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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just what is the Jewish claim to the land of Israel?

Obviously, one can make a religious claim to the land of Israel. On the first verse of the Torah, Rashi asks why the Torah begins with "In the beginning, God created" (Genesis 1:1), rather than, "This month shall be to you" (Exodus 12:2), the first commandment (mitzvah) in the Torah. After all, wouldn't it make sense for the Torah to begin with the commandments? Rashi answers, so that when the nations of the world dispute our claim to Israel, we can say, God created the earth, and can apportion it however He wants. The sense of the passage of Rashi, however, is not that we shall tell the world this, but that we shall tell ourselves this. That is, the point is not to convince the world of our rectitude, but only to convince ourselves. We take Genesis 1:1 seriously, and if they do not, that is their problem, not ours. So what argument do we make to the world?

Today, a friend of mine claimed that Jews are a genetic people, and I replied,
We're an ethnic group, but a cultural one, not a genetic one. Saadia Gaon says we are a people due to the Torah. Thus, Jewish peoplehood is about Sinai. Of course, there are citizenship requirements, and so you can be a Jew without believing in the Torah, and you can believe in the Torah without being a Jew. But putting the technical citizenship requirements aside, being Jewish is about following the Torah.

Now, Jews will happen to have a genetic commonality, but that's not what makes us Jewish. Jews marry other Jews, so you'll form a self-contained genetic pool, but that's not what makes person Jewish.
Studies show that Jews from around the world (Europe and the Middle East alike) have more in common with each other than with their neighboring gentiles, but
it's coincidence. We merely happen to have common ancestors, but that is not what makes a person Jewish.

Imagine a Jewish man marries a gentile woman. They have a daughter. She marries a Jewish man. They have a daughter. She marries a Jewish man. And so forth, ad infinitum. In the end, you have a gentile with 99.99% Jewish blood.

Conversely, imagine a gentile man marries a Jewish woman. They have a daughter. She marries a gentile man. They have a daughter. She marries a gentile man. And so forth, ad infinitum. In the end, you have a Jew with 99.99% gentile blood.

My friend said to me,
dont you feel like our not being an ethnic group semi-legitimizes arab claims? like if israel isnt the birthplace of our ethnic group, what do we have? i feel iffy about using religious claims

I responded,
We are still a people. Just because you're not a genetic relative, does not invalidate your being a cultural relative. We are a peoplehood. It's just that the criteria are different.

Why should ownership of land be genetic? Why not cultural? See http://spme.net/cgi-bin/articles.cgi?ID=1726 [ = "The Gene Wars" by Diana Muir Appelbaum and Paul S. Appelbaum, AzureWinter 5767 / 2007, no. 27]. The authors argue that even if the Palestinians do have a genetic relationship to the original inhabitants of Israel (which is a very doubtful claim, they show, but they temporarily accept it, for the sake of argument), that even so, Israel belongs to those who believe in the Biblical religion of Israel. That is, blood or no blood, it is Jews, not Palestinians, who have a cultural relationship to the land of Israel. In other words, who says everything comes down to genetics? Maybe it depends on culture.

Or, if you want to take a libertarian property-rights tack, then the land of Israel belongs to anyone who has a deed of ownership. Well, the Jews who were expelled by the Romans, they never renounced their ownership. Palestinians are squatters. Now, we cannot always determine which contemporary Jew is a lineal descendant of which Roman-era Jew (meaning he has inherited the deed of ownership), but the least we can do is say that the whole Jewish people have inherited those deeds of ownership, whether by blood-descent or by culture. Every convert who converts to Judaism, is regarded by the Jewish people as a valid member, and so the blood-Jews let him join in their property claims.
She asked, but doesn't genetics show precisely who is a lineal descendant, who has inherited the property? I said,
Okay, perhaps, yes. The problem is, most of the people who make the genetic argument, are not libertarians, and they do not believe in staunch, absolute personal-property rights. So they don't really have the credentials to argue that the Palestinians deserve the land by virtue of being the lineal descendants and inheritors of the deeds of ownership. If you generally do not believe in absolute personal property, you cannot suddenly invoke personal property claims when it is convenient.

For these people, who do not believe in personal property, cultural is as good a criteria as genetics. They have no basis to prefer genetics, because genetics presumes a libertarian take on personal property. Karl Marx, for example, advocated the abolition of inheritance. So anyone with socialist or social-democrat leanings, cannot use the genetic argument, because they already believe in the abolition of inheritance.

Only the libertarian who believes in personal property, can make the genetic argument. For everyone else, the cultural argument is as valid as the genetic one.
I neglected to say to my friend, that another crucial claim by Appelbaum and Appelbaum, is their precise justification for why culture should trump genetics: their claim is that property ownership (or rather, they speak of "national identify") is a cultural identification. If a group of Poles voluntarily moved to Germany, and married other Polish immigrants to Germany, would anyone claim these Poles deserve to be given Poland? Of course not. Or, in their words,
For example, no one would argue that the descendants of the several hundred thousand Poles who migrated to the Ruhr Valley at the end of the nineteenth century are anything but German, even those among them who have married only the descendants of other Polish immigrants. Nationality is a matter of culture, not genetics.
Sure, they have Polish blood, but they no longer identify as Poles, but rather, as Germans. To maintain a national (or property-ownership) claim, requires not just blood, but also the explicit identification and articulation of yourself as the legitimate heir. The problem with the Palestinians would be that, even if they have Biblical Jewish blood, they nevertheless came out of nowhere, and suddenly, in 1967, began making a claim they had never made before. For 2000 years, while in exile, Jews would constantly speak of a return to Zion, several times daily in the daily prayer liturgy. Where were the comparable Palestinian claims? How is it possible that someone in 1967 suddenly makes a claim to a land lost in 70, and claims that blood alone compensates for the cultural identification as heir which he neglected to previously make? The problem is that being someone's heir requires some sort of maintenance of that inheritance right. Jews have been claiming for 2000 years to be the exiled descendants of the Biblical Jews; the Palestinians have not.

I added,
Also ... if anyone says the Palestinians own Israel, tell them that apparently, it's because Mohammed's army conquered Israel. If so, then Israel's conquests are valid too! That is, if the Palestinians own Israel, one must either claim that (a) they are the descendants of the Biblical Jews or the Canaanites (a preposterous claim with no genetic or historical evidence), or (b) that conquest makes ownership. If (b) is true, then Israel's conquests are just as valid.

And, if one claims that property is owned by its original owner, then fine, it's the Canaanites, but please, find me a Canaanite, and I'll gladly hand over all of Israel to him. In the meantime, the second owner is the Jews. Whether Israel goes to the original owner or to its latest conqueror, either way, it's the Jews.

3 comments:

The System Works said...

In that nefarious book, 'The Invention of the Jewish People',the Marxist expert in French cinema argues that the concept of'people-hood' solely implies ethnicity, which he mostly ties in with blood. However, he also claims Jewishness is not a cultural identity as there is no common secular Jewish culture given the Mizrachi/Sephardi/Ashkenazi divides and so on. That is an odd blanket-proposition, considering the cultural differences that exist among the regions of England and the Provinces of Ireland, and so on.

I contended Jews are first and foremost a national group, being described as a 'nation' countless times in the Tanakh, and I hope that term comes back into vogue as I believe its an accurate nomenclature. Unfortunately, people don't use the term in its classical sense very much these days.

I've always been fond of Rav Soloveitchik's distinction between the Covenant of Fate and Covenant of Destiny in 'Kol Dodi Dofek' - the difference between an 'Am' the pre-dates the revelation at Sinai (and was not based on race, of course) and the 'Edah' post-Sinai.

'Palestinians' made their choice to be Arabs long ago, and the more I hear them talk about connections to Canaanites, Philistines or even the Jews of antiquity the funnier and more desperate it sounds. I spoke to a Palestinian Arab man once who boasted about reading Hebrew scriptures and 'discovering' his people were the Canaanites. He believed his people were always being kicked around by Jewish invaders ever since that nasty Abraham came over from Iraq only to have his kids take over all of Canaan. I asked him if, following this, he would wish for Palestine to sever its connection with the Arab League, given his people are Canaanites, not Arabs. He didn't want to respond to that.

In terms of nationhood, ethnicity, or whatever, it mostly comes down to self-identification, not race. Recently Irish people have become more aware (of something I had believed for a long time) that the Celtic peoples never made up the majority of the Irish gene pool, and more likely it is Iberian peoples related to the Basques. Ireland will no doubt go on regarding itself as a Celtic nation. Genes or not, its all about historic self-perception.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Ahh, yes, Shlomo Sands's book, LOL. I recall he also says that until Herzl, there was no such thing as a Jewish national identity, so I remember thinking to myself, "Oh, I guess the Kuzari is a modern-day forgery, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

It is of course also absurd to say that Jewishness is not an ethnicity due to the lack of a common secular culture. That is not only offensive and insulting, but also flat-out ridiculous. Why should a common identity have to be secular? What the hell? The Jews can all keep one religion, belief, and law, but because we don't have a national food, we aren't an ethnicity? Sands creates an arbitrary standard - viz. secularism's anthropological (not theological!) superiority over religiosity - and denies the Jewish people based on that arbitrary standard.

I of course agree with you that the Jewish people are a national group, given the Tanakh. We are am yisrael, not dat yisrael. (In fact, "dat" is a Persian word we picked up during the First Exile. This would affect the pasuq "eish dat"; the correct reading must be "eishdat", one word.)

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