Judah Halevi

He believed the Land of Israel is necessary for living a complete Jewish life.

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The poet and philosopher Judah Halevi (c.1075-c.1141) lived in Spain during the Golden Age. The following article explores his philosophical attitude toward the Land of Israel. On this topic, however, Halevi is best known for a line of poetry that expressed his intense yearning for the Holy Land: "My heart is in the East and I am at the end of the West." Reprinted with the permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

Undoubtedly the first thinker to propose a systematic, comprehen­sive philosophy of the Land of Israel, in his Sefer ha-Kuzari (II:9-24), Judah Halevi deals with the unique status of the land on three levels:Northern Israel 

Philosophical Level

Halevi posits two parallel hierarchies: a hierarchy of levels of reality (inanimate, vegetable, animal, man, prophet) and a hierarchy of soils (the theory of climates, fully developed in the Hellenis­tic period, according to which the country was divided into seven climatic regions, each with characteristic geophysical and astrolo­gical conditions).

The two summits of the hierarchies are interrelated and influence one another. A Jew may become a prophet only when he or she is in (or refers to) the Land of Israel, which is the choicest region of the fourth climate, itself the best of all possible climates. Residence on the soil of the Land of Israel becomes a necessary condition for the perfection of any Jew, and prophecy may exist only in (or for) it.

This principle is ex­plained through the parable of a vineyard, which can thrive only in mountainous soil. A vineyard uprooted from its native soil will wither and die. The vineyard symbolizes the people of Israel; the soil, the Land of Israel. But the uniqueness of the Land of Israel is not just a question of climatology. Jews, who need the land in order to grow and develop, are essentially and qualitatively different from gentiles; hence the Land of Israel, too, has a special quality that is conducive to the appearance of a new level of reality, the prophets.land of israel quiz

Interpretive Level

Halevi laid the foun­dations for an exegesis of the Bible and Midrash in which various issues are based on the importance of the Land of Israel. Sometimes he unhesitatingly departs from explicit midrashic traditions in order to high­light the sterling qualities of the land. For example, he insists that Adam was created in the Land of Israel, contrary to midrashic traditions that declare that his creation was universal ("his dust was accumulated from the four corners of the Earth;" B. San. 38a).

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Dov Schwartz

Dov Schwartz is a professor in the philosophy department at Bar Ilan University.