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The Non-Jew in the Land

By Tzvi Fishman
11/9/2009, 12:00 AM

Can there be any greater anguish than a father having to slaughter his own child? Why did this horrific mission fall upon Avraham? It was so horrifying, when Sarah heard of it, she dropped dead in fright.

The Torah commentator, the Rashbam, based on the words “After these things,” says that the trial of sacrificing Yitzhak came as direct and immediate punishment for Avraham’s making an unauthorized peace treaty with Avimelech over the Land of Israel, which G-d had promised to the Jews (Bereshit, 22:1).

Clearly, it is absolutely forbidden for the People of Israel to grant or recognize any other nation’s sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael.   

To elucidate this basic, concrete rule, during the Rabbi Meir Kahane Legacy Memorial Week, let’s turn once again to Rabbi Meir, of blessed memory, may Hashem revenge his murder.

The following very condensed selection is taken from Chapter 20 of his masterwork, “The Jewish Idea” Vol. 2. The chapter, entitled “The Non-Jew in Israel,” delves into far greater detail and Torah analysis than our brief excerpt can. In addition to being a fierce fighter for the Jewish People all of his life, Rabbi Kahane was first and foremost a brilliant Torah scholar whose breath and knowledge of the holy texts and their commentaries is absolutely staggering. Readers are encouraged to acquire “The Jewish Idea,” available at Amazon, or by calling in Israel 02-5811981, as well as the recently published biography, which is loaded with never-seen writings, photos, and stories from his life. 

The best Jewish Education there is!

Chapter Twenty: The Non-Jew in Eretz Yisrael

Eretz Yisrael is called that because it is the Land [eretz] of Yisrael, the People of Israel. Whoever is not of the holy, chosen people of Israel has no portion in Eretz Yisrael.

Eretz Yisrael was given by G-d as a vessel to house Israel so they could be separated from the abominations of the nations and from their alien culture, and so they would establish there a holy, pure and complete society and state according to G-d’s mitzvot and under His Heavenly yoke. It is not the Land which defines the nation in it, but the nation which defines the Land. Not every person who lives in the Land is defined as its owner. Rather, the Land is defined by the People of Israel as the Land of Israel, and whoever is not of Israel has no portion in this ownership.

 All this being so, would it occur to a sane person that a non-Jew should be given any opportunity to influence the Land and the state?

It is clear that there is an absolute prohibition on giving a non-Jew mastery over Eretz Yisrael, and that a non-Jew, whoever he may be, has an entirely different status from that of Israel, who are the owners of the Land. The non-Jew is nothing but an alien, a stranger, a temporary occupant, and not an owner. Only within well-defined principles and laws is it permissible for him to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, even as an alien and occupant.

Moreover, it was clear to G-d that the nations who were the owners of the Land before Israel arrived to conquer it, and, indeed, any non-Jew who views the Land as belonging to him, pose a danger to the existence of the People of Israel.

The Torah saw a twofold danger in the seven Canaanite nations who dwelled in the Land before Israel arrived to conquer it. On the one hand, like all the nations, the Canaanites constituted a spiritual danger to Israel, who had been commanded to establish a Divine, Torah-oriented state in Eretz Yisrael, isolated and set apart from the abominations of alien cultures. Moreover, the Canaanites posed a unique danger in that they viewed Israel as conquerors who had taken their land. They would hate Israel forever and would forever dream of revenge and seek opportunities for re-conquest. The Torah states:

“Be very careful with regard to what I am instructing you today. I will drive out the Amorites, Canaanites, Hivites, Perizzites, Hittites and Jebusites before you. Be most careful not to make a treaty with the people who live in the land where you are coming, since they can be a fatal trap for you” (Shemot, 34:11-12).

Following is the explanation of the great commentator Abarbanel:

“Verses 11-12 inform us that since G-d is driving out the Amorites and the other nations, it is improper for Israel to forge a covenant with them. If a nobleman helps someone by fighting his battles and banishing his enemies, it is morally inappropriate for that person to make peace with them without that nobleman’s permission. So, too, with G-d driving out Israel’s enemies, it is inappropriate for Israel to forge a covenant with them, for that would profane G-d’s glory.”

This is especially so considering that this friendship and this covenant will not succeed. With Israel having taken their land, there is no doubt that they will constantly seek Israel’s downfall. This is why it said, “[the land] where you are coming.” Since Israel came to that land and took it from its inhabitants, and they feel that it has been stolen from them, how will they make a covenant of friendship with you? Rather the opposite will occur. “They will be a fatal trap for you.” When war strikes you, they will join your enemies and fight you.

How exalted and true are Abarbanel’s words! This is the real reason for the approach taken by Halachah toward the seven nations. G-d understood the mentality of these nations. He knew that they would view Israel as conquerors and thieves and would forever relate to them with resentment and hatred. Therefore, besides the common danger posed by them and all other nations, i.e., the spiritual danger that Israel would learn from their false, alien ways, there was also a unique danger posed by the nations of the Land, the constant danger of war and uprising against Israel.

Here is the plain truth before us, and it will defeat those who warp and distort the Torah. The Torah commanded us not to hesitate about annihilating the nations in the Land, lest they harbor enmity and seek revenge for Israel’s taking the land they viewed as their own. Certainly, Israel did take it from them, but that has no importance, because G-d, Master of all the earth, promised the Jewish People — and them alone — the Land. G-d “uproots some inhabitants and brings in others” (Pesikta DeRav Kahana, page 123). G-d uprooted the Canaanites and brought in Israel, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws. Praise the L-rd!” (Ps. 105:45).

Every non-Jew is certainly prohibited from living in Eretz Yisrael unless he obeys definite restrictions, and this due to the influence his alien culture may have on the supreme, holy nation. Yet, regarding those nations that lived in the Land before Israel conquered it, another danger looms as well: their hatred and appetite for revenge, posing a constant threat to the future of the Jewish state in the Holy Land.

It follows that those same laws that applied to the seven nations apply to all the nations that live in Eretz Yisrael in every age. This includes those of our day, who view Eretz Yisrael as their own land and soil, and who view the Jewish People as a nation of conquerors, robbers and thieves. That same danger looms over the Jewish People and its control over Eretz Yisrael in our times as then.

After all, what difference is there as far as G-d’s warning that “those who remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, causing you troubles in the Land” (Num. 33:55), between the seven nations and between any nation that dwells in the Land, views it as its own, and then Israel come and conquer it from them? Surely it will feel that same hatred and that same fierce will for revenge as did the seven nations, as explained by Abarbanel (quoted above).

Any fair and honest person, who has accepted G-d’s yoke upon himself, knows from simple logic that this is the truth, that today’s Ishmaelites — as far as their dwelling in the Land — are considered like the seven nations (and in this regard, lacking any reason to distinguish between the seven nations and others, the same laws apply.

It is patently clear that for that same reason, we cannot tolerate the Ishmaelites’ presence today in Eretz Yisrael. Not only did they not submit before the war began in which they were defeated, but they murdered, burnt and tried to wipe out the Jews who arrived in Eretz Yisrael years and decades beforehand. In this they are no different from the seven nations.

The law of the seven nations is not an arbitrary decree applying solely to them. Rather, the reason G-d decreed that we “must leave no one alive” (Deut. 20:16) in Eretz Yisrael is that they viewed themselves as its owners and masters. Therefore, they would forever await the chance to revolt and drive out or annihilate the Jews.

Certainly, the Ishmaelites, too, think that Israel, who arrived in the Land and wished to establish a Jewish state there, are thieves. They, too, will always harbor resentment against Israel and will never resign themselves to us, but will await the “right” moment to rebel.

Let us never forget that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the People of Israel to separate them from the nations. Having decided to separate them, He at once concluded that they would have to be isolated in their own land. He took His people whom He loved and placed them in His land which He loved, and to both He awarded not just extraordinary love but extraordinary holiness, for Eretz Yisrael, as well, by virtue of Israel, holiest of nations, has holiness no other land has.

Certainly Eretz Yisrael is intrinsically holy, more so than all other lands, regardless of the mitzvot that can be done there. Chatam Sofer makes this point in a responsum regarding whether living in Jerusalem is a greater mitzvah than living elsewhere in the Land (Responsa, Yoreh Deah, 234): “It would seem that the courts can force [the intransigent spouse] to go up to Eretz Yisrael, not because of the mitzvot dependent on Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, but because of its intrinsic holiness, and because whoever lives outside the Land is likened to one without a G-d....”

Jerusalem has been the gate of Heaven since the beginning of time, even when the Jebusites lived there and the Canaanites and Perizzites were in the Land. The Divine Presence has never left nor will it ever leave the Western Wall, even in its destruction... In conclusion, all agree that both Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are holy forever, from the dawn of time until the end of days. This has never changed, nor will it ever.

It is, thus, clear that there are two reasons for the Torah prohibition against selling houses, or even leasing fields, to any non-Jew, even if he be one of the righteous gentiles. Rambam mentioned both in discussing the prohibition against leasing fields (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 10:4): “It diminishes the tithes, and gives them a foothold on the Land .”

A non-Jew, by buying or renting land in Eretz Yisrael, takes a portion of the Land and has a sort of ownership over it, and it is forbidden to give him this foothold. What, after all, is this “foothold”? Surely it is the feeling in the non-Jew’s heart that he has found a place to live, a place to call his own. The Torah cries out: Separate! Segregate from them and their abominations! The non-Jew who lives in Eretz Yisrael must always feel that he has no foothold, no connection, no sense of belonging, no portion, that this is not his land, that he has no ownership over it, that he is indeed a “resident alien” — a foreign occupant and not a citizen — who is living in the land of another people, the People of Israel.