Judaism is one of the most important religions in the world. It is also one of the oldest. With monotheistic traditions that date back millennia, the Judaic faith has gone through many phases during the past two thousand years. As the world has progressed, so has the faith, but there are certain cities that have attained special religious significance amidst the followers of Judaism. Either these cities are the stage of some ancient ritual or they are thought to have been the place where certain incidents of paramount importance in the Judaic tradition occurred. Today, followers of Judaism visit all of these important cities throughout the year.
When people of the Judaic faith visit these important cities, they also visit the various religious monuments and historic sites that are present in these cities. Hence, over time, these historic cities have also become sites of religious pilgrimage. The four most important cities in this regard are Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias. Let us now examine each of these cities in detail.
The city of Jerusalem is an ancient city located on the plateau of the Judean range of mountains. The closest bodies of water are the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is an ancient city and its name has been found inscribed in the cuneiform tablets that date back to the Mesopotamian era. At that time, the ancient name of the city was "Urusalima". During the early part of the 9th century BCE, the city started to progress and develop. This was the second Iron Age and it was about a hundred years later that the kingdom of Judea was developed and it took over the governance of the area as well as the surrounding areas. From that time until today, Jerusalem has always been a sought-after city, surviving 23 sieges, 52 invasions, and 44 recaptures.
For the Judaic faith, it is the ultimate city, as it contains the holiest of the relics and sites in the entire history of Judaism. These include the ruins of the temple of Solomon, the Wailing Wall and many other sites of holy pilgrimage. Therefore thousands of Jews visit the city every year to visit their holy sites and pay homage to the ancient prophets.
The second most important city in the Judaic faith is the Palestinian city of Hebron. It is located on the west bank, and today it has grown into the second most populous city in the entire Palestinian territory, only surpassed by the population of Gaza.
The city has special significance in the Judaic faith due to it being associated with the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Muslims as well. There are many holy sites of pilgrimage in Hebron. The city contains the sites of burial of the great patriarchs and matriarchs that have been mentioned in the Torah. Thousands of Jews visit the city in order to pray and pay homage to these holy personages.
Hebron has been a producer of grapes, figs, and limestone from ancient times and these are still produced in the city. Many people, who visit the city, take away the fruits as holy souvenirs. The city is also known for its ancient architecture that has not changed much during the past centuries. The old city still features streets that are so narrow that people can traverse houses from roofs, stone houses that are built on ancient traditions with flat roofs as well as the old bazaar (marketplace).
Modern-day Hebron is divided between the Palestinian Authority that controls the sector H1 of the city comprising about 80% of the land area, and the other 20% is administered by Israel through the Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron.
The third most important city in the Judaic faith is the city of Safed. The city is also the highest settlement in the entire country of Israel and with an elevation of around three thousand feet; it is not uncommon for Safed to have snowfall during the winter, an uncommon occurrence in the majority of the Middle East.
The city has been mentioned in the ancient texts and back in the days, it was known as "Sepph", and it was a well-fortified township that could withstand attacks. Due to its height and its importance in the Judaic faith, the city was the site of the fires of the new moon as well as the fires of the festivals. This occurred during the time of the Second Temple when five holy sites were selected for lighting fires during these select times.
During the crusades, the crusaders augmented the previous fortifications and dug in. They referred to the city as "Saphet"; however, it fell to the onslaught of Muslim king, Baybers in 1266. It served as the capital of the surrounding area for as long as it was under Muslim control.
During the 16th century, it became a center of Kabbalah and Judaic mystics, who flocked to the city after Isaac Luria introduced Kabbalah in the city. The modern-day Judaic faith holds the city in high esteem and it is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year.
Tiberias is the fourth city in the list of the four holy cities of Judaism. It is located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and has been an important city since it was founded around twenty years before Christ. It is named Tiberias after the Roman Emperor Tiberias of that time.
Ever since the first settlement in the area, Tiberias has been considered important by the followers of the Judaic faith. From the second till the tenth century, it rapidly progressed and became the center of Jewish learning, mysticism and many people from the surrounding areas came to settle in the city in order to study Judaism. Another important aspect of the city is the geological features of the city, mainly the hot springs of the city, which have been visited by people suffering from skin ailments for as long as the city has been habituated. These are considered holy springs by many, who consider them to cure and heal due to a divine will. The city is also the site of various Jewish revolts and therefore it is an important city in the Judaic history from that point of view as well.
When the Muslims captured the city from crusaders, they too came to treat it as an important city. Modern-day Tiberias is a tourist hot spot as well as a site of religious pilgrimages.