The holy city of Jerusalem is a focal point in Judaism and the capital of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Jews all over the world face Jerusalem while praying. It was where the Holy Temples stood, and where Jews were required to visit three times a year during the pilgrimage festivals. It is also where many important events in Jewish history occurred. Here are 15 things every Jew should know about this extraordinary city.

1. Jerusalem is the Capital of the Jewish Nation

Three times a day we pray that G‑d “return to Jerusalem, His city, with mercy.” As Judaism’s most important city, Jews have constantly yearned to return there and reunite. This city has captured the hopes and dreams of generations of Jews. Seized by King David in the Hebrew year 2892 (869 BCE), it was established as the eternal capital of the Jewish Nation. Although the city has been captured, recaptured and razed multiple times, it will always remain our G‑d-given capital. No matter under whose jurisdiction the city falls, or who may or may not accept this as fact. The reality remains unchanged.

Learn Why Jews Love Jerusalem

2. The Site of Three Holy Temples

Jerusalem was the site of the First and Second Holy Temples and is the designated site of the Third Temple. Forty-three years after King David captured the city and purchased the land, the first Holy Temple—in all its splendor—was completed by King Solomon, King David's son. Tens of thousands of skilled craftsmen were commissioned for this extraordinary project and it took a full seven years for the construction to be completed. The Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Second Holy Temple was completed by Ezra, Nehemiah, and the returnees from the Babylonian exile in the year 3412 (349 BCE). It was renovated extensively in the Hebrew year 3742 (19 BCE) by King Herod. In the year 3829 (69 CE), it was destroyed once again, this time by the Romans. Of Herod’s Temple the Talmud states, “Whoever had not seen the Temple of Herod has not seen a beautiful building in his life.” The third and final Temple is to be built with the coming of Moshiach. May he come speedily!

Learn About the Holy Temple

3. Jerusalem Is the Most Beautiful City on Earth

Walk the narrow, curving alleyways of the Old City or gaze upon the hallowed stones of the Western Wall; this city is not just physically breathtaking, but transcendental. Spirituality seeps from its walls. Perhaps due to this unique blend of spirituality and physical beauty the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) considered this city to be the most beautiful of all:

Ten measures of beauty were given to the world. Nine were taken by Jerusalem, and one was distributed all over earth.

Learn 8 Classic Teachings About Jerusalem

4. Jerusalem Is the Holiest Place on Earth

It is for good reason that Jerusalem is called the Holy City. Jerusalem was the singular place where the paradox of spirituality and physicality was actually manifest. In the innermost chamber of the first and second Temples, in the Holy of Holies, the Holy Ark did not take up any physical space. Although a physical object, the Ark was not restricted by the laws of physics. Space and non-space were as one. When throngs of Jews gathered in the Temple during the pilgrimage festivals and bowed during prayer, there was always enough room.

More: The Temple Mount As Sacred Space

5. The Meaning of Jerusalem

The name Jerusalem is a combination of two Hebrew words, yireh (will see) and shalem (peace, wholeness). At the time of the binding of Isaac—which took place in Jerusalem on what would later become the Temple Mount—after the angel tells Abraham not to sacrifice his son, The Torah continues: “And so Abraham named that place ‘G‑d will see,’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mountain, G‑d will be seen.’” In Hebrew, “will see” translates as yireh. Beforehand, this city was known as Shalem (Salem). Together these two words make Yerushalayim or Jerusalem (in English). The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that yireh shalem also has an alternate meaning: "complete awe." Upon entering this city, a greater and more palpable awe of G‑d is felt. It is a city where a state of complete ecstasy, being one with the divine, is more easily attainable.

More: Who Named Jerusalem

6. The Kotel in Jerusalem

The Kotel Hamaaravi or Western Wall (in English), is the only structure that has remained from the Temple Mount, surviving through the millennia. It dates from the period of the Second Temple and was built by Herod the Great. According to most opinions it is actually a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. During the Six Day War it was captured by the Israeli Defence Forces. In the aftermath of that war, Chabad set up its now famous tefillin stand at the wall, enabling hundreds of daily visitors to don tefillin. As the sole remanent of the Temple structure, the Kotel has become a sacred destination for prayer. Many have the custom of writing prayers and requests on slips of paper and place them in the cracks of this ancient wall.

Learn Why the Kotel Is so Important

7. The Only Synagogue to Survive Jordanian Occupation

The Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was established by followers of the third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, in the year 1847 CE. Following the Israeli War of Independence, Jews were cut-off from accessing the Old City. After the Six Day War and subsequent liberation of the Old City, all its synagogues (save for one) had been destroyed. Only the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue survived. In fact, the first prayer service held in the Old City after its liberation took place in this synagogue.

More: What Is a Synagogue?

8. Jerusalem Kugel

Jerusalem kugel, because nothing is more Jewish than food! This dish, originating in the Holy City in the 19th century, has become widely popular. A mix of caramelized sugar, noodles and a good amount of pepper, it is the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of cholent on Shabbat day.

A Great Jerusalem Kugel Recipe

9. The Largest Synagogue in the World

It might not come as a surprise that the largest synagogue in the world is located in Jerusalem. Completed in the year 2000 CE, it took fifteen years to build. Serving the Belz Chassidic community, the synagogue is located in the Kiryat Belz neighborhood. The impressive structure contains a main sanctuary with seating for up to 10,000 congregants, smaller sanctuaries for weekday prayer, banquet halls and other communal facilities. It is modeled after the synagogue built by the first Rebbe of Belz, Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, in the town of Belz, Ukraine, in the year 1843 CE. The main sanctuary also contains a holy ark which can hold up to 70 Torah scrolls, the largest ark in the world.

10. The Jerusalem Talmud Is Not From Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Talmud was not actually penned in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the the Mishnah. The Talmud consists of the debates that took place in the study Halls by the post-Mishnaic rabbis, known as amora’im. The Babylonian Talmud includes the discussions by the rabbis of Babylon—where the majority of Jews resided. The Jerusalem Talmud includes the discussions that had taken place in Israel. During this period, no Jews lived in Jerusalem—it had been razed by the Romans at the time of the Temple’s destruction and Jews were subsequently barred from living there. Rather, they lived in the northern territory. A possible explanation for its name, the Jerusalem Talmud, was the fervent hope, that soon, they would indeed be studying in G‑d’s Holy City.

More on the Two Talmuds

11. 150,000 Jews Are Buried on the Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives, situated in close proximity to the Temple Mount, is the largest (and possibly most ancient) of Jewish cemeteries. Many Jews throughout the world seek burial there, partly due to the tradition that at the time of Moshiach’s arrival, this is where the resurrection of the dead will begin. Plots in this coveted cemetery can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

More on Why Jews Fly Their Dead to Be Buried in Israel

12. (Almost) All Buildings Are Made With Jerusalem Stone

The unique look of this city is thanks to a British Civil Servant, Sir William McLean, and a Governor of British Mandate Palestine by the name of Sir Ronald Storrs. The British mandated that all buildings be faced with Jerusalem stone. Although Jerusalemites had been using this stone for thousands of years, this was the first time it was established as law. In fact, today, some of the only buildings in Jerusalem that are not built from Jerusalem stone are two replicas of Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway. One replica was built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem and the other in Pisgat Ze’ev.

13. The Old vs the New

Jerusalem today is comprised of a city within a city. The Old City of Jerusalem is a walled section within a modern-day city, of just under a square kilometer (a 0.39 square mile). It contains four sections: The Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter and Muslim Quarter. During the city’s occupation by the Jordanians after the Israeli War of Independence, the Jewish Quarter was destroyed. After it was recaptured in 1967, it was rebuilt and resettled. The Old City contains many historical sites, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Surrounding the Old City is the Municipal area of Jerusalem, which is about 252 square miles in size and has a population of approximately 1.25 million.

14. Jerusalem Unites All Jews

On 16 Adar, 5747 (March 17, 1987), the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about the uniqueness of this city. On that same Hebrew date in the year 335 BCE, the Jews who had returned from Babylonia started to rebuild Jerusalem's walls. The Rebbe pointed out that Jerusalem unites all Jews, as the verse (Psalms 122:3) states, “the city in which all are joined together.” Similarly, the Talmud teaches that when the Jews would gather in Jerusalem for the festivals, upon entering the city’s walls they would become united as one—a single entity.

Watch the Rebbe's Talk

15. The Six Gates to the Old City

The walls of this city were destroyed and rebuilt numerous times throughout history. Today’s walls were built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, on the remains of the ancient walls. Six gates were built into these walls, with others added later. The Jaffa Gate, a main thoroughfare into the the Old City, is located on the western side of the Old City next to the Tower of David. The gate leading into the Jewish Quarter is called the Zion Gate and was one of the main entrances used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to recapture the city during the Six Day War. The Golden Gate (Gate of Mercy) is located close to the Temple Mount and Mount of Olives. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate. In order to prevent this, the Muslims sealed the gate during the rule of Suleiman.