“I told the soldiers I teach: Love of Israel is not love of the land; it’s love of the people living in the land. There is no holiness in earth.”
— Rabbi David Hartman
True, the notion of “holy land” in our culture is dangerous; it often serves as a theological excuse to appropriate property and persecute others. However, saying that there is no holiness in the earth is also problematic. It makes us detached. It undermines our culture’s ancient, inseparable connection between “Adam” (ost), the first human, and “adamah” (vnst, “earth”). It threatens to disconnect us from our physical surroundings and from our physical selves. Particularly in an age of extreme consumerism, globalization, and cyber-technology, we have to take care to maintain our relationship with our simple, local, physical reality.
In our tradition, place, makom (ouen), is one of the most common and significant names given to God. This name originates in Jacob’s dream. He awakens and says: “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”
As with Jacob, our spirituality should reach for the heavens, yet grow out of the stones that are found in our local environment. We can make every place into “beit El,” the house of God, if only we remember to dream up a ladder that connects and reconnects “who we are” and “where we are.” In this sense, the land is holy, and it is our ongoing responsibility to keep it so.
— Or Zohar
What do people in Israel today mean when they say that the land of Israel is holy? I Googled vnstv ,ause (“holiness of the land”) and immediately got my answer.
The second hit was a link to a popular Hebrew website, kipa.co.il, which focuses on Jewish issues in Israel. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of Yeshiva Har Bracha responded to the “Ask the Rabbi” query. (Melamed’s most recent moment in the spotlight was when he ruled that his yeshiva students were permitted to illegally refuse orders to evacuate settlements.)
Melamed begins, much as Rabbi Or Zohar does, by explaining that God manifests in many ways, and powerful religious moments often come when we feel godliness emanating through the earth itself. He talks about the harm separating this physical experience of God from the spiritual experience — but it doesn’t take long for him to veer into the absurd: “And therefore those who live outside of the Land, in a place where the Faith can be revealed in spiritual life only, are considered as an idol worshiper and have no God, because God is One and the person who lives outside of the land cannot connect with God the One (sjt oav), who created the Heavens and Earth.”
So while I agree that we should not detach religious significance from the earth, we must be exceptionally cautious in seeking “place holiness” when the narrative that reigns — on Google and in Israel more broadly— is that of Rabbi Melamed of Har Bracha.
— Elisheva Goldberg
The notion of “holy land” used “as a theological excuse to appropriate property and persecute others” is nothing less than occupation. There is nothing holy in occupation, and as long as there is occupation in Israel/Palestine there is no holiness in the “holy land.” In Judaism, all human life is sacred and, as Rabbi Or Zohar points out, in Jewish thought the land is sacred as well. But the individuals and state institutions in Israel that perpetrate occupation are far from sacred, and they violate fundamental principles of Jewish ethics. Instead of making the notion of “holy land” into an excuse to occupy, we must reclaim the holiness in the land for all its inhabitants. To do so, we may look to the Jewish principle of tochecha (vjfu,) — rebuke — and speak out against the overt violations of the sacred in Israel and Palestine. Speaking out against these injustices will empower us to work toward a more just world and to reclaim the holiness in the “holy land.”
— Oren Kroll-Zeldin
Rabbi Or Zohar speaks to the notion of reaching for the heavens while growing out of the stones of our local environment. This symbiotic relationship, this pull and counter-pull of heaven and earth, is established in the very first line of the Torah. In one breath, God creates shamayim (the heavens) and its corresponding sense of holiness, “spirituality,” as well as aretz (earth) and its application of holiness, “justice.” Humanity is thus tasked with its primary challenge: to masterfully navigate two seemingly distinct worlds.
We must be neither ascetic gurus who seclude ourselves in pursuit of spirituality nor toilers for justice in this world without a greater recognition and awe of the cosmos and creation. We are given our purpose: l’avda u’lishamra, to work and to protect. (Genesis 2:15) Unlike other explicitly commanded biblical injunctions, this engagement with the earth is more of a statement of fact. These actions are stated as an intrinsic part of our purpose. It is significant that, rather than protecting just the heavens or the earth, we are instead tasked with working toward and protecting gan eden — the idyllic combination of the two. As we tap into the holiness that God imbued in both the earth and its people, we augment the divine spark, the tzelem Elokim, from the ground up.
— Amy Beth Oppenheimeremail print