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.”

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Read more at theTorah.com

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

To the Anti-Semite, Jews Aren’t Just One Problem among Many, but the Source of All Problems

While it likely had some ancient antecedents, the blood libel—the myth that Jews murder Christian children and consume their blood as part of a Passover ritual—as we know it began in Norwich, England in 1144. That same city was the location of one of several blood-libel-fueled massacres of Jews in 1190, and researchers have recently concluded that a mass grave found in Norwich contained the bones of the victims. Meir Soloveichik reflects on this discovery:

The popularity of the blood libel, in its very absurdity, captures the essence of anti-Semitism. By taking the tale of the origin of Jewish chosenness—the exodus from Egypt—and turning it into a pernicious plan for annual evildoing, the libel illustrates how, as Robert Nicholson once wrote, hatred of Jews “isn’t just any old hatred or racism. It is a grand anti-myth that turns Jewish chosenness on its head and assigns to the people of Israel responsibility for all the world’s ills.”

The readiness of all today to denounce the massacres of medieval Jewish communities often highlights how, as the writer Dara Horn put it, “people love dead Jews.” The blood libel is not a thing of the past. It is ongoing. The world is all too prepared to bemoan the injustice against Jews in the past and yet all too ready to overlook those who purvey blood libels today.

Such a phenomenon can be seen in the successful career of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As Seth Mandel has noted, . . . the congresswoman has taken rhetorical dishonesty about Israel to entirely new level, linking—like the libelists of old—purported Jewish activity to grievances around the world. Commenting on the situation at the Mexican-American border, she accused, without offering any evidence, Israel of placing Palestinian children in cages. During one debate, standing on the floor of the House next to an image of a dead Palestinian child, she linked Israel’s airstrikes to the naval base in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The bones of murdered Jews may have been exhumed from the soil of the site where the blood libel was born, but what has yet to be exhumed from the present is the blood libel itself. And it is only if we do all we can to identify, and call out, the liars and the libelists that we can honestly hope that the murdered Jews of Norwich will rest in peace.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anglo-Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Blood libel