By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

In the past few months, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has occupied entire floors of hotels in Jerusalem. In early March, Mr Kerry is expected to present a copy of the so-called framework agreement to Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington to both visit President Barack Obama and address the AIPAC conference of AIPAC.

The document will propose a peace deal along pre-1967 borders but with land swaps that take account of “demographic changes” on the ground. The document will attempt to influence the Netanyahu government to give up many different areas of Eretz Yisrael. It is therefore be an opportune time to review the halachos of what constitutes Eretz Yisrael. It must be stressed that this discussion does not chalilah condone the giving up of parts of Israel. It is merely a discussion of the status of its various parts.



Although the verse in Bereishis (17:8) tells us that Hashem told Avraham, “And I shall give you and your descendants after you…the entire Land of Canaan as an inheritance forever,” one can divide up Eretz Yisrael into two different types of land:


A. Lands that were captured by our ancestors who arose out of Egypt but were not recaptured by our ancestors who rose out of Babylonia during the time of Ezra; and


B. Lands that were also recaptured by our ancestors who rose out of Babylonia.


For our purposes, we will heretofore designate these two areas as “area A” and “area B.”


There are many different practical ramifications of the different statuses of these two types of areas. There may be differences in the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, the prohibition of leaving Eretz Yisrael, the issue of terumah and maaser, and also other issues.

This upcoming year (fall of 2014) is a shemittah year, and that is also a matter that may be affected by this question. The issue of keeping one day or two days of Yom Tov is also pertinent. It is also possible that for one of these mitzvos an area is considered Eretz Yisrael but for another it is not.



There is halachic debate as to whether one fulfills the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael–settling the land of Israel–if one resides in area A. The Chazon Ish (Shvi’is 3:9) rules that one does fulfill the mitzvah. Both the Maharit (Vol. I, No. 47) and the Avnei Naizer (Y.D. 454:62) hold that, although it is a great merit, one does not fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael.




Regarding the prohibition of leaving Eretz Yisrael, there may be a prohibition of leaving area A even if one is moving into area B. Tosefos (as well as the Ran and Ritvah, Gittin 2a) quote the Gemara in Gittin 76b that the Sages (who lived in Eretz Yisrael area A) were careful not to enter the city of Acco. They therefore prove that one may not leave area A to enter into area B. The Ramban, however, understands this incident differently. He writes that these Sages merely loved area A so much that they preferred not to enter an area B, but that, halachically, there is no problem. Another question is whether one may leave area B and go to chutz laAretz. Tosefos in Gittin 2a seems to indicate that it is forbidden.



There is also a whole plethora of opinions as to which exact areas are part of halachic Eretz Yisrael. Regarding the city of Eilat, for example, there is a debate among the Acharonim as to whether it was among the geographic location recaptured by those who arose from Babylonia. There is a location mentioned in Chumash in the southeast section of the Dead Sea called Maale Akravim. Some have identified this location as Eilat (Rav Yechiel Michel Tikochinsky, zt’l). Others identify it as Jabal Chanzira, which is to the southeast of the Dead Sea and 30 kilometers away from it. Yet others think that what is known today as Maale Akravim is the actual Biblical one, as well. The official position of the chief rabbinate in Israel is that there is doubt.


The differences, of course, will be manifest in the upcoming shemittah year in the supermarkets. Fruit stores under the supervision of the Eidah Chareidis, for example, do not allow any fruits that have kedushas shvi’is into their stores, out of a concern that they might be mishandled by the consumer. All of the produce in stores with an Eidah Chareidis hechsher are either from the sixth year or from what they rule is not considered halachic Eretz Yisrael, or is grown by certified non-Jews on land that they themselves own (without use of a heter mechirah).


Regarding how these issues are ultimately ruled upon, one might have thought that these doubts can be combined to factor into a leniency. In halachic literature this is termed as a “s’nif lehakel.” A s’nif lehakel is usually an opinion or a factor that cannot generally be relied upon by itself to form a lenient ruling but, in combination with one or two or even three other factors, does form a leniency. Regarding the issue of the borders of Eretz Yisrael, however, there are opinions that these doubts cannot be combined and used even as a s’nif lehakel. Rav Efrati quotes the Chazon Ish as forbidding the use of minority opinions as a s’nif lehakel even for a rabbinic issue.

One last idea. The Gemorah in Sotah (44b) tells us that the beginning of defeat is retreat. If Israel retreats from Yehudah and Shomron, then the country of Jordan will become a very attractive place for groups such as Hamas and other Jihad-oriented organizations. If new borders of Eretz Yisroel Israel are near the 1967 line, the dynamic of Israel’s security needs will dramatically change as internal pressures on Jordan will rise significantly.

Even Yitzhak Rabin in his last Knesset speech, made it quite clear that Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 line. In that speech he stressed that Israel would hold on to the Jordan Valley “in the fullest sense of the word.” Yehudah and Shomron are areas that are clearly Eretz Yisroel. But more than this, they are essential to the security needs of the entire nation. It is therefore crucial that we place every effort, both political and spiritual, to ensure the integrity of halachic Eretz Yisroel.

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