Jerusalem appears in the Bible 669 times. Since the 10th century BCE Jerusalem has been the holiest city, focus and spiritual center of the Jews. Jerusalem has long been embedded into Jewish religious consciousness and Jews have always studied and personalized the struggle by King David to capture Jerusalem and his desire to build the Holy Temple there, as described in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Psalms. Many of King David's yearnings about Jerusalem have been adapted into popular prayers and songs. Jews believe that in the future the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem will become the center of worship and instruction for all mankind and consequently Jerusalem will become the spiritual center of the world.
An early expression of the Jewish desire to "return to Zion" is the journey of Yehuda Halevi, who died in about 1140. Jewish legend relates that as he came near Jerusalem, overpowered by the sight of the Holy City, he sang his most beautiful elegy, the celebrated Tzion ha-lo Tish'ali and that at that instant he was ridden down and killed by an Arab.
He was followed by Nahmanides, the Ramban, who, in 1267 emigrated to the land of Israel, and came for a short stay to live in Jerusalem. He wrote that he found barely ten Jews, as it had been desolated by the Crusades, nevertheless, together they built a synagogue that is the oldest that still stands to this day, known as the Ramban Synagogue.
Both the Vilna Gaon, (d. 1797) and the Ba'al Shem Tov, (d. 1760), instructed and sent small successive waves of their disciples to settle in Jerusalem, then under Turkish Ottoman rule. They created a Jewish religious infrastructure that remains the core of the Haredi Jewish community in Jerusalem to this day.
Jerusalem is also home to a number of the world's largest yeshivot (Talmudical and Rabbinical schools), and has become the undisputed capital of Jewish scholarly, religious and spiritual life for most of world Jewry. Examples of major yeshivos in Jerusalem are the Mir yeshiva and the Brisk yeshiva.