The Holiness of the Land of Israel

“The land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the land disgorged its inhabitants.” (VAYIKRA 18:25)

The Ramban expounds on this verse by teaching that HaShem (G-d) has placed angelic forces to rule over virtually the entire world. Nearly every country has a designated angel acting as an intermediary between that nation and the Kadosh Barukh Hu (G-d). In fact, only in the Land of Israel – where HaShem’s Divine Providence is direct – are there no spiritual liaisons between Him and man. As a result, the Hebrew Nation can only engage in a pure Divine service, without any foreign barriers or impurities, when situated within the borders of our country. This is how the Ramban explains the Talmud’s harsh declaration that “All who live in Eretz Yisrael resemble one who has a G-D, and all who live outside of Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) resemble one who has no G-D” (Ketubot 110b).

In the Diaspora, a Jew’s service to HaShem actually moves through these intermediary forces and works to increase their spiritual power, leading them to then strengthen the countries over which they preside. The Ramban’s explanation is supported by the fact that throughout the long exile of the Jewish people from our land, many of the countries in which we wandered had become great powers on the world stage. Their cultures, economies and diplomatic standings flourished while Jews were practicing mitzvot (commandments) within their borders. But often as a nation would mistreat us, however, we would be forced to relocate and the country left behind would begin its historic decline. This remarkable pattern was relatively common during the centuries of our exile.

Simply by living Torah lives in foreign lands, Jews actually strengthen the celestial powers of those nations. The Ramban teaches that Israel’s inadvertent bolstering of these intermediary spiritual forces is actually a form of idolatry, as pure Divine service can only take place within the Land of Israel. While HaShem is equally present and supreme over the entire universe, there is a distinction in our ability to connect with Him and actualize His Ideal based on our own physical location.

Every mitzvah (commandment) is like a faucet that, when opened, releases Divine blessing into our world and elevates it to a level beyond where it previously existed. These faucets, however, must be connected to the correct plumbing in order for this blessing to successfully flow through them. The Torah, which was given to Israel to be performed specifically in our homeland, is connected to the plumbing of Eretz Yisrael. A person who performs mitzvot outside the Land of Israel is essentially turning on a faucet without a pipe. No blessing flows through. The physical act was completed but not according to the Torah’s instruction. A Jew practicing mitzvot in the exile may be performing the ritual precepts but he is not enhancing Creation on any spiritual plane. There are no pipes behind his actions because the full expression of HaShem’s Torah is only realized when performed inside the Land of Israel (as nearly the entire Book of DEVARIM instructs).

HaShem divided the world between peoples and gave each one a particular territory appropriate for its specific historic role. He fashioned Am Yisrael and set us in the center of His blueprint – within the borders exclusively suited to our unique inner kedusha and national mission. Like the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel enjoys a special relationship with HaShem. Eretz Yisrael is the point of intersection between our physical world and the Divine. Nefesh HaḤaim (4:11) explains that “G-D, Israel and the Torah are One.” HaShem manifests His greatness in our world through Divinely designated receptacles of kedusha. Just as the Torah serves as the Kadosh Barukh Hu’s written expression, the Nation of Israel is His national representation in human form. Similarly, the Almighty’s manifestation of kedusha in geographic form appears as the Land of Israel. Therefore, a Divine Providence graces Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all other places and it is only within our homeland that the Jewish people can truly realize the fulfillment of our national mission.

Only once HaShem’s representatives in this world are able to function according to our full potential can the ultimate expression of His Ideal be revealed. Only when the entire Hebrew Nation is situated in and sovereign over all of Eretz Yisrael – while living a national life expressing the full grandeur of Torah – can the goal of human history at long last be achieved.

It is impossible for a Jew to actualize his full potential outside his homeland, no matter how many mikvah baths, kosher restaurants oryeshivot his community boasts. Eretz Yisrael is not simply a better place to perform mitzvot but actually the only place to perform mitzvot. Rashi (quoting our Sages in his commentary to DEVARIM11:18) teaches that Jews must continue to observe Torah commandments even in the Diaspora to ensure these commandments remain familiar to us for when we eventually return home to our borders. Ramban, in his commentary to VAYIKRA 18:25, further elaborates on this concept by explaining that the Torah is meant to be observed specifically in Eretz Yisrael. The mitzvot only fulfill their true Divine function when performed within the borders of our country. And only by actualizing the Torah’s full expression can Israel bring humanity to universal redemption.

Response to “Jews are NOT indigenous”

In response to an article by Donny Fuchs in The Jewish Press, titled “Jews are NOT indigenous,” attacking those of us advocating the Jewish people’s indigenous status in the Land of Israel I say:

Jews are indeed indigenous to the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is the place where our people, culture, language, and deep spiritual worldview developed. It’s the cradle of Hebrew civilization. Although I’ve also noticed a recent increase in professional Israel advocates employing an indigenous argument as a tactic for promoting Jewish rights and justifying Israel’s existence (sadly without internalizing what it really means to be indigenous), Jewish indigeneity wasn’t recently invented by these people. For thousands of years, Jews have self-identified as indigenous, referring to Israel as “admat avoteinu” — “the land of our forefathers,” and even non-observant Jews were willing to die fighting the British in order to liberate what they viewed as their ancestral homeland from foreign occupation.

“The Canaanites”

As for the biblical historiographic claim regarding the “Canaanites” (who no longer exist as a self-identified people), it should first be noted that the Ramban explains the journey of Avraham’s family to the Land of Canaan as a return to their own homeland. According to the Ramban, Ur Kasdim had been a foreign country that the family had previously migrated to. And on the verse Fuchs cites at the top of his article — “Avram passed through the land… the Canaanites were then in the land” (Genesis 12:6-7), Rashi states that when Avraham arrived, the Canaanites had been trying to conquer the country, but God desired to give the land to Avraham, in accordance with Noah’s division in which the Land of Israel fell to Avraham’s ancestor Shem and his descendants (our Sages, in both talmudic and midrashic literature, unanimously identify Malkitzedek — the king of Jerusalem in Avraham’s generation — with Shem).

In their attempt to explain the word “אז” (“then” or “at that time”), other commentators, such as Ibn Ezra, also mention that the Canaanites were only in the land at the time when Avraham arrived, but not previously. The fact that our Sages and teachers are even discussing these issues reveals that the concept of indigineity isn’t foreign to our authentic culture or identity. And when Yosef later tells Pharaoh that he had been “stolen from the Land of the Hebrews,” it’s clear that Canaan had been known by this name in ancient Egypt.

Moreover, even if the author’s claim were to be correct, Jews would still easily be considered indigenous. A few days after Fuchs published his article, the Jerusalem Post published the discovery of a 2,500-year-old seal from First Temple period with the Hebrew name “Elihana bat Ga’el.” The fact that this land holds the cultural and traditional genesis of our entire civilization is more than enough to be considered indigenous, irrespective of any previous Canaanites (although a country can have more than one indigenous population). The fact that when young Jews run around the Judean mountains, they relate to the earth under their feet as the same ancient ground walked by their ancestors and ancient national heroes is all that is needed.

“Racist and messianic”

The author claims that the notion of indigeneity is based on “racist, blood-based theories”. Of course, there is nothing racist about qualifying as indigenous. In fact, according to the UN’s definition, one must not even be linked by ancestry in order to be considered indigenous. Therefore, “converts” (an English mistranslation for those who naturalize into our people) are also indigenous by definition, as they join the Tribes of Israel and therefore become part of our collective story.

While Fuchs dismisses the United Nations definition as being foreign to our own culture and rightfully claims that the “Balfour Declarations and U.N. votes are of zero worth for the Torah Jew,” he oddly fails to recognize that it is our own culture that very much recognizes ancestry, lineages, tribalism, communal hierarchy and many other notions foreign to Western democracies, but very much in alignment with indigenous peoples. Do we not attempt to preserve the lineages of the Kohanim (and who does Fuchs think they are descendants of if not the Levite sub-tribe that lived here long ago)? Does Ezra not speak of “the holy seed” of Israel that must be preserved? Ezra’s concept wasn’t race-based (a concept foreign at that time), but a spiritual concept embedded in reality, like all Torah ideals, and in this case through tribal lineages and ancestry.

As for the claim that “some of these indigenous rights activists have alliances and friendships with missionary groups and prominent messianic personalities” — I can’t speak for all Jews who identify as indigenous, but the LAVI movement with which I am associated not only opposes any cooperation or alliances with Christian groups, but also views missionary activity as a form of cultural colonization that we as an indigenous people must resist.

“Divine right only”

In the author’s opinion, the only claim to be advocated is our God-given right to the land. This may be a legitimate outlook, yet I fail to see how Divine inheritance negates our qualification as indigenous. While we do not require an indigenous claim to justify our Divine inheritance, we certainly do classify as such. And the same God who granted us this land also authored history in such a way to provide us with an indigenous claim to it. And I for one believe that we are obligated to use all tools available in advancing our Divine mission. In fact, assuming Fuchs agrees that Israel’s Divine mission requires us to maintain political independence in our land, I’d like to ask if he thinks we better serve our God by putting forward biblical arguments only few can appreciate (most notably the Christian Zionists he fears) or by asserting indigenous rights that communicate our story in a language the outside world can understand?

I also find it interesting that the author does not seem to be as troubled by countless other non-Divine-inheritance-based advocacy claims, such as by those who claim we have a right to be here, “because we need security/because Europe hates us/because we’re technologically developed/because Tel-Aviv has gay parades.” One must question why then does the author only choose to attack those of us who proudly state that we actually belong here, that our people are deeply rooted here, that this is our ancestral homeland and that this is the only country our people have ever called home?

The fear of advocating Jewish indigeneity

Although the article was titled “Jews are NOT indigenous,” a possibly more appropriate title might have been “My FEAR of advocating Jewish indigeneity.” The author’s real concern, which by the very nature of semi-conscious fears — was presented only as a sideline issue to the “stupid” notion that Jews are indigenous, is that identifying as indigenous would open a “dangerous” Pandora’s box.

Of course, Jewish activists haven’t recently opened any box. Some of us have simply stopped ignoring the issue that has been at the center of this conflict for years. As Fuchs seems to acknowledge, Palestinians have been claiming indigeneity for decades. In fact, indigeneity is the base on which all other Palestinian claims are built upon. Palestinian indigeneity isn’t something that might be suddenly acknowledged if Jews advocate our own indigenous status; it is something that almost everyone outside of the pro-Israel choir already take for granted, while our roots here are being denied (and easily so, as we have failed to speak of them for so long). All claims against Jews and Israel are based on the notion that Jews are foreign colonialists with no real historical or cultural connection to this land. Israel advocacy professionals have for years been avoiding the indigenous issue, in hopes that Bar Rafaeli and Tel Aviv beaches would be enough to make our national case.

And so instead of continuing to ignore the issues underpinning the conflict, we have taken the stage and decided to speak up and assert the fact that Eretz Yisrael is first and foremost the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, irrespective of security issues, not as a tactic against Palestinian claims but as an historic truth central to the story of our people.

You might claim indigeneity to be “un-Jewish” Mr. Fuchs but nothing feels more natural for me than to declare myself a Jew indigenous to the Land of Israel.

(This article originally appeared on Times of Israel)