The Way of Israel: The Jewish Land
In this eighth unit we will explore the role of the Land of Israel in Rabbi Sacks’ thought and philosophy of Judaism. Rabbi Sacks is well known for his advocacy and passion for the modern State of Israel, especially in his social media presence. Israel also plays a prominent theological role in his writings. For Rabbi Sacks, the Jewish people living in security in their homeland, building a society based on the core values of Judaism, is critical to the fulfilment of Jewish destiny and the national Jewish mission.
No religion in history has been as closely tied to a land as has Judaism. That connection goes back almost 4,000 years, from the first words of God to Abraham: ‘Leave your country, your birthplace and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you.’ No sooner had he arrived than God said: ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ Seven times God promised the land to Abraham, and promised it again to Isaac and Jacob.
The word teshuvah, often translated as ‘repentance’, literally means ‘homecoming’ in a double sense: spiritually to God, and physically to the land of Israel. For Israel is the Jewish people’s place of destiny: a tiny land for a tiny people, yet one whose role in religious history is vast. It is the land to which Moses and the Israelites travelled across the desert, the land from which they were exiled twice, the land to which our ancestors journeyed whenever they could and which they never voluntarily left, never relinquished. Jewish history is the story of the longing for a land.
The holy land remains the place where Jews were summoned to create a society of justice and compassion under the sovereignty of God. And though it was subsequently held holy by Christianity and Islam, the centres of these other faiths were elsewhere: for Western Christians, Rome, for Eastern Christians, Constantinople, and for Muslims, Mecca and Medinah. There are 56 Islamic states today, 82 Christian ones, but only one Jewish state. It is the only place on earth where Jews are a majority, where they enjoy self-rule, where they are able to build a society and shape a culture as Jews.
The Balfour Declaration in 1917, subsequently ratified by the League of Nations, long before the Holocaust, was an attempt to rectify the lingering denial of a nation’s right to its land and the subsequent persecution of Jews in country after country, century after century, in a history of suffering that has no parallel.
The Jews who returned were not strangers, outsiders, an imperial presence, a colonial force. They were the land’s original inhabitants: the only people in 4,000 years who created an independent nation there. All other occupiers of the land – from the Assyrians and Babylonians to the Ottomans and the British – were imperial powers, who ruled the land as a district of their vast realms. The Egyptians did not offer the Palestinians a state when they ruled Gaza between 1948 and 1967; neither did the Jordanians when they ruled the West Bank during those years. The only nation to have offered Palestinians a state is the State of Israel. And every day, we pray for its peace.
The educational aims for this unit are for students to:
- consider the central role of Israel historically, halachically, culturally and spiritually.
- explore the notion of contemporary aliyah within the context of these parameters.
- consider the miraculous nature of the history of the modern State of Israel, and the balance in that narrative between human and divine accomplishments.
- understand the role Israel must play in the fulfilment of Jewish destiny and the Jewish national mission, as envisioned by Rabbi Sacks.
- consider what a ‘Jewish society’ would look like as the fulfilment of Jewish destiny and the Jewish national mission.