The sheet is embossed with 22 karat gold.
The Israeli public first heard Naomi Shemer’s song “Jerusalem of Gold” at the close of Independence Day 1967. They received Shuli Natan’s extraordinary performance and the words so full of yearning for the Old City conquered by the Jordanians warmly. Some three weeks later, when the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated in the Six Day War, the song achieved an even deeper meaning in Israeli public opinion. There were even those who suggested making it Israel’s national anthem.
Along with the song, the phrase “Jerusalem of Gold” became well known and many thought that it described the gold plating on the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount or the golden hue of Jerusalem’s stone houses in the light of sunrise.
The source of the phrase is actually much more ancient and it appears in the Talmud. The Tractate of Vows (50:1) tells of Rabbi Akiva, who was uneducated in his youth and earned his living working as a shepherd for Kalba Savua, one of the richest men in Jerusalem. Rachel, Kalba Savua’s daughter, fell in love with Rabbi Akiva and married him despite opposition from her father, who dispossessed her.
The impoverished young couple was forced to live in a hayloft. In the mornings, when Rabbi Akiva helped his wife collect the hay that clung to her hair, he promised her that one day he would buy her a most precious piece of jewelry, the crown called “Jerusalem of Gold”.
The Talmud tells how Rachel encouraged her husband to study the Torah and even sold her hair in order to pay for his studies. Rachel continued to do so faithfully for 24 years, while Rabbi Akiva was not ashamed to sat in class with small children and continued to study diligently and persistently until he became a great Torah scholar. When Rabbi Akiva returned home as a well known teacher of Halacha (Jewish law) and accompanied by 12,000 students, Kalba Savua changed his mind about banishing his daughter and bestowed half of his immense fortune upon the couple.
Rabbi Akiva remembered his promise to Rachel and the Talmud mentions that he bought his beloved wife “Jerusalem of Gold”. (Avot of Rabbi Natan, 6) This crown was so precious, that even the wife of Rabban Gamliel, head of the Sanhedrin, was jealous of Rachel and complained to her husband that he had not bought her a similar crown. (Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbat 86:1)
The Talmud sages, when discussing the appearance of the precious piece of jewelry, were told by the sages of Caesarea that the gold crown resembled a city wall. A number of ancient sources mentioned such a crown and archeological excavations have unearthed mosaics and statues of women wearing crowns resembling the walls of the fortified city.
During the Second Temple period brides wore a “Jerusalem of Gold” crown as part of their festive wedding day attire. After the revolt was oppressed and the Temple was destroyed, the Roman Emperor Vespasian imposed a series of edicts against the laws of Judaism, one of which banned brides from wearing the crown during their wedding ceremonies.
Over time, the phrase “Jerusalem of Gold” was forgotten, until Naomi Shemer’s song brought it back to the forefront.