Is the Land or the Torah the Basis for Jewish Peoplehood?

According to the Talmud, the covenant at Sinai not only bound the people Israel to God, but also to one another, so that “all Jews are responsible for [more literally, are guarantors of] one another.” Some rabbinic texts understand that a negotiation took place, whereby God agreed that He would hold the Israelites responsible for the public transgressions of their coreligionists, but not private ones. To yet other sages, this condition was removed when Joshua led the people into the Land of Israel.

After carefully piecing this story together from various ancient texts, Tzvi Novick writes:

[W]e may better appreciate the rabbis’ thinking by reference to a different tradition associated with Joshua, that of the “conditions under which Joshua bequeathed the Land to Israel.” According to this tradition, Joshua conditioned the Israelites’ inheritance of the land on their willingness to accept certain rules, most of which set limits on private property rights. One condition, for example, gives individuals the right to gather grains from anywhere, even another person’s field; another allows someone who is lost amidst vineyards to cut a path forward.

Both the institution of private property and the notion that mutual responsibility extends only to overt sins rest on the same assumption: individuals are entitled to their own space, physical or religious, within which they may do as they choose—without interference from, or implications for, the community. In both cases, Joshua, the foundational figure for collective Israelite existence in the land, qualifies this assumption. The community has a limited right to infringe on private property, and it has the obligation to ensure that individuals behave properly, even when concealed from the public.

Digging further into the relevant rabbinic texts, Novick notes a “polemical tension” between those who emphasize the covenant of Sinai and those who emphasize the covenant the Jews entered into while arriving in the Land of Israel. The underlying question is this: is it the Torah, given at Sinai, that “constitutes the people Israel as a nation,” or is it the land? To Novick, the holiday of Shavuot, which begins this evening and celebrates both “the bringing of the first fruits of the land and the giving of the Torah” makes clear that there is no need to “decide between these alternatives.”


More about: Covenant, Hebrew Bible, Joshua, Land of Israel, Shavuot


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy