• Eretz Yisrael or Medinat Yisrael?

    When President Zalman Shazar learned of the Rebbe’s insistence not to use the term “Medinat Yisrael” he was taken aback and thrust into a non-easily-solvable dilemma: what should take precedence — “Nasi” or Chassid? • The fascinating correspondence between the Rebbe and President Zalman Shazar on this very question • By Beis Moshiach • Full Story

    Avrohom Rainitz, Beis Moshiach

    In recent years, in the highly politicized environment of constant repeat elections in Israel, the complex ideology of Chabad regarding how to relate to the situation in modern-day Israel has come under some intense media scrutiny. The negation of the secular “State of Israel” on the one hand, with a strong stance against conceding even one iota of land from Eretz Yisrael along with strengthening and developing the land and its security on the other. And in between, unconditional love for every Jew, even the leading “Zionists.”

    Anyone familiar with the history, knows that this is hardly the first time that the issue has made headlines and that there were times when the Rebbe himself addressed the issue. For example, back in the 1960s, Knesset Member Geula Cohen began to get involved in working against the high rate of abortions with a great deal of encouragement from the Rebbe. There were those who tried to talk her out of it, using the argument that the Rebbe opposes everything that she believes in and stands for, and even absolutely rejects the State of Israel. The proof: the Rebbe never used the term Medinat Yisrael.

    Mrs. Cohen, who served as an underground fighter for the Irgun and Lechi groups, refused to believe what she was hearing and she put her question and shock into writing and sent it to the Rebbe. Her question: Were the rumors true?

    THE PROPER NAME IS ERETZ YISRAEL

    In response to her letter, the Rebbe wrote to her on 19 Sivan 5729 (1969):

    It is (somewhat) astonishing in regards to her astonishment in this as there are a number of groups, myself among them, who did not accept and do not accept nor use the term “Medinat Yisrael.” And the reason is obvious and simple. The land of Canaan was given to Am Yisrael starting from the Bris Bein HaBesarim with Avrohom Avinu, and in place of the name Eretz Canaan the name was fixed as Eretz Yisrael, a fixity over a period of thousands of years, a fixity in Torah including a fixity in the mouth of the nation from small to great.

    Such matters are not given to [be decided by] vote and the decision of the majority, a decision that is subject to change from time to time, a change that according to the rules of nature one cannot anticipate what form it will take. In the wake of all of the varied and bizarre events of recent years – bizarre for the good, but to our pain there are also some that are bizarre to the other side – one cannot be at all certain in regards to a possible change to this name as well.

    However, one does not need to fall back on this concern not to accept the newly minted title, since as mentioned, in my view this is not a matter that is up for vote, just as it is not up for vote how Am Yisrael should be called. Whether as it is called in the Torah – Am Yisrael, or Canaan etc. The same applies also to Eretz Yisrael.

    NAME CHANGE WEAKENS THE OWNERSHIP

    Later in the letter, the Rebbe addresses an additional point about how the name change undermines the historical claim to the land:

    One could also say that there is an additional point in this, if they needed any addition, in that this name change weakens the claim and the ownership of Am Yisrael on Eretz Yisrael. This includes even the limited area that was liberated in 1948, since 1) a new name lends an aura of newness that began in 1948, thereby indicating that the claim and ownership of Eretz Yisrael began then. At the very least, it contains some aspect of newness, in opposition to the Torah position as found in the words of Rashi in the beginning of his commentary on Torah:

    – I am emphasizing this point (in citing the Rashi), since it is the custom of our nation for generations upon generations that ben chomesh l’Mikra, which is to say that these words of Rashi are directed to all Jews beginning from the age of five. –

    That if the nations of the world will say to the Jewish people, you are bandits for having conquered the land of seven nations, the Jewish people should answer; “The entire earth belongs to HaKadosh Boruch Hu. With His will, He gave it to them, and with His will, He took it from them and gave it to us.”

    Certainly she is aware that this was in fact the argument of a number of the nations of the world in our time as well, and I have not found a single response except for the most ancient traditional response in the aforementioned words of our Sages.

    2) There are those who interpret the title under discussion, “Medinat Yisrael,” as part of the general approach and the general plan of let us be like the nations and the families of the lands, a plan that in the language of the verse many are the dead that she has felled; dead in body and also in soul in the spiritual sense. And to our pain and because of our iniquities is still wreaking havoc among bnei u’bnos Yisrael.

    An additional wonder is that the question as stated comes from her, being as up until now I said clearly that she is counted among those who say that Eretz Yisrael belongs to Am Yisrael, and that her borders are delineated in the Torah in detail (in Parshas Masei). As it says in the verse: This shall be for you the land to its borders around etc. It is only that due to our sins we were exiled from our land and we were distanced from upon our ground, but even in the time of exile it is our land and our ground. And the above title (Medinat Yisrael) allows room to say regarding portions of Eretz Yisrael that they are nothing more than areas conquered by Tzahal in the Six Day War, and the implication of the entire idea of conquest is taking by force from its owners through my strength and the power of my hand.

    I do not wish to go on at length about this painful issue, primarily about the main reason for all the above, meaning the approach of we shall be like all the nations. And certainly this does not require any lengthy dissertation on my part, since she surely reads [materials] along these lines in the newspapers and written works that appear in Eretz Canaan (as per the view of the authors of those columns and works, except that some of them even say it openly and others only hint that this is their intent).

    [It is worth noting that the Rebbe already laid out his view regarding the Torah sources and the inviolability of the name Eretz Yisrael in a letter written ten years earlier to Mr. Pinchas Steinwachs (Igros Kodesh vol. 16 p. 215)].

    BETTER TO GET IT FROM ME

    The Rebbe, who well knew the mindsets at work in Eretz Yisrael at the time, anticipated that sooner or later there would be “friends” who would see to it to convey the contents of the Rebbe’s letter to Mr. Shazar, in the hopes of undermining the special relationship that existed between Shazar, who despite his formal position as “Nasi Medinat Yisrael,” saw himself first and foremost as a Chassid of the Rebbe, the true Nasi.

    That being the case, the Rebbe hurried to forward to Shazar a copy of his letter to Geula Cohen. On the top of the letter, the Rebbe added two handwritten lines (converted from third-person formal): It is not clear to me your reaction to that which follows, but I said that in any case it is better that you receive a copy of my letter directly from me, rather than it reach you in roundabout fashion, or perhaps even in corrupted form.

    The Rebbe signed his name under this two-line addition, and sent the copy of Geula Cohen’s letter by way of his trusted envoy, R’ Shlomo Maidanchek a”h.

    SHAZAR’S QUANDARY

    After reading and rereading the Rebbe’s letter, Shazar found himself in a fiercely sensitive quandary and was torn between his obligations as a Chassid to his Rebbe and the obligations attendant to his honored position as “Nasi Medinat Yisrael.”

    On the one hand, his Chabad origins had led him to connect with the Rebbe with thick cords of love, and despite not being a “Chabad Chassid” in the traditional sense, his soul was bound to the Rebbe. In his letters to the Rebbe – parts of which have become public over the years – he expresses his love for the Rebbe with words that are filled with effusive Chassidic feelings. He was also devoted to the matters of the Rebbe and a number of the major works of the Rebbe in Eretz Yisrael are to his credit. On the other hand, he did not conduct himself as a Chassid in his personal life, and in his public life he had reached the peak of his glory when he was chosen to serve as the President of Israel for a second term. The pinnacle of Israeli prestige.

    As a man of truth, who did not wish to lie to himself, Shazar decided to lay out his inner conflict before the Rebbe, and also his wonder whether the Rebbe was pleased with his letters that were written on the official stationery of the “Nasi Medinat Yisrael.” It appears though that after all of his doubts, his Chassidic soul won the inner battle and towards the end of the letter he writes the following to the Rebbe: I decided to ask his advice as to how to behave, and I shall do as Kevod Toraso (lit. his Torah honor – henceforth K”T) will instruct me.

    The following is a free translation of his letter addressed to, “My dear and esteemed Admor.”

    I NEVER HEARD THIS BEFORE

    Leading up to 12 Tammuz

    7 Tammuz, 5729

    My Dear and Esteemed Rebbe Shlita  

    I owe a debt of gratitude to K”T for the few letters since Shavuos and the kuntrus of DaCH.

    [Among his many efforts in support of the Chabad settlements and institutions in the Holy Land, Shazar also was involved in getting funding for the publications of Kehot, and the Rebbe would send him the books and pamphlets that were published.]

    May he blessed for all of them, and even more so for seeing to it that the letter of K”T to the journalist Geula Cohen not reach me in a roundabout manner, in the way that his letters of this type tend to reach me, and chose to send it to me directly. I am still considering in my mind if and how to respond to this most recent letter, without being false to myself about this and without chalila harming the relationship between us over this.

    I recall that in one of the talks between us, K”T complained to me in a humorous tone that I am not allowing him to be a Tziyoni (Zionist); it seems to me that after this letter to Mrs. Cohen it is my turn to complain that K”T  does not see fit to allow me to be a Chabadi.

    I did in fact know that the mind of K”T was not comfortable with the concept of “Nasi” of the Medina, and I had many explanations for this hesitancy, and because of “the pathways of peace” I decided to accept one of his apologies that he had already conducted himself so in the days of my late predecessor, and since my predecessor is already a denizen of the earth he cannot change his practice, [and] I let the matter drop with pleasantness.

    [As is well known, the Rebbe declined to write the title “Nasi HaMedina” to Mr. Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, who preceded Shazar in this position. The Rebbe wrote him the famous letter in which he described how from the day he went to cheder, and even prior to that, a picture of the Geula began to take shape in his imagination, and its center the “Nasi Yisrael” who is Melech HaMoshiach, which is why he cannot ascribe this title to any other person. At that time, the Rebbe sent a copy of this letter to Mr. Shazar.]    

    However, I never suspected that the concept of “Medina” itself was disagreeable to him. I never heard anything like this from his late father-in-law, and K”T also did not tell this to me, not in our many conversations which I recall word-for-word and not in his letter. This secret, to my heartbreak, was only revealed to me in the letter to the lady journalist, who certainly will not concede on this at some point in time to make it public.

    K”T well knows that I took an oath of loyalty to Medinat Yisrael, once and twice, and that I am wholeheartedly prepared to give my life to protect the Medina, just as thousands of my young brothers have and continue to sacrifice their lives from the time of its renewed establishment until today.

    I well remember the saying of the late Admor, his father-in-law zatzal, that a Chabad discussion is an openhearted discussion, and as such I am obligated and allowed to speak what is in my heart, therefore he should please bear with me the bit of emotional agitation in these lines of mine.

    It is beyond my understanding how to explain this “interpretation” that those who established the term “Medinat Yisrael” intended to push aside the term Eretz Yisrael, as if then in 5708 we could call the territory that comprised the country by the name Medinat Eretz Yisrael, and to explicitly concede on all of the larger Eretz Yisrael that was outside of the perimeters of the Medina? And it is certainly not understood the claim that if one adopts the formulation of “Medina” it is only due to the intent of “my strength and the power of my hand,” forgive me my master!

    I thought for a moment that I would restrain myself again and perhaps I would even write my letter this time not on my stationery, which has the name “Medina” on it, but rather on plain paper, and I decided to ask his advice as to how to behave, and I shall do as K”T will instruct me.

    Due to the importance of the question, it is better that I suffice this time with only this subject and not continue writing in this letter of mine about other urgent matters, and I await instruction.

    Rav Gorodetsky is currently present in Eretz Yisrael and will certainly pass along to K”T about our conversation. I did not discuss the subject of this letter of mine with him at all.

    With true esteem as always

    and with all the feelings of respect and love

    Zalman Shazar

    THE NAME “MEDINAT YISRAEL” UNDERMINES KEY INTERESTS

    The Rebbe responded quickly to this emotionally laden letter of Shazar in a lengthy response (dated “on the morrow of the days of Geula, 12-13 Tammuz, 5729”) that was later published in Igros Kodesh (vol. 25 p. 306). After the titles and blessings, the Rebbe writes (free translation):

    This time I will begin with the main point of the densely packed [letter]:

    With the greatest astonishment (mixed with much pain) I read his [the Rebbe uses the initial of the honorific “his honor”] letter. In addition to the content itself – these are the exact claims etc of Satmar against me: Why have you (meaning – me) attached yourself to Eretz Yisrael and to Eretz HaKodesh and to the Covenant Between the Pieces etc, and are mixing in the Eibeshter etc. etc. – when all those who expended effort in this and those who stood and those who stand now at its head and all those who speak in its name, state and emphasize and proclaim that this is – a medina that was founded in 5718 in those territories that the British left and the “Haganah” chased out the Arabs from there (or entered without opposition) and the representatives of the nations of the world (and the communists of the USSR – among those leading them) discussed among themselves that they would ratify it and it is on territory that is partially of Eretz Yisrael and partially from outside of Eretz Yisrael.

    Obviously, my answer is – it never happened (lo hayu devarim mei’olam). All of the above is nothing new etc, but rather in the year 5718 they liberated a significant portion of Eretz Yisrael (and incidentally also conquered territory X from outside of Eretz Yisrael [i.e. Eilat and the surrounding area] that they attached as an addition and something that is peripheral to the main – Eretz Yisrael).

    They negate these words of mine with the claim that this is my own novel interpretation, and the proof being – that each year they proclaim – such-and-such year to (not – the liberation etc. or the founding of the government etc., but rather) the founding of “Medinat Yisrael.” And it is obvious that this not simply an “argument about semantics” – but rather the main point and foundation of the entire approach: Something that was founded in 5718 with the will or ratification of the nations of the world – has no force and substance to answer the claims of the Arabs, the Vatican, the United Nations etc, and the Canaanites (the revealed and the hidden) that are among the Jewish people: You are bandits in that you conquered lands etc.

    I do not delude myself that with arguments of justice and righteousness they will be victorious in the United Nations, in the Vatican etc. – but it is a most crucial element in the morale of the youth (including those in the IDF), the American students (and certainly of other countries) etc.

    Also and this is the main point: The approach that we are talking about “Medinat Yisrael that was founded with the ratification of the United Nations in 5718,”

    (and not about – the Jewish people who returned to Eretz Yisrael, the land of their inheritance from the times of Yehoshua bin Nun – an inheritance that cannot be interrupted, even if stolen through brute force),

    an approach that has become the foundation and a main point in the worldview of those that determine the stance and conversation and activities and relations with the nations of the world, in general and in particular –

    has destroyed and continues to destroy the affinity for, and harms the vital interests of – even Medinat Yisrael (as is known here as regards to the United States and to the United Nations, and that is certainly also in the rest of the countries), until it ultimately led to literal sacrifices [i.e. lives lost] – and that is what compelled me to step outside of my role and speak about these matters – about which others needed to raise the alarm. [The Rebbe concludes this paragraph with the abbreviation for v’dai l’maven (and that is sufficient for one who is knowledgeable), indicating that there is more that he left unsaid].

    I have written all of the above out of my great pain and I have still not touched upon beyond the “tip of the staff,” and without citing actual events – not even from “the news of the day” what occurred yesterday (literally), and before Shabbos etc. And why should I pain him.

    [Apparently the Rebbe was referring to the car bomb that exploded the day before, Sunday 13 Tammuz, on Rechov Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, as well as the attack that occurred before the prior Shabbos, when Arab terrorists blew up a package bomb on the road to the Kosel HaMaaravi].

    The Rebbe then goes on to respond point by point to each wonderment of Shazar, by quoting them and responding to them. Now that the original letter written by Shazar has been made public, we can gain a greater appreciation of the Rebbe’s response published in Igros Kodesh:

    I did not imagine in advance that there would be the above lengthiness, but since it was already written – I do not want to cut it, and the pardon is his.

    And in the order of his letter:

    “To allow me to be a Chabadi” – His honor was a Chabadi even before I was born, and so shall it be with Hashem’s help for length of days and good years.

    The concept of Medina – If the matter under discussion is Eilat and its environs (which are outside of the conquest of Yehoshua and Ezra) and they grant them independence relative to Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael in general – then by all means they can be called Medinat Yisrael.

    As far as Yerushalayim etc. – the name was already established by the Creator of the world and He who governs it: until the conquest of Yehoshua – Eretz Canaan, and after that – Eretz Yisrael. Beyond that the matter is not subject to a vote or national plebiscite etc.

    Obviously, I have no objection to the name “Medina” even in regards to most of this territory. On the contrary, according to Torah – Eretz Yisrael includes Mikdash and Medina (in the language of Chazal in their Mishna), just as it includes Judea and the Galilee etc. – but what is discussed in my letter is about the debate that there was between the two names (and worldviews – as mentioned above) “Eretz Yisrael” and “Medinat Yisrael” and the latter won out (and I add) as of now (because it is my hope and certainty that ultimately the Jewish pride that is within each and every Jew will be victorious – and they will proclaim and before the eyes of all the nations that there was a mistake originally and it is called Eretz Yisrael in name and in substance etc.). 

    I did not tell this to him until now etc. – Why would I pain him and without any benefit (since I do not see what he could do about this)?

    I wrote about this – not to a lady journalist, but rather to she who organized Torah study in circles that according to the natural order there were no chances for this (which also for this and the like – Satmar is angry at me), and who led (and I hope will continue to lead) the information campaign against the plague of abortions etc. – and some of the opponents to these activities suspected that I was among the factors in this work of hers and they came up with the brainstorm to explain to her that I am opposed to Medinat Yisrael, and the proof being that my [communicative] style is always Eretz Yisrael and therefore – she should not expend effort… in connection with Torah study etc. That is why I was concerned about a weakening of her activities and therefore wrote to her the aforementioned [letter].

    I took an oath of loyalty to Medinat Yisrael – Obviously I am aware of this. And it is a wonder that he did not consider [the fact] that a long time before the oath I requested of him not to refuse this appointment and even more so than an ordinary request – and he certainly knows that even then I was aware of the swearing-in ceremony etc. However, I am certain that when he took the oath and said “loyalty to Medinat Yisrael” he clearly intended Eretz Yisrael and more than that – Eretz HaKodesh and more than even that – the land that the eyes of Hashem Elokecha are upon it from the beginning of the year and until the end of the year.

    A Chabad discussion has to be openhearted and he is obligated and allowed to speak what is in his heart – And even more than that I value this as one of the main components of the friendship between us, and as in the well-known formulation joy is implanted in my heart from this side about this, and my pain is that in his heart he suspects me of what is not in me. And to the contrary – I say and repeat and repeat yet again that the nation that resides in Zion – resides in Eretz Yisrael, a unique land that no other is like it – and the matter is not at all about a country [medina] between the countries of Syria and Lebanon and Jordan and Egypt – and I [continuously] demand not with “a bit of emotional agitation” as you wrote, but with a lot of emotional agitation – that the representatives in Washington and the United Nations should proclaim this and with a bang on the table – and the gentiles in Washington are also of this view. However, the representatives answer that they were ordered not to speak in this manner and obviously not to bang on the table – because they are the representatives of a country [medina] that received permission and ratification to be counted among the countries and therefore they must behave with manners befitting a country. And when on two occasions the representative in the United Nations lost his patience and he said some of “their praise” in public – then within 24 hours there was sent out and he received a severe rebuke from Yerushalayim: How could he etc, and they forced him to issue a public retraction. In the natural order of things – it is this and the like that encourages the provocations and the terrorists etc. – and to the point of literal sacrifices, may Hashem avenge their blood.

    As to the conclusion of the letter about the blank paper and the stationery – Certainly he will continue to write on the stationery that he used until now and will not withhold from me the good and the nachas ruach when I see once again “black on white” that he is the one serving in this position, and when my mood “is good upon me” I add – that at the very same time he is deeply pained no less than I over the aforementioned choice of name (and the worldview) and he anxiously awaits the day when the Jews (because the gentiles never considered otherwise) will write and establish the word Eretz – in place of the word Medinat.

    This reason is in addition to the main one – since I was among those who expended effort and requested and did etc. that he be chosen for this position, and once and twice, and invested loyalty in him etc. – it is by right (and privilege) that he write letters to me and to them on the stationery of this position.

    And as in the opening of my letter [in the titles] – since he is “the chosen from the nation” and is “raised up from the nation” – he should continue in this role in speech and in writing and in action, and the merit assists him.

    With esteem and with honor and with blessing

    M. Schneerson

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