 2:3: “For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the L‑rd from Jerusalem.” The idea of Torah coming from Zion is a reference to the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, which held court in the Temple. Generally, however, Zion refers to the city of Jerusalem,6 (and is used in conjunction with Jerusalem), and the entire Land of Israel,7 and metonymically, to the Jewish people. Thus, G‑d tells the prophet Isaiah, “And I placed My words into your mouth . . . to say to Zion that you are My people.”8

The same is true of the expression “daughter of Zion,” which is a title of endearment that G‑d uses about Jerusalem and the Jewish people, the inhabitants of the land of Zion. Similarly, in Lamentations 4:2, the Jewish people are referred to as “the sons of Zion.”9

Inner Meaning

The Hebrew word for Zion, Tzion (ציון), can be translated as “indication” or “marking.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that the Jewish people are called Tzion by virtue of their study of Jewish texts and fulfillment of G‑d’s commandments. This causes them to be distinguished, or marked, for their uniqueness. As it states in Jewish law, “When a physical object has a sign, a marking, should it be lost, the sign enables it to be returned to its owners.”

So too, the Jewish nation has its marking; thus they are not lost among the rest of the world, and always return to their Owner.10

See Why Do Jews Love Jerusalem? from our selection on Jerusalem.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

E.g., Psalms 48:3, Obadiah 1:17 and Joel 3:5.

2.

E.g., Micah 4:8, Zechariah 9:9 and Jeremiah 4:31.

3.

E.g., II Kings 19:21.

4.

Psalms 74:2.

5.

In the Byzantine era, a hill just south of the Old City of Jerusalem was erroneously identified as Mt. Zion, and that name is used until today. As mentioned above, throughout scripture Mt. Zion is synonymous with Mt. Moriah, the site of the Temple.

6.

E.g., “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob,” quoted above from Psalms 87:2, which means that G‑d loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other place in the rest of the “also beloved” Land of Israel—the inheritance of the children of Jacob. See also Isaiah 1:8.

7.

E.g., Psalms 137:1–6.

8.

Isaiah 51:16.

9.

See Zohar 3:35a, where “Zion” refers to the Jewish people below, as well as to the collective divine source of Jewish souls, referred to kabbalistically as “Knesset Yisrael” and “Shechinah.”

10.

See discourse titled Tziyon Bemishpat Tipadeh, 5748, et al. For further reading about the alternate uses of the terms “Zion” and “daughter of Zion” with regard to the Jewish people, see Torah Ohr, Miketz 37b.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (3)
August 16, 2012
Zion
Is it not strange that the German National Anthem talks about Zion too?
I remember singing this hymn during World War II which is even stranger.
Anonymous
Auckland, New Zealand
July 7, 2011
I think this would be the short summary
Of the question as stated. My short answer, taken from the long one, then, would be that ZION refers to a PERSON'S active efforts to be Torah compliant. So, a daughter of zion would be a woman who is or tries to be Torah compliant. Is that about right? The other references to Zion do not answer the question but give background for the word.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA
June 13, 2011
Tzion
Thank you for clarifying my son's name for me so nicely.
Jacob lived his life a nomad from pasture land to pasture land trying his best to breathe love into his family, keep jewish traditions going even through his great loss. He reasoned it is G"d's will and all for the best. His dwellings were that of a free man. B"H, grow your own healthy food, raise your own animals on the land with as much TLC as he could muster and spend time in joy and in sadness with family and many relatives. All in the name of G'd.

What Tzion ends up doing for the Almighty before he returns to Jerusalem,... we will see this in our generation! Tzion will show the world what it really means to be a light for all nations. He shall see to it.
Anonymous
Knokke, Belgium
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