Religion in Jerusalem is the city’s historically entrenched, ever-present plasma. The Holy City of Jerusalem, as she is known, is unmatched in her importance for such a vast number of people worldwide because all three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – pay sacred claim to Jerusalem. As it stands, given the total number of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, a good half of the world’s population sees Jerusalem as central to their tradition’s belief system. No other city – in the entire world – even comes close.
Millions of tourists come to Jerusalem yearly for religious reasons outright, and still others come out of sheer interest about Jerusalem’s religious historical significance.
Below we reference some of the major sites and important information for focusing on each religion in Jerusalem.
The Heart of Religion in Jerusalem: The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is the original ancient city of Jerusalem, and contains, within its small quarters, significant and poignant sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Old City’s four quarters are key for any Jerusalem tours: Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian (also Christian) Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter.
In each religion’s section below, we will detail its relevant sites in the Old City. It’s certainly worth arranging an Old City tour, be it for one day or more.
Major Religious Holiday Events in Jerusalem
If you are visiting during the major holiday seasons, you’ll be able to take part in the many holiday festivities of the time. Closer to your planned stay, you can keep abreast of the goings-on via our events listings.
Each section below will further expand on each religion’s holidays.
Judaism in Jerusalem
In addition to synagogues, you can gain religious historical insights by doing a Ramparts Walk Tour. As well, just outside the Old City walls is the enthralling City of David, an archeological site whose excavated tunnels extend to the Temple Mount area, and whose tours include multimedia presentations. A must!
Another must-see attraction in the Old City is the Isaac Kaplan Old Yishuv Court Museum. Housed in a 500-year-old beautiful building at the Jewish Quarter, the museum allows us to take a look back into the everyday lives of the members of the Old Jewish settlement in Jerusalem. This is an opportunity to hear the stories of the inhabitants of the Old Yishuv, displayed through their original belongings, objects, and tools. You will find there stories of birth and marriage, happiness and sadness altogether. The museum offers all kinds of dramatized tours which make the experience so much more vivid. It also hosts lectures and discussion, poetry and storytelling evenings. So if you’re looking for some experiential learning activities and a bit of culture inside the Old City, this museum is the right place for you.
Contact the Old Yishuv Court Museum: 072-3290748
If you are looking for kosher food restaurants, Jerusalem has the most per capita anywhere in the world.
In Judaism, the major holiday times are Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) week, Hanukah week, and Pesach (Passover) week. As well, there are several other religious or national holidays which are one or two days long.
Judaism – Sacred Sites Outside Jerusalem
Just outside Jerusalem, near Bethlehem, is the sacred Tomb of Rachel, or Kever Rachel. There are also three main cities outside Jerusalem which are considered sacred: Hebron, Tsfat and Tiberias. Hebron, south of Jerusalem, is a day trip, and Tsfat, 3 hours north of Jerusalem, is great for a quaint weekend. Tiberias, 2 hours north of Jerusalem, has the famous grave of Maimonedes (however, the city’s more of a run-down beach town), and nearby Mt. Meron is famous for being Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave site.
Christianity in Jerusalem & Nearby Bethlehem
Jerusalem’s centrality to Christianity is based on its teachings that Jesus lived, was buried, and was resurrected in this city. For starters, the entire Christian Quarter is replete with Christian history, including, for example, the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa. In terms of visiting Jesus’s burial place, Catholic teachings claim the Holy Sepulchre to be the site, while still others, such as Baptist followers, consider it to be the Garden Tomb, just outside the Old City.
Another key Christian site is the Garden of Gethsemane, which, together with the Church of All Nations, house the site where Jesus is said to have convened with his disciples the night he was arrested. In addition, according to the Eastern Orthodox Church, this area is also where Mary Magdelene is buried.
Christian Jerusalem tours can also include Ein Karem, a biblical village, and home to the Church of St. John the Baptist. And in the whole of Jerusalem, there are many churches and other significant Christian sites.
To be sure, any Christian Jerusalem tours will also include Bethlehem, which thankfully is less than a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, and houses the famous Church of the Nativity. A good example is the Jerusalem & Bethlehem tour that takes you through the holy history of both the Old City and Bethlehem.
Christian Sacred Sites Outside Jerusalem
There are many Christian sites outside of Jerusalem as well. They include the Sea of Galilee, the Church of the Beatitudes, the Jordan River (particularly where Jesus was thought to be baptized), and Nazareth. Other sites include the Capernaum, Church of the Primacy of Peter, Basilica of the Annunciation and Mount Tabor.
Islam in Jerusalem
Following Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is considered Islam’s third most sacred city because of one grand edifice – the Dome of the Rock, from where Muslim tradition holds Mohammad rose to heaven from its Foundation Rock. This same spot is where the Jewish Holy Temple stood for the nation of Israel, thus making it a hotspot religiously and politically. On the same plaza sits the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is usually visited as a coupling along with the Dome of the Rock.
If you are looking for Islamic art and history, check out the LA Mayer Museum of Islamic Art in the Katamon neighborhood in western Jerusalem. Note that while this museum is in western Jerusalem, overall the Muslim population and popular sites are in the eastern neighborhoods. In eastern Jerusalem, Arabic is spoken by the majority, Hebrew by many, and English by some. So if you are planning on touring local Muslim venues in greater eastern Jerusalem, it’s recommended to go with a reputable guide.
In terms of Muslim festivals, there are a few major holidays – including Muhammad’s Night Journey to Heaven, and the Ramadan break-the-fast festival – and Muslim residents in Jerusalem celebrate the same holidays as their brethren worldwide. Since the Muslim calendar is lunar, if you are planning your Jerusalem tours in light of Muslim holidays, be sure to check the particular year’s calendar, as each year could have vast differences in scheduling. You can check out general information on Muslim holidays, here.