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February 25, 2014 1:16 pm

Heartland of the Homeland

avatar by Brandon Marlon

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A map showing Israel's Judea and Samaria regions.

For the Jewish People, the ancient tribal territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and west Menasheh – a.k.a. “Judea & Samaria” or the “West Bank” – form the very heartland of the homeland. Sadly, ceding these central areas to the Arabs remains a political possibility, and far too many Jews who are disconnected from their history and heritage are yet wholly unaware of what these primary regions of the Land of Israel mean to Jewry collectively.

Here, then, is a précis outlining the provinces’ most important geographical sites, figures, and historical contexts, in the hope of underscoring their great significance to all the People of Israel:

  • Samaria (Shomron)—capital of the Omride kings of Israel (Omri, Ahab, Joram, etc.), and the ancient center of a thriving wine and oil industry. Mentioned in I & II Kings and II Chronicles, as well as by the prophets Amos, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah. Samaria also appears in Josephus and its orchards are praised in the Mishnah. The ruined city was later possessed by Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai, rebuilt/renamed Sebaste (Sabastiyah) by Herod the Great, and controlled by Jewish king Agrippa I until the Roman occupation and colonization. The prophet Elisha is said to be buried here, as is the Jew known as John the Baptist.
  • Shechem—situated in the narrow valley between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, Shechem is where Abraham built an altar under the oak of Moreh; where Jacob encamped, bought a field, and buried idols and earrings; where Dinah was raped and brutally avenged; and where Joseph the Righteous is buried. Here Joshua drew up the Mosaic statutes, erected a stone monument under the oak tree, and convened the elders and judges of Israel before his death, adjuring them to pledge allegiance to G-d. Gideon’s sons fought over the city after that great judge’s death. King David twice versified the city in the Psalms. King Rehoboam was crowned here and King Jeroboam was elected here and made it his initial capital. Shechem is also a Levitical city and one of the biblical cities of refuge. Vespasian built Neapolis (Nablus) on the ruins of the destroyed city, which is also mentioned by the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah, Josephus, and in the Midrash Rabbah. For the sectarian Samaritans, Shechem equals what Jerusalem is to mainstream Jews.
  • Mount Ebal (Eval)—here Joshua built an altar of unhewn stones and made a peace sacrifice to G-d following the fall of Ai, also inscribing and reading the Torah before the Israelites and in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. The taller counterpart of Gerizim, toward which the Levites pronounced the Mosaic curses.
  • Mount Gerizim—where the other half of Israel stood listening to Joshua, and towards which the Levites pronounced blessings. The smaller counterpart of Ebal is known foremost as the holy mountain for Samaritans, who celebrate Passover atop its peak. It is also where Johanan Hyrcanus destroyed the pagan shrine built by the Seleucids, and where the Samaritan leader Baba Rabbah built a synagogue.
  • Shiloh— from this town Joshua made plans with the assembled people to finish apportioning the land to the tribes. Shiloh was for centuries home to the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the Ark of the Covenant after the settlement in Canaan, and where the High Priest Eli and his sons officiated. The first religious center of the Israelites, to which Elkanah made an annual pilgrimage and where his barren wife Hannah vowed to consecrate a son to G-d if she could conceive. After giving birth to the prophet Samuel, Hannah recited her song of praise here. Mentioned repeatedly in Jeremiah, Shiloh was also home to the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite.
  • Ma’aleh Levonah—site of the first major Maccabean battle and victory, in which Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrian Greeks and killed the Samarian mysarch Apollonius, taking his sword for himself.
  • Gilgal—first campsite and base of Joshua and the Israelites upon entering Canaan, where Joshua erected the 12 stones gathered from the Jordan river, and where the people celebrated Passover and circumcised those born in the desert. The prophet Samuel also judged Israel here, and King Saul was crowned at this sacred site. The prophets Elijah and Elisha passed through the city prior to Elijah’s whirlwind ascent. Gilgal was a Levitical city in the time of Nehemiah. Mentioned by the prophets Amos and Hosea, and in the Talmud.
  • Gophna Hills—these woods served as a refuge and training ground for the Maccabees during the rebellion against Antiochus IV and his Seleucid Greeks in the 2nd century B.C.E. Here farmers became fighters and militiamen a military, in what would become the only successful revolt of Jews against imperial oppressors.
  • Beth El (Luz)—Abraham erected a sacred altar to the Lord between Beth El and Ai. Here Jacob spent a night dreaming he saw a ladder rising heavenward, with angels ascending and descending it. A heavenly voice then assured him of divine protection, confirming the promise that the land upon which he rested would be for him and his descendants. When morning came, Jacob built a sacred pillar over which he poured oil as a thanksgiving offering. For a time the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant were stationed in Beth El, and in the conflict with the tribe of Benjamin the Israelites prayed, fasted, and offered sacrifices here. The prophetess Deborah lived nearby, and Samuel sojourned here to judge the people. King Saul gathered his forces here against the Philistines. Frequented by King Jeroboam as a central shrine, Beth El hosted a community of prophets during the time of Elisha (who was mocked by the children of Beth El), and witnessed Amos’ righteous indignation against illegitimate worship and the impious priest Amaziah. Later, the pious King Josiah cleansed the city of its cultic practices. The city hosted general Bacchides’ Syrian garrisons during the Maccabean Revolt. Mentioned often in JoshuaJudgesI & II KingsHosea, Jeremiah, and Ezra.
  • Mizpah—here the Israelites gathered to punish the tribe of Benjamin after the outrage committed by the men of Gibeah. Home of the reluctant judge Jephthah who repeated his conditions for leadership in Mizpah. Also where the prophet Samuel assembled the people to fight and defeat the advancing Philistines, and where he annually judged Israel. King Asa of Judah fortified the place, and the Babylonian-appointed governor Gedaliah established Judah’s capital here after the fall of Jerusalem and was later assassinated in Mizpah (giving rise to the fast day in his memory around the Jewish new year). The city was also a district capital in Nehemiah’s time, and was later where the Maccabees prayed, tore their clothing, wore sackloth and ashes, fasted, and read the Torah before the Battle of Emmaus.
  • Michmash—where King Saul gathered his army before the Philistines encamped there, and from which the latter fled following defeat. Mentioned in IsaiahEzraNehemiah1 Maccabees, and by Josephus, and praised in the Mishnah for its excellent wheat. Jonathan the Hasmonean resided here prior to assuming the high priesthood.
  • Emmaus (Nicopolis)—where Judah Maccabee defeated Nicanor and frightened off Gorgias in a stunning and strategic double victory over the Seleucids. The town was known for its hot springs, and is often mentioned in the Talmud. Tannaitic rabbis held discussions here, including local scholar Nehunya ben Ha-Kanah, and Johanan ben Zakkai’s prized disciple Eleazar ben Arakh took up residence in Emmaus.
  • Beth Horon—the sun stood still here for Joshua in battle. Both a village fortified by King Solomon, and a steep pass where: the Canaanites fled from Joshua; Judah Maccabee defeated Seron and his phalanx of hoplites; and Shimon Bar Giora and other zealot stalwarts similarly defeated Roman general Cestius Gallus during The First Revolt.
  • Gibeon (Givon)—the city whose men negotiated in bad faith with Joshua, and where Joab fought Abner by the pool and slew Amasa. King David conquered the Philistines nearby, and Gibeon is also the site at which King Solomon sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings to G-d, who appeared to Solomon in a dream eliciting then granting the king’s request for good judgment. Mentioned in 1 KingsI & II ChroniclesJeremiahNehemiah, and the Talmud.
  • Elasa (Eleazar)—site of the tragic battle wherein the woefully outnumbered Judah Maccabee fell, and equated by some to Mount Baal Hazor (near Ramallah), mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
  • Anathoth (Almon)—the Levitical hometown of Evyatar the priest and of Jeremiah, in which the hopeful prophet redeemed property from his cousin Hanamel in defiance of Judah’s dire situation under the Babylonians, giving the lie to his reputation as a preacher of doom and gloom. Also mentioned in I Chronicles.
  • Ai—Abraham encamped on the hill between Beth El and Ai, building an altar and calling upon the Lord. After Jericho, Ai was the second royal fortress to fall to Joshua and the Israelites, following the initial failed assault hindered by the misdeeds of Akhan. Joshua’s army pitched camp on Ai’s north side, with other troops left to ambush and capture the city. Also mentioned in I ChroniclesIsaiahEzra, and Nehemiah.
  • Jericho—one of the most famous cities of the Torah and Talmud, Jericho was a walled palm and balsam oasis which encountered the likes of Joshua, Rahab, King David’s ambassadors to Ammon, the prophets Elijah and Elisha (two onetime residents), the doomed fugitive King Zedekiah, the Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, etc. Centuries later the Arabian Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir sought refuge here from Mohammed.
  • Qumran—the desert monastery of the sectarian Essenes on the shores of the Dead Sea, whose scriptorium hosted the creation of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls ultimately found in the surrounding cave-pocked Judean Hills.
  • Betar—the only man ever anointed as the Jewish Messiah, Shimon Bar Kokhba, finally fell in his hilltop headquarters after the city had endured a prolonged Roman siege. The sage Eleazar of Modi’in also died here. The bastion was known for its spring and defensible location as a steep neck of land bounded with valleys on three sides. Often mentioned in the MishnahTosefta,Talmud, and Midrash Rabbah.
  • Bethlehem (Efrat)—where our matriarch Rachel is buried, and where the convert Ruth married Boaz. Bethlehem was the home of the shepherd youth and slinger (a descendant of Ruth) who would become the warrior and psalmist King David, and the birthplace of another famous Jew, Jesus, who inspired a new world religion.
  • Tekoa—a village which was home to the wise woman who convinced King David to pardon his rebellious son Absalom, and which was thereafter fortified by King Rehoboam. Most of all, it was home of the herdsman and prophet Amos who gathered its sycamore fruit and is buried there. Also home to Caleb’s descendants and the site where King Jehoshaphat withstood the attack from neighboring nations. Tekoa was renowned for its oil and honey.
  • Herodium (Herodion)—an artificially built mountain viewable from southern Jerusalem where Herod the Great commemorated an early military victory and later had himself inhumed. The mound was fortified during The First Revolt and fell only after the destruction of Jerusalem. A synagogue from The First Revolt era remains in situ. It was thereafter refortified as a district headquarters during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
  • Beth Zechariah—Eleazar the Hasmonean fell in battle here in his bold attempt to kill an elephant by stabbing its underbelly. The falling beast crushed him, and thus died the first of the five brave Maccabee brothers.
  • Beth Zur—a town mentioned in Joshua, later fortified by King Rehoboam, and eventually a key Maccabean fortress along the border between Judah and Edom. Also the locale of a major Maccabean victory that paved the way for their recapture of Jerusalem and the advent of Chanukah.
  • Hebron—also known as Mamre and Kiryat Arba, and renowned for its terebinths, Hebron is one of the four holiest cities in Judaism and the location of the Cave of the Patriarchs (and most Matriarchs) where Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebecca, and Jacob/Leah are interred. Tradition also places the graves of Adam/Sarah here. Abraham was a local resident after arriving in Canaan. Hebron was also where King David was anointed and established his capital for seven years before the conquest of the Jebusite citadel of Jerusalem. The first Judge of Israel, Otniel ben Kenaz, is also entombed in Hebron. Judah Maccabee and later Shimon Bar Giora reconquered the city from its Idumaean and Roman occupiers. Hebron is also one of the six cities of refuge in the Torah, and is mentioned therein 87 times. Numerous rabbinical authors have lived here, such as: Elijah de Vidas (1525), author of Reshit á¸¤okmah; Israel Ẓebi (1731), author of Urim Gedolim; Chaim Abraham Israel Ẓebi (1776), author of Be’er Mayim Chaim; Aaron Alfandari (1772), author of Yad Aharon and Merkebet ha-Mishneh; Mordecai Ruvio (1785), author of Shemen ha-Mor; Elijah Sliman Mani (d. 1878), author of Kissei Eliyahu; Rahamim Joseph Franco (d. 1901), author of Sha’arei Rahamim; and many more. For Jews, Hebron is second in stature only to Jerusalem.

These are only some of the seminal places, events, and people associated with Judea & Samaria, added to which are the modern sites and inhabitants of Ariel, Elon Moreh, Hashmonaim, Ma’aleh Adumim, Mevasseret Zion, Efrat, Alon Shevut, Kfar Etzion, Migdal Oz, and many, many others. In sum, the length and breadth of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and west Menasheh are steeped in four millennia of Jewish history, religion, culture, and civilization—ongoing in the present day and into the future—and forsaking these regions would mean disintegrating Jewish identity and disavowing Jewish heritage, amounting to a very grave failure of national awareness and will.

Brandon Marlon is a Canadian-Israeli writer-editor, and author of Inspirations of Israel: Poetry for a Land and People, and Judean Dreams.

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  • H.S.Cohen

    Left wing Conservative and Reform Jews should read this!

  • Jack Tucker

    This article misses the point. Yes, many of the areas in Judea and Samaria are incredibly important to Jewish history. The problem is that they come with Arabs. Want to keep those territories? Then the Arabs come with it and possessing Judea but not granting citizenship to the Arabs won’t wash. The world will not accept it. So if you keep Judea, it means a one state solution with two peoples that are not easily reconciled–one where the Muslim Arab population could easily overwhelm the Jewish one in numbers. So even though the coastal plane of Tel Aviv and Netanyah were not of great moment in the TaNaCh, maybe it would be better to be satisfied with that and let Judea and its Arab population go and become its own state.

    • Bs”d


      Judea and Samaria is ours, undisputed within the delineated boundaries of Eretz Yisroel, given to us by G-d as is mentioned numerous times in the Torah. Our Biblical inheritance is also repeated often in our daily prayers, mentioned in the Torah passages written by scribes on the parchment of our Tefillin and Mezuzoth, mentioned in Grace after meals and in the Shma. It is our Heritage which we by definition of the word Heritage, have no right to give away to an alien people because it is not their birthright. We are not racist. All non Jews can live in the Land provided they accept living under Jewish Sovereignty and adhere to the Seven Noahide Laws. They in turn are entitled to the rights of a Ger Toshav. (Palestinians today have much better living conditions (electricity and water for example)living under Jewish Sovereignty than in Arab Lands. However, if they are not happy living in the one Jewish Land, the borders are open for them to move to any of the 22 surrounding Arab countries whose land mass is 300x that of Israel. After all, do they have any inclination to keep the Commandments of the Torah pertaining to the Land of Israel as is obligated to the Nation of Israel, descending from the 12 Tribes. Will they keep these commandments in order to sanctify the Land and thereby bring peace and security and prosperity to themselves and to the World? Perhaps it is you that have missed the point of what Israel, our Holy Land is all about.

    • Carole Duskin

      Read Caroline Glick’s article The Israeli Solution at Yes, we can and should keep the territories, for many reasons.

  • Mirna Miranda

    This is all great and wonderful historically vital information..but ONLY for true Jews but not for the current Zionist Ashkenazim so called “G_d’s chosen.” Israel is stolen territory. It was stolen not only from the Palestinians, but from the real Jews as well. It was stolen by an Asiatic or Turkic tribe called Khazars. They call themselves Ashkenazim.

    The Khazars were a nomadic people, who were ruled by a dual kingship. Their titles were Bek and Kagan. Kagan is a common Ashkenazi name; one well known Ashkenazi by that surname was Stalin’s henchman Lazar Kaganovich.

    Their kingdom was located between the Black and Caspian seas, it flourished around the 10th century A.D. and then it disappeared from the map.

    The Khazars mass converted to Judaism either in the 8th or 10th century A.D. A good secondary source for the kingdom of the Khazars is this book by Arthur Koestler:


    • HST

      Not only is that Khazar trope probably bogus — I’ve looked into it lots, too — but the real truth here is, even in legend, the Khazars recognized how cool Judaism was, everybody converted, and they believed in it, as there were no Jews holding their heads to a sword to do so. Whether they were lost to history or are now Jews seems irrelevant compared to the other faiths at the time. Really, if this were true, it’s happening after Islam is introduced to the world, so the Khazars chose not to accept Mohammed, and around the turn of the millennium, Christianity was probably at its apex, and they chose to take big J, either.

      Lemme tell you, if you’re a Jew, you know it. As an Ashkenazi, we were Cohanim and Levites, so when I walk into a synagogue and I have the honor of touching the Torah, the whole spirit that moves me is the real deal. That is Truth. Khazar gene or not.

      • Sonia Willats

        Agreed. Judaism is not only genes, it is faith.

    • Lynne T

      Koestler’s book has been thoroughly debunked. It was only a few Khazar nobles who converted and there is no significant genetic evidence of Khazar lineage among Ashkenazim.

      But don’t let that interfer with your baseless hostility.

  • Saba

    Being disconnected from Jewish history found in the Tenach is perhaps the key reason why many Israelis are willing to give up their historical homeland to their enemies who want to destroy them.Israel if it is going to capture the minds and hearts of its citizens must return to Holy Scriptures as a foundation and building block. A country can not survive if it does know its own history. The nation of Israel needs a “Biblical Reformation” of study, debate, engagement in the Bible.

    There is a great famine in the land not a famine of food but of hearing the words of Ha-Shem.(Amos 8:11)Israel as a nation must seek the HOLY ONE and listen to his voice through our Holy Scriptures.Rashi the great scholar of the 11th century comments on Genesis. The book of Genesis begins with Creation in order to preempt a canard that will one day be leveled against the Jewish people. Rashi said, “The nations of the world will accuse the Jewish people of stealing the land of Israel.” “Therefore, to cut such an accusation off at the knees, the Torah begins with Creation so that the Jewish people will be able to respond “G-d created the world, the Earth is His, and He chose to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people.”

    We all need to return to Ha-Shem and begin studying the Torah.

    • Zikhri

      Saba is absolutely correct, but on the condition that the reconnection to the Miqra (Tanakh) not be done according to Rabbinic interpretations and guidelines.
      Rabbinism has already failed us catastrophically, notably in the Bar-Kokhvah Revolt, so Heaven forbid we attempt to solve our problems by reverting to a Rabbinic theocracy, thereby risking yet another calamity.

      Jack Tucker, whose misbegotten concern about the world’s reactions is unfortunately shared by other Jews, has virtually no idea what he is talking about; for one, the actual demographic data have long proved that the Arabs in Samaria & Judea do NOT pose a demographic menace to the Jewish majority in the Land of Israel. Secondly, like so many other Jews who still fail to notice (some of which ignore it on purpose), the “Palestinians” have no interest in a state of their own in Yehudah & Shomron since their goal is to establish a new Arab state upon the entire Land of Israel instead of ours, and they will stop at nothing until they realize this vicious vision.
      We clearly need to quit the madness of attempting to set up a Pali state on our national territories, grow a backbone and show the Palis the middle finger in some form that will have lasting effects on them.

  • M.A. Kinamohn

    ALL of Israel belongs to the JEWS!


    john kerry doesnt care
    obama doesnt want to hear it
    hilary clinton will say her jewish family doesnt accept it
    livni is busy reading the xtian gospels
    peres is apologizing to germany
    netanyahu is still ready the award his son got for Torah


    THE OLD TIMES,peace offerings were animal sacrifices were killed. I am not suggesting such a thing…
    Here lies the problem….