Israel: The Land of Hope
In this unit you can find resources and texts which explore the theme of Israel in the thought of Rabbi Sacks. As well as texts from the writings of Rabbi Sacks, you can also find classic Jewish sources, other contemporary Jewish voices, and some broader secular texts to enrich the way you teach this theme in your classroom.
There are many resources provided here for the teacher to choose from when building a lesson or series of lessons on this topic (there are far too many to be included in one lesson only). If you only want to dedicate one lesson to the topic, then a suggested lesson-plan for a sixty-minute lesson is provided which can be used to explore the classic Jewish texts and initial writings of Rabbi Sacks only.
Age: The resources and lesson plan can be adapted by the educator to a wide range of ages, from middle school/key stage 3 (11 years old) upwards, but this unit is most appropriate for high-school aged students (15-18 years old).
This video, released in 2018 to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday, gives us a brief look at Rabbi Sacks’ deeply-held view of Israel as an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair. You can watch the inspiring video included here (narrated by Rabbi Sacks in English), or watch the version he recorded in Hebrew.
Here is the transcript of the English narration:
The story of Israel is one without parallel in history, the story of the love of a people for a land, the love of Jews for Israel.
There in ancient times our people was born, and there in modern times our people was reborn.
The day will come when the story of Israel in modern times will speak not just to Jews, but to all who believe in the power of the human spirit as it reaches out to God as an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair.
Because Israel has achieved great things.
It’s taken a barren land and made it bloom. it’s taken an ancient language, the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak. It’s taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young. It’s taken a tattered, shattered nation, and made it live.
Israel is the country whose national anthem, ‘Hatikvah’, means ‘hope’. Israel is the home of hope.Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach
- What role does the Land of Israel play in Judaism?
- What impact has the story of the modern State of Israel had on you?
- Describe your connection to Israel today?
Read the biblical excerpts listed by their verses, and then discuss, using the related Core Questions.
The Original Aliyah:
- Bereishit 12:1-9
- What do you think we can learn from the fact that God’s first interaction with the first Jew is the command for him to journey to the Land of Israel?
- God makes several promises to Avraham here. How are they connected to the Land of Israel?
- Almost as soon as he arrives, Avraham is forced to leave the land because of famine. What is the message for us there?
The climax of Sefer Bereishit – Yosef reassures his descendants concerning Israel:
- Bereishit 50:24-26
The core of Moshe’s mission – deliver the people to Israel:
- Shemot 3:1-8
The climax to the whole Torah – fulfilment of the covenant taking possession of Israel:
- Devarim 34:1-4
- Yehoshua 1:1-4
- What role does Israel play in the historical narrative of the Torah (from Avraham until the death of Moshe)?
- Does this theme reach a conclusion at the end of the Chumash? What about the end of Tanach?
- Do you think we have reached the promised conclusion to this story?
The Land that Makes You Look to Heaven
- Devarim 11:10-12
- Ramban on Devarim 11:10
- Shemot 17:10-11
- Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 29a
- Does the biblical description here of the Land of Israel make it sound like a good or bad place to live?
- According to the Ramban, why is Israel a good place to live?
- Do you think this still applies today
2000 Years of Daily Yearning to Return
Distribute the following prayers and sources, then discuss the Core Questions below:
- Tehillim 137
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 94:1 (praying towards Jerusalem)
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 551:1-3 (remembering Jerusalem during the month of Av)
- The Haggadah, Nirtzah and Neilah on Yom Kippur (remembering Jerusalem at religious high points in the year)
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 560:1-5 (remembering Jerusalem during the year)
- Why do you think the halacha is so focused on Israel and Jerusalem?
- What has that achieved and how has it impacted Jewish history?
- Now we have sovereignty over Israel and Jerusalem, do you think this should be less of a focus?
The Valley of Dry Bones: Lo Avda Tikvateinu
- What is the message of this prophecy?
- Do you think it has been fulfilled?
- How is this connected to Israel’s national anthem?
Why a land?
[Jewish] destiny was to create a society that would honor the proposition that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. It would be a place in which the freedom of some would not lead to the enslavement of others. It would be the opposite of Egypt, whose bread of affliction and bitter herbs of slavery they were to eat every year on the festival of Pesach to remind them of what they were to avoid… Judaism is the code of a self-governing society. We tend to forget this, since Jews have lived in dispersion for two thousand years, without the sovereign power to govern themselves, and because modern Israel is a secular state. Judaism is a religion of redemption rather than salvation. It is about the shared spaces of our collective lives, not an interior drama of the soul…
[B]ecause Judaism is also the code of a society, it is also about the social virtues: righteousness (tzedek/tzedakah), justice (mishpt), loving-kindness (chessed) and compassion (rachamim). These structure the template of biblical law, which covers all aspects of the life of society, its economy, its welfare systems, its education, family life, employer–employee relations, the protection of the environment and so on.
The broad principles driving this elaborate structure, traditionally enumerated as 613 commands, are clear. No one should be left in dire poverty. No one should lack access to justice and the courts. No family should be without its share of the land. One day in seven, everyone should be free. One year in seven, all debts should be cancelled. One year in fifty, all land that had been sold was to revert to its original owners. It was the nearest thing the ancient world had ever seen to an egalitarian society.
None of this was possible without a land… Judaism is the constitution of a self-governing nation, the architectonics of a society dedicated to the service of God in freedom and dignity. Without a land and state, Judaism is a shadow of itself. In exile, God might still live in the hearts of Jews but not in the public square, in the justice of the courts, the morality of the economy and the humanitarianism of everyday life.
Jews have lived in almost every country under the sun. In four thousand years, only in Israel have they been a free, self-governing people. Only in Israel are they able, if they so choose, to construct an agriculture, a medical system, an economic infrastructure in the spirit of the Torah and its concern for freedom, justice and the sanctity of life. Only in Israel can Jews today speak the Hebrew of the Bible as the language of everyday speech. Only there can they live Jewish time within a calendar structured according to the rhythms of the Jewish year. Only in Israel can Jews live Judaism in anything other than an edited edition. In Israel, and only there, Jews can walk where the prophets walked, climb the mountains Avraham climbed, lift their eyes to the hills that David saw, and continue the story their ancestors began.Future Tense, pp.135-136
- According to this text how is Judaism different from other religions?
- Is Judaism better lived in the diaspora or in a Jewish state?
- Is the modern State of Israel a fulfilment of the vision described in this text?
Why this land?
Why there? The Bible doesn’t say. We can only speculate. But implicit in the biblical narrative is an answer. Israel is a place from which it is impossible to build an empire. The geography is wrong. The Judean hills in one direction, the Sinai desert in the other, block easy access to surrounding lands. The coastal plain is narrow and, in ancient times, open to easy attack from the sea.
The cradle of civilization was not there. It was in the alluvial plains of the Tigris-Euphrates valley and the rich, well-watered lands of the lower Nile. It was in Mesopotamia that the first city-states were built, and in Egypt that the greatest and longest-lived of ancient empires had its base. So Israel would almost invariably be a small country at the juncture of powerful empires, in a simultaneously strategic and vulnerable location on major trade routes.Future Tense, pp. 137-138
Israel is not the Nile delta or the Tigris-Euphrates valley. It is a land dependent on rain, and rain in that part of the world is not predictable… But the passage intimates a correlation between geography and spirituality. Israel is a place where people look up to heaven in search of rain, not down to earth and its natural water supply. It is a place where you have to pray, not one in which nature and its seasons are predictable.
That is part of a larger narrative. Because the terrain of Israel is such that it cannot become the base of an empire, it will constantly be at threat from larger and stronger neighboring powers. Israel will always find itself outnumbered. It will need to rely on exceptional courage from its soldiers, and ingenuity in battle. That will take high national morale, which in turn will require from the people a sense of belonging to a just and inclusive society.
Commitment will be needed from every individual. They will need to feel that their cause is justified and that they are fighting for something worth preserving. So the entire configuration of the Torah’s social ethics, whose guardians were the prophets, is already implicit in the kind of geo-political entity Israel is and will be. It would always be a small and highly vulnerable country, set in a strategic location at the junction of three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia… as with its agriculture, so with its battles: Israel is a people that must lift its eyes to heaven.Future Tense, pp. 139-140
- What lessons can the geography of the Land of Israel teach us?
- How can they impact the way we live and build a state in Israel today?
- Is Israel today still a country where its people must “lift their eyes to heaven”?
The Ethical Potential of the Modern State of Israel
The shape of Israel’s civil society is set out in Tehillim 146 as the way of God: ‘He secures justice for the oppressed. He gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free. The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord raises those bowed down. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects the stranger. He gives courage to the orphan and widow.’ It is there in every syllable of Diaspora Jewish life, in the social infrastructures Jews created voluntarily because they had no state to turn to. It is there in the basic idea of the Jewish polity, namely a society of equal dignity in which no one is condemned to poverty or solitude, in which Jews sustain one another through the thousand filaments of connectedness, caring for the sick, visiting the lonely, comforting the bereaved, giving hospitality to strangers: the vision of what Aharon Lichtenstein called ‘societal beatitude’ which was Jewry’s greatest contribution to the moral vocabulary of humankind.
A Judaic civil society depends on the highest priority being given to education. Judaism created the world’s first system of universal education, and remains the supreme example of a civilization predicated on schools and houses of study. Education, in Judaism, is the keystone of the social structure. It is the best way of securing equality and human dignity. It must be the top item in any budget. Jews knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need schools. Education is the Jewish ministry of defence.
Equally, it is here at the level of civil society that Israel must integrate all entire population, Jewish, Muslim or Christian, as equal citizens, ‘the stranger in your midst,’ giving non-Jews precisely the level of dignity and respect that Jews would wish were the roles reversed: ‘Do not oppress the stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger’ (Shemot 23: 9).Future Tense, pp. 175-176
- What examples of Jewish values are mentioned here in a “Judaic society”?
- Do you see any of these found in the State of Israel today?
- What areas need to be improved in Israeli society to fulfil this vision?
Once Israel saved Jews. Now it will save Judaism.
Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core. That was true for nineteen hundred years when there was no Jewish state. It is no less true now that the state exists…
Israel is now the only place in which a total Jewish experience is possible. It is the one country where Jews constitute a majority of the population. It is the only context in which they exercise political sovereignty. It is the sole place where Judaism belongs to the public domain, where Hebrew is the language of everyday life and where the Sabbath and the festivals form the rhythm of the calendar. It is the land of our origins, the terrain on which Joshua and David fought and Amos and Isaiah delivered prophecies. It is the birthplace of Jewish memory and the home of Jewish destiny.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact of Israel on the formation of Jewish identity. Jewish existence, which in today’s Diaspora may appear random, arbitrary, and disconnected, in Israel takes on coherence. There the Bible comes alive against the backdrop of its own landscape and its own language, once again a living tongue. There, too, the concept of the Jewish people becomes vivid in the visible drama of a society gathered together – as Moses said it would be – “from the ends of the heavens.” Above all, it is in Jerusalem that the mystery of Israel becomes tangible. Here is the old-new heart of the old-new people, the place from which, said Maimonides, the Divine presence never moved.Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren?, pp. 98-99
- How did Israel “sustain Jewish life” during the exile?
- How does Israel do this today?
- What impact does Israel have on your Jewish identity?
Israel the Land of Hope
Twenty-six centuries ago, in exile in Babylon, the Prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) had the most haunting of all prophetic visions. He saw a valley of dry bones, a heap of skeletons. God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Yechezkel replied, “God, You alone know.” Then the bones came together, and grew flesh and skin, and began to breathe, and live again. Then God said: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost [avdah tikvatenu].’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the God says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel’” (Yechezkel 37:1–14).
It was this passage that Naftali Herz Imber was alluding to in 1877, when he wrote, in the song that became Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, the phrase od lo avdah tikvatenu, ‘Our hope is not yet lost.’ Little could he have known that seventy years later one third of the Jewish people would have become, in Auschwitz and Treblinka, a valley of dry bones. Who could have been blamed for saying ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost’?
Yet, a mere three years after standing face-to-face with the angel of death, the Jewish people, by proclaiming the State of Israel, made a momentous affirmation of life, as if it had heard across the centuries the echo of God’s words to Yechezkel: ‘I will bring you back to the land of Israel.’
And a day will one day come when the story of Israel in modern times will speak not just to Jews, but to all who believe in the power of the human spirit as it reaches out to God, as an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair. Israel has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. It has taken an ancient language, the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak again. It has taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. It has taken a shattered nation and made it live again. That remains the Jewish dream. Israel is the land of hope.Future Tense, pp. 152-153
- How does Yechezkel’s prophecy express the story of the Jews?
- How did it inspire the future
- Why does Rabbi Sacks describe Israel as the “Land of Hope”?
- Israel at 70: An Everlasting Symbol of Hope
- Israel, the Home of Hope
- Reflections on Balfour 100
- The Centenary of the Balfour Declaration (House of Lords)
- Rabbi Sacks on Yom Ha’atzmaut (April 2020)
- Rabbi Sacks on Israel and the Holocaust
- Rabbi Sacks on the connection between antisemitism, anti-Zionism, Judaism, and Israel
- The Ten Paths Unit 8 opening video: The Way of Israel: The Jewish Land
- Rabbi Sacks’ speech in House of Lords debate on the Middle East
- Rabbi Sacks on Jerusalem: The 50th Anniversary of Reunification
- Jerusalem, the Beating Heart of Jewish Faith
- The Religious Significance of Israel, Masei, Covenant & Conversation
- Israel: The Heart of Judaism
- Issues in Jewish Thought: Israel and the Jew
- Little Books of Big Questions (Download book 4 – Israel: In Search of Peace)
- Letters to the Next Generation 2: Letter 17 – The Assault on Israel
- Israel: Dreams and Reality – A Dialogue between Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Amos Oz (May 2001)
“Jews have lived in almost every country under the sun. In four thousand years, only in Israel have they been a free, self-governing people.”Future Tense, p. 135
Though Israel has had to fight many wars, from the very beginning it sought peace. The Hebrew language has two words for strength: koach and gevurah. Koach is the strength you need to win a war. Gevurah is the courage you need to make peace. Israel has shown both kinds of strength. But peace is a duet not a solo. It cannot be made by one side alone. If it could, it would have been made long ago.Israel – Home of Hope album
“Israel is the Jewish home of hope, the place where our people was born in the age of Abraham and where, after the longest exile ever endured by a people, it was reborn in our time.”Israel – Home of Hope album
“Only in Israel can Jews live Judaism in anything other than an edited edition. In Israel, and only there, Jews can walk where the Prophets walked, climb the mountains Avraham climbed, lift their eyes to the hills that David saw, and continue the story their ancestors began.”Future Tense, p. 136
“It is difficult to reflect deeply on the rebirth of Israel without sensing the touch of heaven in the minds of men and women, leading them to play their parts in a drama so much greater than any individual could have executed, even conceived.”The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 68
“Israel remained the focus of Jewish hopes. Wherever Jews were, they built synagogues, each of which was a symbolic fragment of the Temple in Jerusalem. Wherever they were, they prayed about Jerusalem, facing Jerusalem. They remembered it and wept for it, as the psalm had said, at every time of joy. They never relinquished their claim to the land. The Jewish people was the circumference of a circle at whose centre was the Holy Land and Jerusalem the holy city.”Israel – Home of Hope album
“A day will one day come when the story of Israel in modern times will speak not just to Jews, but to all who believe in the power of the human spirit as it reaches out to God, as an everlasting symbol of the victory of life over death, hope over despair. Israel has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. It has taken an ancient language, the Hebrew of the Bible, and made it speak again. It has taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. It has taken a shattered nation and made it live again. That remains the Jewish dream. Israel is the land of hope.”Future Tense, p. 153
“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 Avraham: ‘Leave your country, your birthplace and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you.’ 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.”Ten Paths to God, Unit 8: Israel – The Jewish Land
“Israel, brought into being three years after the Jewish people stood eyeball to eyeball with the Angel of Death during the Holocaust, is the Jewish people’s collective affirmation of life. Its existence and achievements are living testimony to one of Judaism’s greatest messages to humankind: the principled defeat of tragedy by the power of hope. And though Israel was built by human hands, it is impossible not to sense beneath its history, the Hand of Heaven.”Israel – Home of Hope album
How do you live with the constant threat of violence and war? That takes faith. Israel is the people that has always been sustained by faith, faith in God, in the future, in life itself. And though Israel is a secular state, its very existence is testimony to faith: the faith of a hundred generations that Jews would return; the faith that led the pioneers to rebuild a land against seemingly impossible odds; the faith that after the Holocaust the Jewish people could live again; the faith that, in the face of death, continues to say: choose life.Israel – Home of Hope album
In our century, after the Holocaust, a ravaged, devastated people came back to the land of Israel and there built one of the great states of the modern world. Out of the wilderness they built farms and forests. In place of the totalitarian states from which many of them came, they framed a democracy. From a small population they created an army of invincible courage. In place of Jerusalem “in mourning and in ruins” they created a Jerusalem built “as a city that is closely joined together.” They made the Hebrew language, the language of the Bible, live again. They built yeshivot, citadels of Jewish learning, so that the streets of Jerusalem would once again echo with the sound of ancient learning. They brought Jewish communities, threatened by persecution, to safety. Together they brought about the collective resurrection of the Jewish people from the shadow of death to the land of life. Today when Jews sing of Israel they say od lo avdah tikvatenu, “Our hope is not destroyed.Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 156
Israel has made all Jews, both its own and those of the diaspora, feel more at home in the world. At the same time, under the impact of Israel’s political isolation, it has served to emphasise the ‘not-at-homeness’ of the Jew.The Power of Ideas, p. 65
It is difficult to reflect deeply on the rebirth of Israel without sensing the touch of heaven in the minds of men and women, leading them to play their parts in a drama so much greater than any individual could have executed, even conceived.The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah (Essays), p. 53
The very existence of Israel is as near to a miracle as we will find in the sober pages of empirical history.Future Tense, p. 3
Israel is the only place in the world where Jews can create a society, and that is a religious task even though Israel is a secular state.Future Tense, p. 46
Judaism, in Israel, is a presence you breathe, not just a religion you practise. In Israel as nowhere else, Jewishness is part of the public domain, in the language, the landscape, the calendar.Future Tense, p. 46
A mere three years after coming eye to eye with the Angel of Death, the Jewish people, by establishing the State of Israel, made the single most powerful affirmation in two thousand years that Am Yisrael chai, the Jewish people lives.Covenant and Conversation: Leviticus, pp. 155-156
The inclusivist faith is that Jews, divided by where they stand, are united by what they are travelling towards, the destination which alone gives meaning to Jewish history: the promised union of Torah, the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and God.One People?
The inclusivist faith is that Jews, divided by where they stand, are united by what they are travelling towards, the destination which alone gives meaning to Jewish history: the promised union of Torah, the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and God.
The Spiritual Dimension of the Land:
The Land of Israel is not a means to an end of collective solidarity but rather an end in itself. It defies rationalism; it is a mystical dimension. The hope of the Land of Israel is what gives the Diaspora the strength to continue to exist. The essential difference between the Judaism of the Diaspora and that of the Land of Israel.
The Land of Israel is not something external, not an external national asset, a means to an end of collective solidarity and the strengthening of the nation’s existence, physical or even spiritual. The Land of Israel is an essential unit bound by the bond-of-life with the Nation, united by inner characteristics with its existence. Therefore, it is impossible to appreciate the content of the sanctity of the Land of Israel and to actualize the depth of love for her by some rational human understanding – only by the spirit of the Lord that is in the soul of Israel. This spirit radiates natural hues in all avenues of healthy feeling and shines according to the measure of supernal holy spirit, which fills with life and pleasantness the heart of the holy of thought and deep Jewish thinkers. The thought of the Land of Israel as only an external value serving as a cohesive force – even when it comes only to reinforce the Jewish idea in the Diaspora, to preserve its identity and to strengthen faith, awe (of the Lord) and observance of mitzvot (commandments) – bears no permanent fruit, for this foundation is shaky compared to the holy might of the Land of Israel. The true strengthening of the Jewish idea in exile will come about only through the depth of its immersion in the Land of Israel, and from the hope of the Land of Israel it will receive always its essential characteristics. The expectation of salvation is the force that preserves exilic Judaism; the Judaism of the Land of Israel is salvation itself.A. I. Kook, Jerusalem, Koren Publishers, 2015, (originally published in 1920), pp. 113-114
Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik
Eight years ago, in the midst of a night of terror filled with the horrors of Maidanek, Treblinka, and Buchenwald, in a night of gas chambers and crematoria, in a night of absolute divine self-concealment (hester panim muhlat), in a night ruled by the satan of doubt and apostasy which sought to sweep the maiden from her house into the Christian church, in a night of continuous searching, of questing for the beloved – in that very night the beloved appeared. “God who conceals Himself in His dazzling hiddeness” suddenly manifested Himself and began to knock at the tent of his despondent and disconsolate love, twisting convulsively on her bed, suffering the pains of hell. As a result of the knocks on the door of the maiden, wrapped in mourning, the State of Israel was born!
How many times did the Beloved knock on the door of the tent of his love? It appears to me that we can count at least six knocks.
First the knock of the Beloved was heard in the political arena. No one can deny that from the standpoint of international relations, the establishment of the State of Israel, in a political sense, was an almost supernatural occurrence. Both Russia and the Western countries jointly supported the idea of the establishment of the State. This was perhaps the only proposal where East and West were united. I am inclined to believe that the United Nations organization was created specifically for this purpose – in order to carry out the mission which divine providence had set for it…
Second, the knocking of the Beloved could be heard on the battlefield. The small Israeli defense forces defeated the mighty armies of the Arab countries. The miracle of “the many in the hands of the few” took place before our very eyes…
Third, the Beloved began to knock as well on the door of the theological tent, and it may very well be that this is the strongest knock of all. I have oftened emphasized, when speaking of the land of Israel, that all the claims of Christian theologians that God deprived the Jewish people of its rights in the land of Israel, and that all the biblical promises regarding Zion and Jerusalem refer, in an allegorical sense, to christianity and the Christian church, have been publicly refuted by the establishment of the State of Israel and been exposed as falsehoods, lacking all validity…
Fourth, the Beloved is knocking in the hearts of the perplexed and assimilated youths. The era of self-concealment (hastarat panim) at the beginning of the 1940s resulted in great confusion among the Jewish masses and in particular, among the Jewish youth. Assimilation grew, and became more rampant, and the impulse to flee from Judaism and from the Jewish people reached a new height… Suddenly, the Beloved began to knock on the doors of the hearts of the perplexed, and His knock, the rise of the State of Israel, at the very east slowed the process of flight. Many of those who, in the past, were alienated from the Jewish people are now tied to the Jewish State by a sense of pride in its outstanding achievements…
The fifth knock of the Beloved is perhaps the most important of all. For the first time in the history of our exile, divine providence has surprised our enemies with the sensational discovery that Jewish blood is not free for the taking, is not hefker! ..Revenge is forbidden when it serves no purpose. However, if by taking revenge we raise ourselves up t the plane of self-defense, then it becomes the elementary right of man qua man to avenge the wrongs inflicted upon him…
The sixth knock, which we must not ignore, was heard when the gates of the land were opened. A Jew who flees from a hostile country now knows that he can find a secure refuge in the land of his ancestors. This is a new phenomenon in our history. Until now, whenever Jewish communities were expelled from their lands, they had to wander in the wilderness of the nations and were not able to find shelter in another land… Now the situation has changed… Had the State of Israel arisen before Hitler’s Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of Jews might have been saved from the gas chambers ad crematoria. The miracle of the State came just a bit late, and as a result of this delay thousands and tens of thousands of Jews were murdered. Let us not view this matter lightly! It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh!J. B. Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 1956.
Rabbi Yehuda Amital
When the State was established, some of the greatest Torah Sages in the world – some of whom I was fortunate to know – declared that although we are not living in the time of the “revealed end” of the “footsteps of the Mashiach,” there is still great importance to the political freedom of establishing a State…
For these reasons, the Chief Rabbis, including Rav Herzog zt”l, ruled that the establishment of the State of Israel is “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.” A situation in which Am Yisrael has “a king” (sovereignty) and freedom is a harbinger of redemption…
We must rejoice today just as we rejoiced in 1948. We must recognize that just as the Holocaust was a gargantuan chillul Hashem, so the State of Israel is the greatest Kiddush Hashem.Y. Amital, Reishit Tzemichat Ge’ulatenu: What kind of Redemption Does Israel Represent?, 2005.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Returning to our national homeland presents Jews with four areas of major responsibilities…
Assuming responsibility for the Jewish nation as a diverse people: If the covenantal obligation of the Jewish nation is to transmit “compassionate righteousness and moral justice,” and if Jews are charged by divine commandment to be a sacred nation and kingdom of of priest-teachers to the world, then the elected leadership and religious authorities of the Jewish state must take a unique covenantal responsibility for every one of Israel’s Jewish citizens…
Establishing Religious Freedom and broad Jewish education: While statehood is an expression of the covenantal narrative, religious laws must not be imposed upon Jews in Israel. Religious coercion is an oxymoron, and imposed religious law is ipso facto denuded of any religious significance. Any attempt to legislate religious practice will prove to be counterproductive. The covenantal Jewish narrative, imbedded in the Hebrew calendar and our national literature, should not be relegated top what is wrongly called “the Jewish religion/” it is more properly seen as the civilization of Judaism that encompasses the totality of Jewish expression and covenantal mission…
Assuming responsibility for non-halakhic Jews in Israel: Jewish religious leaders must take responsibility for the more than 300,000 Israelis (mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union) who do not fulfill the classic legal criteria of Jewish identity. By joining the nation of Israel, these people have chosen to join our “covenant of fate and destiny…”
Two new opportunities: Just warfare and justice for the stranger: Finally, the recent Jewish return to our national homeland offers two historic opportunities for renewing and rethinking two areas of Judaism that had been previously left to the dustbins of history during our exile. First, for good or for ill, Jews have returned to the necessity of engaging in defensive warfare. Rabbinical authorities ought to declare that participating in the defense of the Jewish people by serving in the IDF is a moral and religious obligation that devolves upon all Israelis, with only limited exceptions… Rabbis, military experts and ethicists need to advance new legal and moral standards for legitimate contemporary warfare…
Second, Israelis and Israeli law must treat the minorities living in the Jewish state as Jews have hoped the host countries of our exile would have done for us. During exile we were the stranger – the ultimate Other, outcasts struggling for basic human rights and safe havens. We now have the opportunity to breathe life into the ancient biblical concept of ger toshov, the non-Jewish resident alien in Jewish society… such a legislative policy regarding the minorities in Israel would indeed be a light unto the nations of the world.S. Riskin, The Living Tree: Studies in Modern Orthodoxy, 2014, pp. 211-215.
- What role does Israel play in the thought of these contemporary Jewish thinkers?
- How does this compare to the approach of Rabbi Sacks?
- Do you think they conflict, compliment, or add to the approach of Rabbi Sacks?
François-René de Chateaubriand
The French historian Chateaubriand visited Jerusalem in 1806. There he found a tiny Jewish community whose persistence filled him with awe. Speaking of the Jewish settlement, he wrote:
It has seen Jerusalem destroyed seventeen times, yet there exists nothing in the world which can discourage it or prevent it from raising its eyes to Zion. He who beholds the Jews dispersed over the face of the earth, in keeping with the Word of God, lingers and marvels. But he will be struck with amazement, as at a miracle, who finds them still in Jerusalem and perceives even, who in law and justice are the masters of Judea, to exist as slaves and strangers in their own land; how despite all abuses they await the king who is to deliver them … If there is anything among the nations of the world marked with the stamp of the miraculous, this, in our opinion, is that miracleRaphael Mahler, A History of Modern Jewry 1780–1815, New York, Schocken Books, 1971, p. 621.
Renowned Victorian novelist George Eliot’s seventh and final novel was Daniel Deronda, in which the main character is prophesied by a dying young visionary to be destined to lead the Jewish people back to the land of Israel. Daniel is unaware of any link he should have to this people or this land, but as the story unfolds, he discovers much about his own Jewish heritage.
Ten years before the word Zionism was first used, George Eliot (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans) wrote this novel inspired by her unlikely friendship with a Jewish scholar. This book had significant influence on the burgeoning Zionist movement which followed.
The heritage of Israel is beating in the pulse of millions; it lives in their veins as a power without understanding […]. Let the torch be lit. Let the reason of Israel disclose itself in a great outward deed, and let there be another great migration, another choosing of Israel to be a nationality… Let the central fire be kindled again, and the light will reach afar. The degraded and scorned of our race will learn of their sacred land, not as a place for saintly beggary to await death in loathsome idleness, but where the Jewish spirit manifests itself in a new order, purified a republic.Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, 1876.
Possible Lesson Plan
The following lesson plan is a suggestion of how some of the resources contained in this unit could be incorporated into a 60-minute class period for a high-school age class. This will focus solely on the question of Why this land? in thought of Rabbi Sacks. If you wish to incorporate other themes and sources into your class, more than sixty minutes will be necessary.
Download our 60-minute class for high-school age classes
Bet Nidrash on Israel
Having completed your study of this topic, you may wish to embark with your students on a “Bet Nidrash” on the topic, a practical project based on what you have learned and discussed. The term “Bet Nidrash” is a play on the term Bet Midrash (study hall) replacing the word for study (Midrash) with the word Nidrash, which means “required” or an “imperative”. This suggests that one’s study should not be just for its own sake, but rather a means to an end, to improve oneself and the world around us. Rabbi Sacks’ philosophy and writings were always focused not on the theoretical, but on the deeply practical. He urged for the ideas he wrote about to be implemented outside of the walls of the Bet Midrash, in the real world.
Using the texts found in this unit (Once Israel saved Jews. Now it will save Judaism and Israel the Land of Hope) ask your students to design a school-wide program to celebrate the State of Israel (perhaps in conjunction with Yom Ha’atzmaut) to bring the story of Israel and the State of Israel today to your school to inspire and strengthen Jewish identity and pride.