5 Facts About Israel That You May Not Have Known

Friday, 27 October, 2023 - 11:01 am


1. The Jewish claim to the land dates back over 4000 years

The Jewish claim to the land began much earlier than 1897 (the year of the First Zionist Congress). As described in the Torah, G-d created the world and chose the Jewish people as His chosen nation and gave them the land as an eternal inheritance. This was first promised by G-d to our forefather Abraham (as described in this week’s Torah portion) and then again to his son, Isaac, and later to his son Jacob. (Actually, the area promised to our forefathers, and later described in the Torah, is much larger than the Israel we know of today).

2. The Jewish people first settled in Israel over 3000 years ago

In the year 1273 BCE, under the leadership of Joshua, the Jewish people entered Israel, then called the Land of Canaan. Their first seven years in the land they waged war and defeated the 31 kings living there, and conquered their territory; the following seven years the land was divided among the 12 tribes and a portion of land was allocated to each tribe. The Jewish people lived in the land and controlled it for over 800 years, until the destruction of the first Temple in the year 422 BCE.

3. It’s called “Israel” but maybe it should have been called “Judah”

Jacob, our forefather, was given a second name, Israel, when he defeated the angel of his brother Esau. Since then, his descendants were called the “Children of Israel.” When they entered the land, it eventually became known as the “Land of Israel.” The first record of it being referred to in such a way is in the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:19).

In a way, it would make more sense for it be named “Judah.” You see, after King Solomon’s death, the land was split into two Jewish kingdoms; the Northern Kingdom was called the Kingdom of Israel, while the Southern Kingdom (where the Temple was situated) was called the Kingdom of Judah.

Eventually, the Northern Kingdom was defeated by the Assyrian Empire and the Jewish people living there were exiled to other countries, never to be heard of again. (They’re known as the Ten Lost Tribes.) The Southern Kingdom was miraculously saved and spared a similar fate. The Kingdom of Judah remained, and it would seem that the name “Judah” could have stuck.

4. Israel is called the Holy Land; but there are also “Holy Cities”

Jerusalem is the city that King David founded and chose to be the location of the Holy Temple. Hebron is the burial site of the patriarchs and matriarchs and was first purchased by our forefather Abraham. Safed is a mystical city in the north of Israel, a city that was the source for much of Jewish mysticism. Tiberias was an important center of Torah learning and was the city where the Sanhedrin (the rabbinical equivalent of the Supreme Court) last convened, and the place that it will return. Many great sages are buried there and we’re told that the revelation of Moshiach will begin there.

5. The Western Wall is not actually a wall of the Holy Temple

The wall we call today the Western Wall was never a part of the Holy Temple itself; it was part of the Temple Mount retaining wall. In the 1st century BCE, Herod the Great undertook a massive renovation project; to restore and beautify the then-dilapidated Second Temple. His project was so ambitious, that it even called for expanding the Temple Mount itself, hence the retaining wall.

When the Romans destroyed the Temple in 69 CE, this wall was not destroyed. And nearly two thousand years later, the wall still stands. It is a symbol of the resilience of the Jewish people, and the closest (readily accessible) spot to the location of the Holy Temple.

Oh, and one more thing - do you know how the area even became known as Palestine (until 75 years ago)? Well, to be clear, we Jews never stopped calling it Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, but others called it Palestine due to the spitefulness of the Romans. 

The Romans were so incensed by the Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochba that when they finally defeated the revolt they renamed the area Syria Palaestina (Palestinian Syria) after the ancient Biblical nemesis of the Jewish people, the Philistines

By the way, you know the meaning of the name Philistine? The ones whose name the Romans used to spite the Jews? Yeah, the meaning of their name is (foreign) “invaders”. Quite ironic that some modern Arabs adopted their name to attempt to lay claim on our historical homeland…

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