Nehemiah – Chapter 11

A Nice Place to Visit, But I Wouldn't Want to Live There

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

We now return to the issue that was raised in chapter 7: Jerusalem was too sparsely populated to adequately defend itself. Nehemiah had gathered the heads of the families of Israel in order to encourage urbanization. The leaders agreed to stay and the people cast lots to see which one-tenth would relocate to the capital. The people blessed all those who volunteered to do so. (Why weren’t people more enthusiastic to move to the Holy City? The Talmud in Kesubos 110b discusses how many people prefer small towns to large cities. Then, as now, cities were more crowded, dirtier and more expensive to live in. To automatically assume that all Jews in Nehemiah’s day wanted to live in Jerusalem would be as mistaken as assuming that everyone in the US would rather live in New York City.)

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to detailing the moving arrangements. Verses 3-19 name the people who agreed to relocate to Jerusalem. They are listed by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, kohanim and Leviim. Those who didn’t move to Jerusalem settled in their ancestral cities; verses 20-36 detail who lived where.

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