Please meet the ten spies

There are modern day equivalents of the ten spies badmouthing Israel and claiming it should not be in Jewish hands.


Parshat Shelach Spies Calev
Parshat Shelach Spies Calev

You know who the ten spies were? You know how they made such a terrible mistake? You think they were fools maybe, or that they lacked faith in G-d? That they didn’t know that G-d Himself protects Israel, so the physical power and size of the Canaanites was less relevant than last year’s rainfall in Spain? That they didn’t know enough Torah?

Think again.

“They were all men – they were leaders of the Children of Israel” (Numbers 13:3). “They were all sharp-witted men” (Targum Yonatan ad loc.), and “whenever the Tanach uses the word אֲנָשִׁים [men] it indicates important men, and at the time they were all worthy” (Rashi ad loc.).

“They were mighty men” (S’forno ad loc.), otherwise Moshe wouldn’t have chosen them. The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) notes that the last letters in the three words שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים (“send for yourself men”), with which G-d’s charge to Moshe begins, are the letters חָכָם (“wise person”): “Ensure that they are wise and righteous”.

All these commentators base their comments on the Midrash. “Whenever it says אֲנָשִׁים, they are righteous men… You call these men fools? – They were called fools solely because they slandered the Land of Israel… They were righteous both according to Israel and according to Moshe” (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:5).

To understand who these spies were, what caused them to go so directly against G-d even despite their righteousness and wisdom, and how they managed to plunge the nation into such heresy and sin, let us meet the spies of today, those who deny the moral basis of the State of Israel, the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta..

Almost a decade ago a leader of this group addressed the Quds Day Rally in Los Angeles, California. His entire speech, can be seen at

Let us see what is said. And remember, this is no ignoramus-off-the-street, this is no Reform heretic. These are the words of a bona fide mitzvah-observing Jew representing Neturei Karta.

“With the help of the Almighty, a-salaam aleikum”. Claiming to speak in the name of the G-d of Israel, he begins by addressing his audience in Arabic, using a traditional Islamic greeting.

“We are gathered here today to commemorate the International Day of Al-Quds”. Where exactly is Al-Quds, again? I searched the entire Tanach, through all the Midrashim and the Talmud, and I haven’t found a single reference to such a city. Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) yes, but no Al-Quds. Oh well, maybe G-d Himself got His holy city’s name wrong.

“This is the message of true Judaism: This is a message of solidarity to the Palestinian people…”. Ah yes, “Palestinian”, from Palestine. Just remind me, please, where do Jewish sources ever call it “Palestine”? The Gospel according to Saint Mohammed, perhaps? Israel, Judea or Judah (depending on the translation), Canaan, the Land of Israel – but I haven’t yet found anywhere in Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, Commentaries thereon, or any other authentic Jewish source that calls the Land “Palestine”.

Well, a little re-writing of the Tanach here and there might be necessary.

Just remember that G-d called this Land Canaan, Israel, and Judah. The pagan Roman idolaters, in their desire to erase Jewish history, renamed the Land “Palestine” in the year 3895 (135 C.E.), after crushing the Bar Kochba Revolt. It is intriguing, is it not, to prefer the name given by the idolaters who destroyed our Holy Temple over the name given by G-d?

“Judaism forbids, in any manner, shape, or form, the occupation in Palestine”. And there I was, believing that not only did G-d Himself command us to live in the Land of Israel – oops, excuse me, in Palestine – but also promised through all His prophets that we would one day return there.

Ah well, we can disagree with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Hosea, Amos, and all the other prophets. After all, what is שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן (the Return to Zion) and קִבּוּץ גָּלֻיּוֹת (the Ingathering of the Exiles) if not “the occupation in Palestine” in at least some “manner, shape, or form”?

“Judaism forbids stealing, killing, harming other people, and damaging properties of others. Therefore, all crimes committed against the Palestinian people has [sic.] no justification within Judaism”. Well, normally this is indisputably true. But in time of war, the rules are very different. But now, we can imagine Setur son of Michael, Nahbi son of Vophsi, Yigael son of Yosef, and the other spies standing over the Children of Israel in the Paran Desert and solemnly declaiming: “Judaism forbids stealing, killing, harming other people, and damaging properties of others. Therefore, all crimes committed against the Canaanite people have no justification within Judaism”.

But what about the very first Rashi in the Torah: “The Torah [which is essentially a Book of Commandments] should have begun with ‘This month will be the beginning of your months’ (Exodus 12:2), which is the first mitzvah which Israel were commanded. So what is the reason that the Torah opens with ‘In the beginning’? – Because ‘He has related the power of His works to His nation, to give them the inheritance of nations’ (Psalms 111:6). So if the nations of the world should say to Israel: You are robbers, because you invaded the lands of the seven [Canaanite] nations! – they tell them: The entire world belongs to G-d, He created it and gave it to whomsoever he saw fit. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us”.

“According to Jewish belief, Jews were placed in exile about 2,000 years ago, and this was a Divine decree; this was not because of our physical weakness. According to Judaism we are forbidden to end this exile by physical means. We are forbidden to create a state of our own. This was respected, accepted, for generations, close to 2,000 years”. Well, not really. There was the Bar Kochba Revolt, which attempted to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and which was led spiritually by Rabbi Akiva, who was one of the greatest of all the Rabbis of the Talmud.

(Just to indicate how great Rabbi Akiva was, in any halac

khic dispute between Rabbi Akiva and any other rabbi, the Halacha invariably follows Rabbi Akiva: no one can overrule him in any matter at all.)

So much for it being forbidden to use physical means to create a state of our own.

And as for being forbidden to end the exile – uncountable numbers of Jews – predominantly the most devout and the greatest rabbis – left exile and returned to Israel throughout the centuries. How about the Rambam, who made aliyah in 1168? Or the 300 Tosafists from England and France who made aliyah in 1211? Or Rabbi Yechiel of Paris who made aliyah in 1260? Or the Ramban, who made aliyah in 1267? Or Don Yosef Nasi, who settled two entire cities – Tiberias and Safed – in 1561 with a huge influx of Jews? Or the over 2,000 Jews who followed Rabbi Yehudah he-Chassid, the Maggid of Shdetlitz, Poland, to Jerusalem over a few years beginning in 1700?

“What is the Jewish hope? – The Jewish hope is for the final redemption, this is a happening which is going to be a spiritual issue, which is going to come about through the Almighty Himself without any human intervention”. Well, not necessarily. Redemption comes about through hishtadlut, through our efforts, which G-d promises to bless with success if and when circumstances are right. When David the shepherd-boy (long before he was King David) faced Goliath, did he raise his hands to the Heavens in prayer instead of a slingshot? Or that when the Maccabees faced the Seleucid (Syrian-Greek) and Hellenist forces they recited Psalms and waited for G-d to zap the enemy? Or that Rabbi Akiva sat passively in silent prayer?

See the words of the Rambam concerning the final redemption:

“If a king from the House of David will arise, who studies Torah and observes the mitzvot like David his ancestor – both according to the Written Torah and the Oral Torah – and will force all Israel to follow it and strengthen it, and will fight Hashem’s wars, then he is to be considered as fulfilling the criteria of mashiach. If he does all this and succeeds, and builds the Holy Temple in its place and ingathers the Jewish exiles, then he is definitely mashiach…. But if he does not succeed in all this, or if he is killed, then it is clear that he is not the one whom the Torah has promised” (Laws of Kings 11:4).

One could take “fight Hashem’s wars” to mean something like “fight spiritual wars”, convince Jews to be more religious. But the Rambam’s precedent is Shimon Bar-Kochba, who took up very temporal weapons on very physical battlefields, physically fighting and killing the Romans to liberate Israel from Roman occupation, and who indeed succeeded partially but was then killed.

The Rambam clearly sees the final redemption as being wrought by a human king and by human power, including military power. The final redemption comes about at the hands of a human leader, Neturei Karta's denial to the contrary.

Our redemption, which is obviously a spiritual issue, involves our very prosaic and temporal return to the Land of Israel, by force of arms when necessary.

“Judaism is one thing, and one thing only: it’s a religion. It has nothing to do with politics or with nationalism”. This is hardly a new claim. The Reform movement said exactly the same:

“We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state” (Pittsburgh Platform, 1885, the official statement of Reform ideology). Both Reform and Neturei Kharta oppose Zionism – Jewish nationalism, the return to Zion, the very redemption itself – for the identical reason.

Is Judaism only a religion and not a nation? Well, let’s ask G-d. Did He promise Abraham, “I will make you a great religion”, or “I will make you a great nation”? (Hint: Find the answer in Genesis 12:2.) Did G-d define us as His “religion of Priests and a holy Religion”, or His “Kingdom of Priests and a holy Nation”? (Hint: look in Exodus 19:6).

“Nothing to do with politics or with nationalism” – What was Moshe – a guru in some temple? What was Joshua – a pulpit rabbi in Queens? King Saul, King David, King Solomon – were they yeshiva-heads? Or were all these men political and national leaders? (Hint: Read the Bible for the answers.)

“…Nothing to do with politics”? What happened to Hilkhot Melachim u-Milchemoteihem (Laws of Kings and their Wars), with which the Rambam concludes his Halakhic opus, the Mishneh Torah. Hilkhot Melachim u-Milchemoteihem is, if you will, a political piece, insofar as it contains the instructions on how to establish and govern a Jewish state.

And what about Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud, since that contains the basis for Jewish government – politics and nationalism at its peak!

Let’s abbreviate:

The crowd chants “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die”. “Never” is a big word; “never” is best left for G-d. If Neturei Karta beleives that “Palestine will never die”, then it clearly does not believe in the coming of the Mashiach and the ultimate redemption. Mashiach inevitably means restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, which inevitably means no more Palestine.

Really, enough already. Let’s jump to the end:

“Our prayer is – we hope and we pray for the speedy and peaceful dismantlement of the entire State of Israel. The respect and the dignity should be returned to the Palestinian people, the refugees should be returned to their towns, and all homes should be returned to its [sic] rightful owners. At that time we can expect that the beautiful peace and coexistence that did exist in the past hopefully will be the future. Ultimately, we pray that the Glory of the Almighty should be revealed throughout the universe, His Kingdom should be recognized by all, and all humanity should serve Him together in peace and harmony. Thank you very much, a-salaam aleikum”.

The “the beautiful peace and coexistence that did exist in the past” is unfortunately a dream, a lie, a myth, a fantasy.

But more important: notice that the ultimate prayer, hope, expectation is eternal Jewish exile. No return to Zion, no Ingathering of the Exiles, no Third Holy Temple.

This, then, is the modern "spies'" vision of redemption:

The Jews will remain scattered in exile forever, the Third Holy Temple will never be built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the line of King David will never be restored.

Instead, we will have the Ingathering of the Palestinian exiles, the Al-Aqsa Mosque standing as the eternal House of Allah on the Haram al-Sharif in Al-Quds, the restoration of the House of King Arafat ruling over Palestine forever.

Is there any rabbi, any responsible Jewish religious leader in the world, who dares to challenge the lies and heresies and blasphemies of Neturei Kharta? What grants them immunity from the scathing criticism that would be hurled – that indeed is hurled – against the secular-left Israel-haters.

This is why the ten spies could get away with their heresies and rebellion against G-d. Those wise and righteous men “were righteous both according to Israel and according to Moshe”, so no one dared challenge them.

Let us cast off the yoke of the spies and return, strong and proud and free after all these weary centuries, to our homeland. As Caleb said: “Ascend – let us ascend – and we will inherit it! Because we can – we can do it!” (Numbers 13:30).

Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.