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[Page 157]

Chapter 8


Words of Contemplation

kat163.jpg [29 KB]
Interior of the Great Synagogue

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The land of Israel, and the State of Israel

Rabbi Mordechaj Fogelman

Translation edited by Lisa Newman


The declaration establishing the State of Israel remarks repeatedly that the Israeli state is no new creation, but rather a renewal of the ancient Jewish state. If so, it should not have been called the “State of Israel”, but rather called by its original name, “Eretz (Land of) Israel”.

The British mandate government used the term “Palestine – Eretz Israel” to the last moment it was here. But ever since the national rebirth began, this name has been fading from our memory. Israeli government and institutions, in journalism, literature and science use only the name “ State of Israel”. But using this term to define Israel's newly sovereign zone is inaccurate, and is substantially different from the original term “land”, “Eretz”.

“Eretz Israel” in the Bible

The term “Eretz Israel” appears in the bible, at times relating only to the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, and elsewhere to the land that includes both kingdoms, as in “With Godly sight he brought me to the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 40:2).

Israel in Mishna and Gemara

The name Eretz Israel is found in numerous places in Talmudic literature, both written and oral traditions. Talmud Yerushalmi is often called “Talmud Eretz Israel” by later commentators.

The “state” in the bible

In biblical language, “state” does not stand for an independent, sovereign country. It regularly stands for a region, a district, an area etc. Lands that were conquered by an empire were related to as attached “states”, as was normal in the days of the ancient kingdoms of Persia and Babylon, as well as in the Roman Empire

The “State” in Talmudic and commentator writings

The term “state” in later literature has the same meaning it had in the bible: a county, an area, a region or even a city. (Aramaic examples: Gittin 2:2, Bava Batra 38:1 and the commentary).

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In other places throughout the midrash , for example, in Vayikra Rabba, 80, 11:7 – “… as king's orders that were brought into the state…”, it means a province of the Roman Empire.

Nonetheless, the word “medina” (state) is sometimes mentioned in the context of a major city or a capital, as it is in Pesachim, 51:1, and in Kiddushin, 68: “Ramla state which is bordering with Lod”.

A later example is found in Maimonides' prime work, “Mishne torah”. In his book, the word “state” is regularly used as a replacement for the earlier words for city or metropolis. He uses “state” in his definitions for different types of cities, as found in Hilchot Megila, 81:5-34. the word “city” is in fact the term he uses instead of the earlier “kfar” – a village.

In the traditional Aramaic versions that are used to the present day in Jewish marriage contracts – Ketubah, (or divorce) certificates, the “state” usually means a region or, in other versions, a major city. The exact meaning depends on various conditions, but it is never used to denote a “country”.

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The origins for the usage of “state” in the meaning of “country”

The word “state” in the context of “country” first appears during the last centuries of the medieval era. It seems to be an adaptation of the Greek term “Polis”, that meant both 'city' and 'kingdom', that gradually entered European languages and came into Hebrew through the Arabic translations of Greek essays and works. The Modern Hebrew words that vary on this root – Medina, Medini etc. likely derive from this source.

Spoken Language

Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, the terms “land of Israel” and “in our land” (Eretz) have been disappearing from common usage. Schools, universities and newspapers exclusively use the term “State of Israel”.

Some believe that 'State' expresses our reign and sovereignty in our own country, while 'Land' lacks this meaning. Through this persistent usage of the term 'state' as the definition of our being here, the public may be – even unconsciously – expressing its deep feeling of pride in the self-government we missed so much during our thousands of years in exile.

The unfortunate truth is, however, that this idea is historically incorrect, as we proved from Jewish sources (further reading is recommended): the term 'state' always meant either a region, a district, a province or a municipality, but never an independent country. As a matter of fact, the foundation of our right on this land is in the biblical name “Eretz Israel”: it is the land that connects us with the ancient, biblical promise to our people's continuous right on this land, a right that we kept during 4000 years of wandering among the nations. Throughout our exile, it was the land of Israel that we dreamt of as we set down and wept – not only on the rivers of Babylon, but also on those of Germany, Russia and Poland.

The “Eretz Israel” project

In my opinion, it is essential to take action in order to change the situation – and restore the term “Eretz Israel”, to its original respectable meaning and usage. This can be done through a series of articles and notices in the press, classes and lectures, especially to school students. The project's general concepts are:

  1. the term “State of Israel” is not fit to replace the term “Land of Israel”.
  2. the term “Land of Israel” associates the renewing Israel with the ancient Israeli kingdoms of old. This name was our companion during our history, and it symbolizes our continuity and permanence as a nation.
  3. following the Holocaust, the worst tragedy our people had ever suffered, with God's aid we gained our land back, wider than ever. Jerusalem, Israel's capital, and the Temple Mount are both back in our hands again. Therefore, from this day on we must call the State of Israel by its full 300 year-old, magnificent name: Eretz Israel.

(An abstract, extracted and translated from a transcript taken from “Torah SheBeal-peh”, the Kook Institute Press, Jerusalem 1974)

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To Live – means to take action
(Thoughts for the month of Ellul)

Rav Kalman Chameides

Translation edited by Lisa Newman


One's character is revealed most clearly in moments of great shock, by the way he reacts to horrors, the way he behaves when in despair and distress, by his thoughts in the face of death – This is the only real factor determining his true personality.

We admire Socrates not necessarily for how he lived, but more commonly because of the way he died. The scene of his death is what turns him, in our eyes, into a wise man and a philosopher. Only at hour of his death is he revealed to us in all of his soul's glory, courageously dying for the sake of his beliefs, staring calmly at death's face. This very calm, this very courage, are what earned him the admiration of generations to come, convincing them that the ancients knew not only how to live and teach well, but also how to die well.

Our people's history includes a long line of men willing to sacrifice their lives in the fields of Torah. It brings to mind the story of the famous sage, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Bava:

The Roman Empire once ordered that all ordained Rabbis and all those who ordain others be killed, and all cities where Rabbis are ordained be ruined. What did Rabbi Yehuda Ben Bava do? He sat between two great mountains and two cities, Usah and Shefaram. There he ordained these five sages: Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Simeon, Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamoa.

As they were found by soldiers and about to be caught, he told them, My sons, run! They asked him,: And what about you, Rabbi? He answered: I shall lie at their feet as a heavy stone that cannot be removed. And it is told, that they didn't leave the place until they punctured his body with three hundred iron blades.

Only very few are fortunate enough to risk their lives for the sake of a truly great idea. Most of us might be described, in the words of a common saying, as “reluctantly living, reluctantly dying”.

  1. If so, what is the genuine Jewish approach towards death? How should a Jewish soul react to this last dark event, which lets no living man escape? This question is answered clearly and sharply by the verse often quoted in face of disaster: “Hatzur Tamim Poalo”: (all of God's deeds are righteous and complete). A Jewish man is required to accept death with faith and devotion. He perceivess death as merely a message of God's will and his justice. Even if the raw pain depresses him, He does not blame the divine providence. This is how a Jew captures the rules of nature, the eternal coming and going of creatures and human lives. The same way flowers bloom and wither, the same way the stars shine and fade away, the prophet reminds us, “Do not mourn the dead!”. Not to mourn, but to understand that death is a part of the universal plan, and that even through death we remain with God and inside him. Death is just a passageway, a door, and it is controlled with grace and mercy just as our life was.
  2. Why is it then that even in the bible “life” is considered a blessing, and “death” is used as a punishment? If life and death are all the same, then why are we praying for life at all?

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    Why should we be afraid of death, being as faithful as we are? And why does the Torah often offer life and longevity as rewards? The answer to all of these questions is found in understanding that the true meaning of Judaism is deeds. “When a person dies, he is free from Torah and Mitzvoth”. Outside this life, there is no existence for commandments or prohibitions, no morality, justice or empathy. The commandments are valid only in this world, and being beyond life also means going beyond good and evil.

    The Midrash tells the story of God's debate with the angels after Moses was elevated to heaven in order to receive the Torah. The angels try to understand how is it possible to give such a highly gem to a human. Moses is invited to answer them, and he reminds them that all the Mitzvahs relate to humans: the angels have no parents to respect, they feel no desire of murder, no jealousy or greed. These feeling are possible only in this life, therefore only here can we accomplish the core goal of Torah and become polished, better, persons.

    This is how the Torah is bound with life, as a defining force. This is why it encourages us to choose life and admire it so greatly. A Jew yearns for constant action, he wants to do! And as this world is the only place where the chance to act is given, we pray for life.

    Only rarely does a Jew dare to scorn life and give it away willingly: Every time he is oppressed due to his religiosity. he climbs the bonfire with no hesitation, because for him life has lost its ideal value. We are not afraid of death, we merely need life in order to fulfill our duties. During history, we revealed more than one Socrates who died for his Torah, but the Torah itself commands us to choose life, to love it!

    Our life as Jews is actually meaningless without death. By considering the edge of human existence, the end of the road, our life on this side gains its eternal value. Delving into death teaches us to respect life and treat it as a short day of work.

    As we mention and remember the dead, and the memory of those who have gone renews the pain of their departure in our hearts, we can use this pain to renew our awareness of our life's meaning, as put into words by the Psalmist:

    “For I asked the lord for one thing, and it is my wish: to rest in the house of the lord all the days of my life…”


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