What do we mean by “Our Land”?

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In this session we are going to try to do the impossible: We are going to try to find some deep philosophical issues in the behavior of Bart Simpson. For this purpose you only need watch the first 10 minutes of the episode “Crepes of Wrath”. It is possible to buy this episode, or you can click on one of these free links:

Link one, and link two

barts room

There is a conflict – and there are casualties – because one member of the family has not tidied up after himself. Bart believes that he should be allowed to leave his belongings all over the house – not just all over his room – and that it should be his father’s responsibility to avoid stepping on them. Marge believes that Bart should tidy up his room – she seems to view the stuff in the hall as “overflow”. Homer just lies there.


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Geography – getting to know the land – 2

Israel is of course a lot of different things – a state, a vision, a symbol, the scenery of history – but most basically, it is a geographical entity, a place, with distinct characteristics of topography, climate, flora and fauna, and natural resources.  Obviously, traveling in Israel (or living there) is necessary for one to get a “feel” for the place, to “know” it.  On the other hand, sometimes even traveling or living in a place runs into the problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees.  Through satellite and aerial photos, of course maps, and written descriptions, we can get a sense of the big picture, of the lay of the land.  This lesson will present some activities and resources to help accomplish this; however, we hope it will be just the initial experience of an ongoing practice of turning to the map to locate and imagine every historical event and personality connected with Israel.


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Locating ourselves on the map of history – 3

Just as this course assumes that a fully realized Jewish identity should include feeling at home in the geography of Israel even if one has never set foot there, so too, we feel it is important to be oriented in the “map” of Jewish history: to have a sense of the flow of Jewish chronology in the context of world history, to be aware of major turning points and personalities.  Moreover, we believe it is important for a teacher to be involved in the conversation about the historical significance of Israel: did the Jews “leave history” when they lost their national independence?  Did we “return to history” in 1948?  Are we living in messianic times?  How we relate to Israel and how we teach Israel are inseparable from these philosophical questions.


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Early Ties II: Isaac and Jacob in and out of the Land – 5

Clearly, the roots of our connection to Eretz Yisrael are perceived by the tradition to lie in the experiences of the patriarchs.  Abraham’s experience was unique, as the first generation – the founder, the immigrant, the progenitor.  The next two generations were already “natives” and provide for us a different kind of model, with some different motifs and issues.  This lesson will examine the texts describing Isaac’s and Jacob’s links to the land.  As with the preceding lesson, the focus here is on peshat, the plain meaning of the text.


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The Desert Experience – 8

The saga of the 40 years of wandering in the desert  takes up the better part of  two books in the Pentateuch – the Book of Numbers (called Bamidbar – ‘In the Desert’- in Hebrew), and Deuteronomy describe the experiences of the people of Israel in the desert. In this lesson  we will try to examine the different ways the desert experience affected and influenced the people and its relationship to thelandofIsrael. We will do so by closely studying two specific episodes – the story of the spies and that of the two and a half tribes that requested the land outside the promised borders. These stories form “bookends” to the 40 years of wandering in the desert. The sin of the spies resulted in the decree that the nation would not enter the land until all the present generation had died and is therefore the beginning of the extended desert stay. The story of the two and a half tribes takes place at the end of the forty years as the new generation prepares to enter thelandofIsrael. As such they provide an interesting contrast to each other and cast light on the entire period. (more…)

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“…For the land is Mine” – laws governing the use of the land – 9

The Torah – given in the desert – contains a number of laws that restricted our freedom to exploit the land upon our entry into it.  These include limits on when we may work the land, what we may sow and how we may harvest – and also taxation on the produce.  Since these commandments are only binding on Jews living on their land in Eretz Yisrael, the tradition developed a special attachment to them – as long as we are living in exile, we are denied the opportunity to fulfill these mitzvot, so our religious life is incomplete.  These laws therefore came to symbolize the specialness of the land, our connection to it, and our longing for it when we are in exile.  Of the various land-based laws, the sabbatical year (shmita) is probably the best known example, and one whose restoration has generated interesting debates over the past century and a half, so we will examine it as a case study in this unit.  This exploration will touch on questions about the nature of land ownership, about mechanisms of social justice, and about the relevance of biblical precepts in the post-biblical era.


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The Covenant, the Land, the Hand of God in History – 10

We will discuss the covenantal view of history and its implications for our reading of the biblical historical narrative and rabbinic texts; does God determine history as a response to our merits/sins? Does this imply we should undertake a passive role when national disasters occur, since they are simply the hand of God dealing out our due punishment? Is there a rational way to interpret the same concept of historical consequences for our actions?  How do we relate to and teach this concept after the Holocaust?  What does this mean for the modern State of Israel – do we have an unconditional right to the Land, or is it dependent upon our actions?


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Adam v’adama: The relationship between people and land – 11

This lesson looks at our relationship to the land through an ecological lens.  What can we learn from the Bible regarding the general obligation of humans to care for the earth vs. their right to exploit it for their benefit?  And what obligations, if any, do we have as Jews to care for the natural resources and landscape of the Land of Israel?  Today it is common in the west to speak of our species’ obligation to use the land without abusing it, to see our benefiting from the land as conditional upon our respecting it.  We tend to associate these ideas of integration of human activity into the cycles of nature as vaguely pagan in origin or in spirit.  The question is: in an ecological perspective, what kind of relationship to the land do we find in Jewish sources?  How does the modern enterprise of reclaiming and settling the Land of Israel relate to Jewish ecological concepts?


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