Project Genesis

Jewish Claim to the Land of Israel, and the Issue of Gaza

Question: Can you please give me all of the biblical reasons why Gaza belongs to the Jews?!

Answer: Now, I certainly won’t suggest that you’re obligated to follow my approach to this, but, in my personal opinion, Jews have no Biblical claim to Gaza. Here’s why:

Number one, even though the precious land of Israel in general was bestowed upon us by God in Biblical times, it must be noted that He also took it from us twice (through allowing our exile at the destruction of each of the temples). There are numerous passages throughout the 24 books of the Bible attesting to and warning of the conditional nature of our ownership of the land. The fact that there may (or many not) have been Jewish communities managing to live in Israel through the centuries doesn’t change that: until 1967, there had been Jews in Egypt without a break for 2500 years but that doesn’t give us a claim to Egypt (not to mention Iraq)!

Secondly, the Talmud (Gittin) is clear that most of the Gaza itself (specifically, the coastal region south of Ashkelon) was not considered part of Israel during the second Temple period, as it wasn’t re-conquered or re-settled during that time. So even the extra holiness then acquired by Judea and Galil isn’t relevant to Gaza.

Finally, I believe that the paramount concern is ensuring safety for Jews. If there’s greater chance for real security by pulling out, I believe that that’s what should be done. If staying there will promote greater safety (not only for the settlers, but for the young soldiers who guard them), then stay there we must.

Which way is safest? Since I live many thousands of miles away from Israel and haven’t even been there in more than two decades, I feel that my opinion on the matter of tactical security isn’t worth much. Whatever is the expert opinion of those on the scene will have to do.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Ottawa, Canada

Question: I thought that when G-d made a promise, he kept it.

Answer: Of course He does. But when the promise is conditional, that obviously depends on the condition being kept. For a specific example, see Devarim 29, culminating with verse 27 in which a future generation will be told “and G-d removed them from their land with fury . . . and He sent them to another land . . .”

Question: Since I’ve emailed you my original question, I’ve understood that he explicitly mentions Gaza belonging to Judah in Joshua, and also in Genesis, and indirectly in other places (which I can certainly forward to you if you wish).

Answer: In fact, most of Gaza didn’t come under Jewish control until the time of David when he subdued the Pelishtim. But again, that’s no different from any other part of Israel whose ownership depends on G-d’s good will.

Question: Can you please give me specifics as to where he takes this away from us?

Answer: See above. See also the Gemara (Makkot 19a) which concludes that the original status of Israel at the time of Joshua wasn’t automatically renewed through the return in the time of Ezra (the second temple). Only those areas that were conquered and settled by the Jews of the second commonwealth attained a permanent status of halachic Israel. The gemara in Gittin (2a) and Chulin (7a) exclude most of Gaza for this reason.

Question: Also, as to you supporting us leaving Gaza if it’s more secure for us (let’s leave to the side the fact that it will be MUCH LESS SECURE and many Jews will die because of it – I know this as I’ve personally spoken with General Effie Eitam, General Yaakov Amidror, and listened to the public statements of the 3 IDF chiefs who Sharon is now firing and they all say this), isn’t that what the “spies” advocated? They said that the inhabitants were too strong, right.

Answer: There’s an enormous difference: the Jews at the time of Moshe had explicit instructions from G-d and were, therefore, required to leave the details up to Him (even if it did seem impossible). We, on the other hand, have a responsibility to take safety issues into account: why should this be any different than every other aspect of our lives like wearing seat belts, not smoking, learning CPR etc.? If safety is enhanced by a pullout then that’s the right thing (and, again, I stress that I have no clue what the reality on the ground is – if there are three generals who contend that we need the Gaza for security, there might be three more who argue: I just don’t know and, therefore, have no opinion).

Question: To me, doesn’t it follow that if it’s conditional that the land is ours, then it should be conditional that we have to follow the mitzvot.

Answer: Why should that be so? If G-d gave us His Torah and His land, doesn’t He have the right to attach to them any conditions He chooses? The words of His Torah make it quite clear that the mitzvot are eternally binding and ownership of the land is conditional. But actually, there were some Jews who did indeed claim that the mitzvot were no longer binding after the destruction of the second temple and it was with that in mind (according to some commentators) that they re-accepted Torah in the wake of the near-disaster of Purim.

With my very best regards,

2 Follow-ups »

  1. We have a tradition that Isaac never left Israel. He lived for a while in Grar. Grar is in Gaza. Shouldn’t we derive that Gaza or parts of Gaza belong to Israel?

    I was born and lived nearly all my life in Canada, but that doesn’t mean that Canada belongs to me! And even if it did (and even if G-d Himself had once promised it to my family), if my children were subsequently forced out of the country by historical circumstances (including Divine decree), then, I would imagine, any claim I once had would be lost.

    Are you referring to a specific source in Torah law with which I’m unfamiliar?

    With best regards,
    Rabbi Boruch Clinton

    Comment by ATR — November 6, 2006 @ 12:39 am

  2. Doesn’t the return of the Jews to their land (Israel is, for the first time since the 1st temple, the place with the largest amount of Jews in the world, and the only place in the world with an increasing Jewish population) mean that G-d gave us the land back, especially, as it was done through miracles (the wars)? And if this is so, then don’t we have an obligation to return?

    G-d certainly has allowed us back and it would be difficult to say that there have been no miracles along the way. However, I am certainly not qualified to interpret historical events and to interpret them in the context of Jewish law with any confidence. I would suggest that, barring the re-emergence of prophecy, we can only rely on the opinions of the authorities of Jewish law from the period of the Rishonim (1st period of Talmudic Commentators, who, of course, disputed the practical application of the requirement to return to Israel).

    With my best regards,
    Rabbi Boruch Clinton

    Comment by ATR — December 21, 2006 @ 12:28 am

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


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