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Why is Israel called the Holy Land?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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In Judaism the term Holy is used for something that stands apart. Something that is different or designated.

The land of Israel stands apart, is different, and designated. 

It is the land "of the book". It is the land that G-d considers gift-worthy. G-d has a different set of standards for this land. And beginning with a covenant made with Abraham, G-d clearly designated this land for the Jewish people.

It is a Holy Land.

The uniqueness of this land is expressed through a broad range of topics in numerous Jewish writings. Here are a few examples: 

1. G-d's close association with, and concern for, this land is illustrated in the following verse from the Torah1: “For the land to which you are coming to possess is... a land [which] the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year”.

2. A Holy Land has high standards, and before entering Israel G-d2 warned the Jewish people about their behavior there: “You shall not defile yourselves ... for the nations, whom I am sending away from before you, have defiled themselves with all these things. The land became defiled, and I visited its sin upon it, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”3

3. The positive side of living in such a spiritually sensitive land is demonstrated in the Talmud4 when it states: “The ‘air’ of the Land of Israel makes one clever”.

4. The Holiness of the land has practical and legal effects as well. Only judges who were ordained in Israel5, and thus possessed this spiritual sensitivity, were allowed to preside over capital cases. Similarly, the sanctification of the New Moon to establish Rosh Chodesh and Jewish Holidays, as well as the rabbinical court's ability to designate leap years, were restricted to rabbis ordained in Israel.6

5. Furthermore, many of G-d's commandments - which in essence are opportunities for man to become holy - are only applicable in the confines of the Holy Land. (See Which Mitzvahs are only observed in the Land of Israel?).

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 11:10,12
  • 2. Leviticus 18:24-25
  • 3. With this rationale Nachmanides also explains why the Israeli cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, although many other immoral societies were allowed to flourish.
  • 4. Talmud Baba Batra 158b
  • 5. This refers to ancient Israel, when it was possible to be ordained by a rabbinical court whose members were ordained by a rabbinical court whose ordinations could be traced back person to person all the way to Moses himself.
  • 6. The Jewish perpetual calendar used today was instituted due to the lack of rabbis in Israel who could sustain the traditional, witness based calendar.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.