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June 7, 2016 6:02 am

Conflicting Claims to the Land of Israel: What Every Yeshiva Boy Studying Basic Talmud Knows

avatar by Harry Zeitlin

Judea and Samaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Judea and Samaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the great tragedies of the modern Jewish state is that the Zionist movement, which birthed it, was (and still largely is) dominated almost exclusively, by committed secularists, both mainstream and Revisionist, most of whom were ignorant of, if not antagonistic towards our shared rabbinic/spiritual tradition, which they had previously rejected. Additionally, the choice by most of Europe’s rabbinic leaders not to participate compounded the resulting crises. Many of these crises, due to the narrow, to put it charitably, interests of today’s haredi leadership, persist to this day, including the glaring near absence of any Jewish deep values or traditional wisdom in the public forum.

Perhaps the most familiar discussion in Talmud, one a first-year student learns well, begins in the tractate Baba Metzia. Known as shnayim ochazin b’talit (“Two people claiming a a tallit”), it teaches that if one person lays claim to an entire piece of property, and the second, claims only the half he currently holds, the latter effectively grants the former possession of the half he just usurped. And the former, the crook, is rewarded the half that he “claimed.” The “disputed” remainder is then divided between the two claimants. In other words, by relinquishing one’s claim to half of what’s really yours, you end up with just a quarter of it.

This tragic precedent was set in response to Churchill’s White Paper of 1922, stripping away more than three-quarters of the original British Mandate for the Establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, in order to create a brand-new and completely judenrein (free of all Jews) country, TransJordan. Although Zionist leaders, both in Europe and the Old Yishuv (pre-state Palestine, when the term “Palestinian” referred only to Jews) were far from happy with this development, all accounts report they accepted it without effective and coordinated protest.

In terms of our Talmudic model, when they acquiesced to Arab sovereignty of what should have been our land, at least passively acknowledging the Arab claim to that more-than-half they stole, we opened the door for their next assault. As they repeated their claim for all of the former mandate as Arab land, judenrein for eternity, and we granted them half of it (all that land east of the Jordan River), the best we could hope for was about one-half of the land west of the Jordan, pretty much what happened at the armistice of 1949 when Judea and Samaria, renamed the West Bank, were taken from us.

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Even after recovering much of that land in 1967, but, especially, by refraining to annex and apply sovereignty to it, we’ve only encouraged the Arab sense of ownership and the international perception that their criminal claim was, instead, legitimate.

Any yeshiva boy could instantly tell us that if we now cede the lands of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority, we will then be left with only approximately one-half of what’s left inside the “Green Line.” And, as there will be an immediate assumption of Arab sovereignty over that land, the following claim/land-grab will leave us holding merely one-quarter, and then one-eighth, until, as has been the Arabs’ plan all along, Israel would cease to exist.

Of course, one could argue that Halacha — specifically Jewish civil law — holds no sway anywhere in the world except in very few isolated communities. If you don’t find Halacha central to your life, at least enough to have ever internalized it, you probably have no idea that it is not merely prescriptive, but actually quite descriptive. With or without a  formal legal structure based on Halacha, this is pretty much the way any process of constant retreat and surrender inevitably develops in the “real world.”

There’s no doubt that secular Israelis love the Land of Israel l just as fiercely as do religious Israelis (although many secularists no longer extend their sense of identity to the eastern half of the country (Judea/Samaria/east Jerusalem), except, perhaps as a military/security imperative). While it’s more likely that a religious Israeli will experience and declare the holiness of Judea and Samaria as equal to that of “inside the (infamous) “Green Line,” those with even superficial knowledge and experience of Talmud will also understand that giving away any land in an effort to diffuse and appease will directly lead to Israel’s disappearance on the land of our destiny.

Which is exactly what our enemies count on.

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