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The Three Oaths of the Talmud

The Christian Zionist understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Palestine, as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures, is superficial at best and heresy at the worst. The Bible most emphatically does not teach that the Jewish people have an absolute entitlement to the land of Palestine by virtue of their ancestry to Abraham alone. The conditionality of their possession of the land, explicitly referred to in the Pentateuch, tells us that the Jewish people are aliens in the land of Palestine: – tenants of the God whose land it is. Without living up to the ethical conditions of their tenancy, Israel faces expulsion from the land God promised them, until finally, by grace alone, they can return legitimately.

As well as this testimony from the common heritage of the Old Testament, there is the witness of the Talmud. The Talmud is the collection of commentaries of the Mishna, which draws upon its conclusions in the formulation of Jewish law. It is in this Holy Jewish writing (Kesubos 111a) that we find further illumination to the relationship of the Holy land to God’s chosen people.

Professor Yakov M. Rabkin of Montreal University in Canada relates the section of the Talmud in question.

The Talmud relates the three oaths sworn on the eve of the dispersal of what remained of the people of Israel to the four corners of the earth; not to return en masse and in organized fashion to the Land of Israel; not to rebel against the nations; and that the nations do not subjugate Israel exceedingly (2006, p. 71).

Jewish tradition informs us that God made the Rabbis take these solemn oaths at the dispersal of the Jewish people from Israel in 130 A.D. The people were to not return “as a wall” to the land. It has been interpreted by many Rabbis and Jewish scholars that this return could not be a return to the land either by forceful or peaceful means. The logic behind this stems from the combined meaning of the first and second oaths. A taking of the land by force would by necessity rebel against the nations since those dispossessed by the returning Jewish masses would obviously be driven to wrath for the harm done to them. If the first oath only prohibited a return by force, then the second oath not to rebel against the nations would seem to make the first oath redundant. The first oath would still make sense in light of the second if the prohibition to enter the land was referring to any effort at all to reclaim the land of Israel by the Jewish people.

At the heart of the oaths is the belief that to usher in the final Messianic age of peace is an act of God, by grace alone. Just as Christians have believed for two centuries that salvation is wrought sola gratia, so the vast majority of Jewish rabbis have taught that no human effort is either necessary or permissible in the consummation of the redemption of creation by God. They taught that the Messiah must come first and then the Jews would return to the land in a miraculous fashion, bringing in a world wide age of peace and service to God such that no injustice or dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine would occur.

The claim that the State of Israel is responsible for the violence between Jew and Arab in the Middle East is met with counter claims of anti-Semitism by Zionists and their supporters. Yet a simple study of history reveals that Jew and Arab have a long history of cooperation and tolerance between each other in the land of Palestine and the Middle East in general. Anti-Semitism was never the force in the Arab world that it was, and still is, in Europe.

The traditions of Judaism have never portrayed the Jewish people as “eternal victims” of what we call anti-Semitism. The lessons of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Egyptians and the attempted genocide of the Children of Israel by Pharaoh are echoed in the Torah time and time again. These lessons can be summed up by the simple statement: Do not oppress those different to you for you were once oppressed yourselves. In other words; see to it that oppression of the vulnerable never occurs – to anyone. This lesson of the Torah, put even more succinctly by Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.” stands in stark contrast to the lessons that Zionism has taken from the Holocaust: See to it that oppression never happens again – to us. If others need to be oppressed so that we can be free, then so be it. We have an entitlement to do so because we are Jewish and no one else has a right to tell us differently. All criticism of our sense of entitlement is proof of the anti-Semitic nature of the nations.

Jewish tradition recognises that Jewish people have a responsibility not to provoke the nations to wrath and hence bring anti-Semitism upon themselves. This does not imply that all anti-Semitism has been provoked or that even when provoked it is justified, but that the Jewish people are not without responsibility in how the nations deal with them. They are not the hapless, eternal victims of a world that hates them.

Zionists today are not slow to point out that the Arab world is, and always has been, intensely anti-Semitic. One wonders why a secular Zionism would seek refuge from European anti-Semitism by creating a Zionist state in the middle of an anti-Jewish Arab world. Were the early Zionists naive?  Would they not have known that the Arab world would reject their efforts to create a Zionist state in their midst just as fervently as the Germans would have rejected the creation of a Jewish state in the middle of Germany? If Zionists knew that the Arab world would reject the creation of their homeland, would they not have been prepared to take it by force right from the beginning? Would they not have been ready to act with violence to counter this anti-Semitism right from the start? Indeed, would intelligent Zionist leaders (knowing the absolute nature of Arab hatred for Jews) have discerned the need to act in a pre-emptive fashion so as to guarantee the initial success of their venture to form a Zionist state? In 1967 Israeli leaders acted in a pre-emptive manner to destroy the Egyptian Air force, delivering victory to the Zionist State before a single Arab had attacked Israel.

Logic tells us that the Zionists took the land of Palestine by force. How else would they expect to create a homeland for themselves in a land they continually demand has always been inhabited by Arabs who hate Jews for no reason?  Or perhaps Arabs have not always been at odds with the Jewish people and this fact was exploited by the Zionists in order to push their way into Palestine, blaming the hatred that they stirred up in the Arabs by the dispossession they suffered in their homeland not on the injustice of this act but on the same insanity that overtook Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s.

It is difficult to imagine how the Zionists have not trampled on the oaths of the Talmud as much as they have trampled on the rights of the Palestinian people. When you trample on the vulnerable and the powerless, you trample on the Torah. Those secular Jews who stand up for equality and justice for the indigenous people of Palestine show their Jewishness far more than a thousand Jews who say they believe in God yet oppress the alien among them.

Craig Nielsen


Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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May 2023