They Say, We Say: Israel was given to the Jews by God

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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God Wants the Jews to Have All the Land

They Say:

Based on the teachings of the Torah, it is clear that the land of Israel was given to the Jews by God, and should never be negotiated over or given to non-Jews.

We Say:

The words and teachings of the Torah and the Mishnah have been debated for millennia, and no doubt this will continue to be the case. There will always be those who will cherry-pick the words of the Torah and the Sages in order to justify their views. However, coming to these teachings with an open heart and an open mind allows us to see that the teachings of the Torah not only support the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, but require us to pursue it.

Those who oppose peace efforts often say that the basis of our claim to the land is God's biblical promise, so Jews should not negotiate over the future of any part of that land. In reality, the Torah tells us that while the land of Israel was given to us by God, that gift was not absolute, and pragmatic considerations are to be taken into account with respect to our exercise of that ownership.

We find a clear demonstration of the kind of pragmatism that is present in the Torah in Genesis 23. Here the Torah tells us that after the death of Sarah, when Abraham wants a place to bury his dead, he selects the site known as the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. But what does he do next? He purchases the cave of Machpelah from its then-owners, and even insists on paying full price for it.

Why does he offer to pay for what he knows was given to him by God? Because he knows, too, that his neighbors, who are not Jews, do not recognize God's gift of the land to him. Rather than insisting on his claim and simply appropriating the site or demanding that it be ceded to him, Abraham chooses the path of peace - the path that we as Jews are exhorted to follow numerous times in the Torah. This path requires him to go the extra distance to make sure that he maintains peaceful, respectful relations with his neighbors, treating their claim to the land as valid, even if in his heart he believes that his own claim supersedes it. In other words, for Abraham and for us as Jews today, peace as a value overrides the principle of a divine promise. Ethical pragmatism overrides dogma.

An illustration of the conditional nature of God's granting of the land comes to us through Ramban, the early 13th century commentator. Ramban writes that after the flood, Noah's descendants were scattered to various places where, by chance, they became nations. What of the nations that existed in these same places before the flood? When a nation comes to sin, Ramban explains, it is only right that it lose its place and another people come to inherit the land - even if its place there was granted by God. This was the rule, he says, from the beginning of the Torah.

Another example is the case with Canaan: the Canaanites lost their land because they behaved immorally. This rule, according to Ramban (citing Leviticus 18:28), continues to this day, "[God] expelled those who rebelled against Him, and settled those who served Him so that they know by serving God they will inherit it, but if they sin against God, the land will vomit them out, just as it did the previous nation". Thus, the land of Israel is promised to us conditionally, insofar as we act with morality towards God and towards other human beings.