Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whose land is it anyway?

In the last minute rush for Palestinian Statehood, there has been a flurry of attention on Israel. One comment in today's Guardian caught my eye.

"If the Palestinians want a state, they can go to Europe or the US – it's very nice there," said Michael Ben Ari, a member of the Israeli parliament. "This is the land of Israel and we are here forever."

Now, MK Michael ben Ari is as extreme as it gets, he is an open follower of the rascist Kach ideology, so I don't expect too much from him. But here, he expresses an idea that too many religious Jews hold, and that is patently wrong. Are we here forever? Just read the Parsha!

I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Devarim 30:16-19)
The land of Israel is not ours; it is God's, and he will allow us to live here if we follow the Torah, if we act morally. When Israel fall short of their religious and moral calling, then we lose the land. We should be paying as much attention to morals, as politics and the military.


Anonymous said...

Its seems to be no mistake that Rabbi Israel passes on the opportunity to clearly mention the belief that God has designated land to the Jews. The verses he cites allude to it (other verses more clearly speak of ownership by way of Divine right), but Rabbi Alex draws our attention elsewhere. That the possession of the land is contingent on God's assessment of Israel's behavior should be a trivial and obvious point for any pious reader. Morality is a crucial element in religion and, with God as the moral arbiter, God does what God wills. But who else is he trying to talk to? Were a Jewish clergyman to openly acknowledge his simple belief that God gave land to Israel, he would undermine his influence when preaching morality to anyone other than the pious (let alone politics). This may be an example of a sermon being less grounded in religious principle and more a display of how elegantly one can avoid being rejected as a religious radical. His dismissal of Michael ben Ari's ideology as "extreme" and "racist" was a clever diversion from (what I suspect are) Rabbi Israels' own religious convictions about who is currently in rightful possession of Palestine.
Such subtle shame is scantily found when Muslim and Christian clergyman's discuss their political and moral convictions about Israel. Michael ben Ari may be among them, but at least we can admire his religious sincerity and ideological consistency.

Alex Israel said...

1. The fact that Christian and Muslim clergy talk in certainties makes no difference to me. The truth is the truth. We cannot falsify the Torah.

2. The land IS promised times after time to the forefathers and we have eternal claim to the land. (See Bereshit 12:7; 13:16-17; 15:13-20; 17:8; 26:3-4; 28:13; 3512; Shemot 3:8; 6:8; 23:20) So it is forever standing in wait for the Jewish people.

3. BUT regarding our tenure on the land, the Torah explicitly tells us that we can be removed if we misbehave. See VAyikra 18:24-30; Vayikra ch.26; Bamidbar 33:55-6; Devarim 4:25-26; 6:15; 8:19-20; 11:8-10, 13-21; 28:15-68; ch.29 etc.
This is not pietism. This is called the covenant.

4. So, in conclusion, we are not "here forever". Eretz Yisrael is the legacy of the Jewish people forever. Whether we remain here is dependent upon God. And God says that it is dependent upon us keeping the mitzvot.

The entire Tanakh is based upon this premise.

I challenge you to find any source that says otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Would the juxtaposition between the first and last sentences in your first paragraph create an enlightening irony for you? Maybe you're already aware of it.

Let me be as clear as possible: Your position is no more productive than Ben Ari's (let alone the sentiments preached by Christian and Muslim clergymen).

I will grant you one distinctive quality in your writing from Ben Ari's rhetoric. Your post, a spiritually sensitive caveat regarding the stewardship of the holy land, holds no purpose other than to perpetuate a notion of religious passivity. It was largely secular Jews, who saw themselves as lifting the drag of God's "covenant" from their hearts, who worked and fought to earn themselves stewardship of Israel. The critique of the religious ideals of redemption, which can be found in the writings of Hazaz or Bialik, accurately place your preaching in its proper context. The longing for a renewal of "the days of old," the demand for self-improvement and an enhanced relationship between man and God is all well and good for the pious. But it did nothing to permit you your house in Israel. Did it?

What's wrong here, is you are using religious teaching in a vain, worthless quibble. You are attempting to put down a clearly religious man who is willing to envision his residence in the Holy Land as a Divine right. You, on the other hand, conceal your convictions behind the innocence and purity that comes with uncertainty regarding the status of the Covenant. Did God give the land of Israel to the Jews this day? Are the Jews working to maintain their God given land? Ben Ari, at least, has an answer. Do you? No more games. Be serious.

Let me try to give your rational some realistic implications. If you get expelled from Israel, then you ascribe it as a consequence of the Divine covenantal relationship. Will you fight to reclaim the land?

If you say, surely not. You might reason that you were just expelled, perhaps for some moral deficiency, and are therefore undeserving to inhabit the land.

If you prefer a sentiment akin to: "and to Jerusalem Your city, with mercy You will return us!" then you condemn yourself to the national passivity and the stagnant habits of your European and Russian Rabbinic predecessors, before certain Jews decided that they would not wait for God's approval.

You live and work and feel God's approval by virtue of the efforts and struggles of Jews who removed God's yolk. You also preach righteousness from the Torah (which could be good). But to direct your teachings against a religious man who is willing to take a stand on what he believes is God's will, while your own convictions remain shrouded in humble, uncertain innocence, is poor form.

Whatever one's views on the Torah are, the open religious conviction of people like Ben Ami on the one hand, and the determined nationalistic values of secular Jews share something in common: they are explicit, and are practical in their ideologies.

What do you have to offer other than condemnation rooted in biblical ambiguity and a cliche call for people to behave themselves?

In introducing God's covenant you do 3 things:
(1) You call for religious improvement, this is a triviality for the already observant.
(2) You protectively preclude yourself from answering my question about whether or not the Jews deserve the land because God wills it. Prove me wrong on this. Answer me.
(3) You use it as a platform to righteously condemn a man who is willing to answer that question.