Yesterday, we noted the two views cited by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Ma’aser Sheni 5:5) regarding the forty-eight cities which were designated for the Leviyim, as we read in Parashat Masei (35:1-8). The debate is whether these cities were, officially, designated as the territory of the Leviyim, just as other portions of Eretz Yisrael were assigned for the other tribes, or whether the cities were considered part of the territory of the tribes in which they were situated. According to the second approach, the other tribes were required to allocate cities for the Leviyim’s residence, but the cities were not formally regarded as Levite territory, as each city was considered part of the territory of the tribe from which it was given. This question, as we saw, yields several ramifications, and affects, for example, the question of whether Leviyim are included in halakhot that apply only to those who received a portion in Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Shlomo Wahrman, in She’eirit Yosef (3:48), raises the intriguing possibility that this debate would affect a seemingly unrelated halakic issue – the question of whether one must rend his garments when seeing the city of Chevron. The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 561:1), based on the Gemara (Moed Katan 26a), rules that “one who sees the cities of Judea in their state of ruin” must rend his garments to express mourning over the loss of Jewish sovereignty over these areas. Different possible reasons exist for why this requirement applies specifically to “arei Yehuda” – the cities in the territory of Yehuda (as Rav Wahrman notes). Regardless, the Chida, cited in Sha’arei Teshuva, writes (citing his grandfather, the Chesed Le-Avraham) that it was customary not to recite this berakha upon seeing the ruins of the ancient city of Chevron, despite its being one of the ancient arei Yehuda. The Chida adds that the explanation given for this custom is that Chevron was one of the arei miklat (cities of refuge), as we read in Sefer Yehoshua (21:13). He then cites those who rejected this argument, and required tearing upon seeing Chevron just as one does upon seeing other arei Yehuda. Rav Wahrman suggested that this debate revolves around the question discussed in the Yerushalmi. As the Torah states in Parashat Masei (35:6), the six cities of refuge were included among the forty-eight cities designated for the Leviyim. As such, the question of whether Chevron should be considered one of the arei Yehuda depends upon whether the arei miklat were the property of the tribe of Levi or the property of the tribes in whose territory they are located. According to the first view – which, as we saw yesterday, is the view accepted by the Rambam – Chevron is not formally considered one of the cities of the tribe of Yehuda, despite being situated in Yehuda’s territory. It is thus perhaps for this reason it was customary not to tear one’s garments upon seeing the city under foreign rule, as Chevron does not fall under the category of “arei Yehuda.”
Rav Wahrman then adds that in truth, these two issues might not necessarily depend on one another. Rav Yisrael of Shklov, in his Pe’at Ha-shulchan (chapter 3), writes that Halakha requires tearing one’s garments specifically upon seeing the ruins of arei Yehuda because Yehuda was the royal tribe, and thus the territory of Yehuda is closely associated with the Israelite kingdom which has been lost. According to this explanation, it is possible that this halakha depends on the geographic region of Yehuda, and not the legal territory of Yehuda. Even if, from a formal, legal standpoint, the city of Chevron was the property of the Leviyim, and not of the tribe of Yehuda, it is nevertheless part of the territory associated with the Davidic dynasty. We should perhaps add that Chevron was David’s capital city when he first ascended to the throne, until the capture of Jerusalem. As Chevron is associated with the royal stature of Yehuda, beholding its ruins should require tearing one’s garments irrespective of whether we view the arei miklat as the property of the Leviyim.