Maimonides on Israel

Rambam believed the Land of Israel does not have objective importance.

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Thus, a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel is a criterion of institutional halakhic authority. This also follows from other issues, such as the interrupted ordination of judges owing to the exile from the land (Hilkhot Sanhedrin 4:11).

(2) The importance of the Land of Israel is a halakhic consideration. The scroll of Esther is read on Purim on the 15th of Adar in cities that have been walled since the time of Joshua, although the actual site of the miracle--Susa--was not walled at that time. The distinction was made solely "to express respect for the Land of Israel, which was in ruins at that time" (Hilkhot Megillah 1:5). Thus, even commandments originating in the Diaspora are linked with the status of the Holy Land.

(3) Various elements in personal law are dependent on the sanctity of the Land of Israel. Maimonides systematically restated the laws that derive from the rule: "Everyone may be brought up to the Land of Israel, but not everyone may be brought out" (Hilkhot Ishut 13:20). These laws perpetuate the supe­riority of the Land of Israel in such matters as a dispute between husband and wife, one wishing to immigrate to the Holy Land and the other refusing.

One could extend this list of examples, of course, with the many legal situations that arise only in the Land of Israel, such as the commandments dependent on the Holy Land, the laws of the Temple, and the laws of Nazirites. In the last-named category, for example, Maimonides disagrees with other authorities, ruling that a person who takes a Nazirite's vow in the Diaspora must immi­grate to the Land of Israel to keep that vow (Hilkhot Nezirut 2:21).

In general, Maimonides relates to the sanctity of the Land of Israel on a purely halakhic level (Hilkhot Beit ha-Behirah 7:12). His approach, therefore, may be defined as rejecting any objective, "scientific" merit--or, a fortiori, uniqueness--of the land. The unique feature of the Holy Land is that it is national ground, on which the nation can maintain its autono­mous legal and political life.

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Dov Schwartz

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