By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I am often faced with kids and groups on my campus who have only negative things to say about Israel and are always defending the Palestinians. Overall, they feel that the Israelis stole the land from the Palestinians who were there before them. Besides needing historical material to answer them (and, at times, even the professors), I also would like to have a better understanding of Israel and what it represents to me Jewishly, not just politically. Do you have any suggestions?
Firstly, I would recommend doing some reading to get caught up on the key historical and political facts concerning Israel’s history and right to exist. Two excellent books on the subject are “A Place Among the Nations” by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and “The Case for Israel” by attorney and professor Alan Dershowitz. In addition, I suggest you contact the important Israel lobby organization AIPAC, which has a special arm for the training of college students in exactly what you are asking, to have the ability to defend, and to reach out and create positive feelings for, Israel on campus.
In his classical commentary on the first verse of the Torah, Rashi poses the question: The Torah is not meant to be a history book, rather a book of law. If so, why does the Torah begin at the time of creation rather than with the first law given to the Jews in Egypt? Rashi offers a timeless answer, chilling us with today’s goings-on: “If one day a nation will come and claim that Israel doesn’t belong to the Jews and they stole it, they can produce the Torah which states that G-d created the earth, it belongs to Him; He gave it to Abraham and his offspring forever.”
In the classic text of Jewish philosophy “Kuzari” (R’ Yehuda Halevi, 12th-century Spain) the verse is quoted stating that Israel is the land that “G-d’s eyes are upon constantly” (Deuteronomy 11:12), and from time immemorial it was the chosen land, the desire and jealousy of the world. The fight between Cain and Abel was over its ownership, as was the dispute between Isaac and Ishmael. When Abraham merited to father the Chosen People, he was gifted the land by G-d as the custom-made place for him and his offspring to fulfill their mission, at the “gate of heaven.” Only a nation which is dedicated to the fulfillment of G-d’s will in the world would merit this land.
There are numerous prophecies that if the Jews will not fulfill their mission, they will temporarily be taken out of the land. At the same time, those prophecies foretell that as long as the rightful owners — the Jews — are off the land it will lie barren (Leviticus 26:32-33, Deuteronomy 29:21-22, Jeremiah 9:10, Ezekiel 33:28-29). Nachmanides (12th-century Spain) explains that this is a blessing in disguise, proclaiming that throughout all our exiles, our land will not accept our enemies. This is a proof and assurance to us of our eventual return, that since the time we left, it was completely in ruins, and many had attempted to conquer and settle it to no avail. Mark Twain and others in the mid-1800s who traveled to Israel wrote at length about its astonishing emptiness of flora, fauna and humans in the land that was once flowing with milk and honey. Only with the return of the Jews, its rightful owners, did it begin to again flourish and blossom, once more becoming the stage for us to perform our holy mission — may it truly be used for that mission!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried