AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Monday, 2 January 2017

Israel: Too much history and too little geography

The Land of Israel and the Jewish people are bound together in mysterious ways that go beyond convention. Here is a nation that has “too much history and too little geography,” as Sir Isaiah Berlin said. Yet even in their exile, the Jews never truly left the land of their birth. Rather, they lifted it from its native soil and transformed it into a portable homeland, taking it with them to all corners of the earth. Only in 1948 after nearly two thousand years did the Jewish people return to its original home. How is it that contrary to all the laws of history, the Jewish people outlived so many powerful empires? How was this tiny nation able to make an unprecedented contribution to the wellbeing of all of humankind? Why did the Jewish people become a source of endless irritation to those who opposed its ethical teachings? Finally, how can the State of Israel rediscover its Jewish identity as the source of its greatest blessing and hope?

Our Love For The Land Of Israel

The commandment to bring the redemption of the Land of Israel reminds us of the inextricable link between Judaism and Israel.


One of the central paradoxes of Jewish history is that the Jewish people were landless through most of our history. Yet, we were always profoundly aware of our link to the Land of Israel, perhaps because we did not live in a place we could call our own. The intense love between the Jews and their homeland permeated our prayers, our Torah and our hearts. Today’s Torah portion speaks directly to the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish thought and deed. God instructs the Jewish People, “You must provide for the ge’ulah (redemption) of the land.”
What does it mean, to bring redemption to a land? It might make sense to use tangible terms–“irrigate” the land, “fertilize” the land, even “cultivate” the land. Those are terms upon which a farmer would act and recognize. But how does one “redeem” a land?
According to most biblical commentators, this verse is understood as mandating a loving Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Thus, Hizkuni (France, 13th century) interprets our verse to mean that “there can be no [permanent] selling, only [temporary] dwelling.”
Jews do not have the right to sever their connection to the Land of Israel. That claim–our inextricable link to the Land of Israel–is at the very core of biblical and rabbinic religion. The Land is referred to as an “ahuzzah,” a holding–given to the Jewish People as God’s part of our brit, our covenantal relationship. Our ancestors agreed to serve only God, and God agreed to maintain a unique relationship with the Jewish People.
That relationship was given form in the detailed legislation of the Torah and the Talmud as a way of shaping and cultivating the reciprocal obligations between God and the Jews. And the one place in the world where the Jewish People could act on every part of our ‘brit’ was within the Land of Israel. Only there could all the laws and practices of Judaism receive their full articulation, because, in the words of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (Italy, 16th century), “Outside of the Land [of Israel], there is no Sabbatical Year, nor a Jubilee Year.”
The many agricultural mitzvot (commandments)–of leaving gleanings for the poor, of offering first fruits and others–were operative only within the Land of Israel. There, in the Land, the Jew could most directly encounter God and sanctity.  What was true in the past is true today as well. There is a special quality to the Land of Israel that exists nowhere else in the world. In the words of the Talmud, “the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise.”
Our generation is uniquely blessed. While Jews have prayed facing Jerusalem for thousands of years, while our ancestors longed for the messianic future as a time when Jews could freely live as Jews in our homeland, we have seen the establishment of a Jewish state–a thriving democracy and a world center for Jews and Jewish expression–in our own time.
Unlike our great-grandparents, we can travel to Israel’s holy sites any time we choose. Unlike the Jews of the past, we can learn our holy language, Hebrew, from people who speak it on a daily basis. We can contribute to the liberation of Jewish people who have left lands of oppression and suffering–places like Ethiopia, Syria and the former Soviet Union–to be reunited with their people and its history. We can redeem the Land.
Rambam (Spain, 13th century) translated God’s instruction to mean, “that I wish to redeem My land from the hand of those who hold it, as I have not given it to them as part of their possession.” We make the Land of Israel ours by translating our possession into deeds. For example, by planting trees through the Jewish National Fund, we are able to literally make the deserts bloom, while also assuring a Jewish presence throughout the Land.
By contributing generously to federations and the Jewish Federations of North America, we make it possible for hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to rejoin our people and to strengthen our land in freedom. By visiting Israel ourselves, often, we demonstrate our love of the land and our solidarity with the first free Jewish state in over 2000 years. “You must provide for the redemption of the land.” What have you done for Israel lately?

Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.

  •  A powerful short film that reveals the real story behind "The Mystery of the Jews": 

Below some more information on the State of Israel and Zionism, from The US:

Zionism and the foundation of the State of Israel
  • Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
  • The Zionists came to Palestine as legal and peaceful immigrants to their ancestral homeland.
  • The League of Nations gave international legal recognition to the Jewish national home.
  • Jewish immigration was given a new impetus by the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • The United Nations recognised Israel as an independent state.
Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people

Zionism emerged in the mid to late 19th century as a nationalist movement among Jews in Europe. The Zionists believed that the oppression and discrimination faced by Jews in Europe and elsewhere arose from their lack of a homeland of their own. Only in their historic homeland, it was argued, could Jews enjoy not only physical security, but also a full flowering of their culture.

The founder of Zionism as a political movement was Theodore Herzl, an assimilated Austrian journalist who became shocked at the anti-semitism he encountered both at the University of Vienna and later while covering the Dreyfus trial in Paris. (Dreyfus was a French Jewish army officer who was falsely accused of treason and spent years in prison before finally being cleared.) Herzl articulated a vision of a sovereign Jewish state, and founded and became the first leader of the Zionist Organisation.

Although predominantly a secular movement, with liberal, social democratic and Marxist strands, Zionism gained traction from the Jewish people’s strong emotional and religious attachment – to its historic homeland in the biblical Land of Israel, then part of the Ottoman empire (the geographical area was known to Europeans as Palestine), a connection which survived over two thousand years of dispersion.

The Zionists came to Palestine as legal and peaceful immigrants

At this time Palestine was relatively sparsely populated and economically stagnant. On the eve of the first Zionist influx in 1881, its population was around half a million, with Jews numbering in the low tens of thousands, some of whose ancestors had lived in the land for many generations.

The Zionist Organisation encouraged immigration to Palestine. This immigration took place legally with the permission of the Ottoman authorities.

Zionists were aware of the existing population, but believed that there was plenty of room in the land to absorb everybody. They also believed that Jewish immigration and investment in the land would boost the economy and benefit the existing population. The Zionists purchased land for agricultural settlements (often from Arab absentee landlords), and in the early years of the twentieth century the first kibbutzim (collective farms) were developed as a means of creating a viable agriculture and also as an expression of the socialist values of many of the early pioneers. Many other Jews settled in the towns, such as Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem.

The Arab population grew considerably during the period of Jewish immigration. While the causes of the increase (immigration versus natural increase) are a matter of dispute, it is clear that the net flow of Arab migration during the late Ottoman and British Mandate (1922-1948) periods was into rather than out of Palestine.

The League of Nations gave international legal recognition to the Jewish national home

During the First World War Britain conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, in the Balfour Declaration, the British government adopted a policy to support a Jewish national home in Palestine.

In 1922 Britain received the Mandate to govern Palestine on behalf of the League of Nations. The wording of the Balfour Declaration was included in the Mandate, along with a recognition of the Jewish historic attachment to the area, thus giving the seal of international law to the Jewish homeland.

‘Palestine’ as defined in the mandate included the present-day state of Jordan as well as Israel and the Palestinian Territories. However, Britain subsequently partitioned Palestine, with the land east of the River Jordan becoming the Emirate of Transjordan (now the Kingdom of Jordan).

Jewish immigration was given a new impetus by the rise of Nazi Germany

The demand for a Jewish state was given added urgency by the events of the Holocaust in Europe.

From the early 1930s onwards, until flight became impossible, Jews sought desperately to escape the Nazi regime. The fact that most other states closed their borders to refugees swelled the number of immigrants to Palestine, until the British all but barred Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939.

After the war, many of the survivors of the Holocaust, unable or unwilling to return to their homes, clamoured for admission to Palestine. The British authorities, by now hostile to Jewish immigration, refused entry to all but a tiny proportion of these would-be migrants. What the British termed as illegal immigration flourished, and was met with a brutal response The British interned many of these survivors in camps in Cyprus. This response inflamed relations between the British and the Palestinian Jewish community, as well as provoking widespread international condemnation.

The United Nations recognised Israel as an independent state

In 1947 Britain determined to relinquish the mandate, and the United Nations approved a plan drawn up by an independent UN commission to partition the land between a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the partition plan but the Arabs did not and immediately launched a war against the Yishuv (as the Jewish community in Palestine was known). After initial reverses during which their survival was in serious doubt, the Jews turned the tide and on 14 May 1948, following the ending of the Mandate, declared an independent state, to be known as the State of Israel.

The UN subsequently agreed to admit Israel as a full member.
Israel from space