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