Judaism Zionism and the Land of Israel. Yotav Eliach. Dialog Books, 2018. 807 pp.
Rabbi Yotav Eliach’s new book, Judaism, Zionism and the Land of Israel, is the fruit of a lifetime of study and teaching, which seeks to frame the emergence of the modern state of Israel in a Biblical and historical reference. Rabbi Eliach has been a teacher for decades and is currently the esteemed principal of Rambam Mesivta High School in Long Island, New York. Bringing together his scholarship and spiritual leanings, he has produced a massive volume that bridges the gaps between the many elements of Jewish history, tradition and faith, in addition to the political and military history of the wider world.
Rabbi Eliach has written a work that begins with the Patriarch Abraham of some 4,000 years ago, continuing through the establishment of Jewish kingdoms under Solomon and David and to the times of occupations by Persian, Greek, Roman, Muslim, and British authorities to the foundation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. The relationship between God and His chosen people is woven throughout the book. Throughout the centuries after their dispersal from the land of Israel by the Romans during the First Century A.D., the Jewish people prayed to return to the land of the Promise. Rabbi Eliach also includes hard facts about the dispossession, marginalization and anti-Semitism that marked those centuries and that gave increasing impetus over nearly two thousand years to Zionism -- Jewish nationalism -- that brought to fruition the prayers and sacrifices of a people who had been far too long abused.
For Rabbi Eliach, the presence of God as a guiding force in the destiny of the Jewish people and the land that they claim is not to be dismissed. He writes: “The Israelites’ relationship to Hashem was based on a covenant binding God and Israel through a series of obligations.” As an eloquent and frank believer, Rabbi Eliach pays tribute in his book to the divine illumination that has aided theorists, diplomats, and warriors who sacrificed to make modern Israel a reality.
In an interview, Rabbi Eliach said that his book is not intended for a Jewish audience only. “It’s for anyone who is open-minded and certainly anyone who has a penchant for believing in the Bible would be an interested audience. But even those who don’t, it’s for those who want to understand the Jewish connection to the land of Israel since biblical times until today. It’s historic.”
Reflecting on the historical context present for the release of his book, Rabbi Eliach spoke to the decision on the part of President Trump to conform with legislation that was passed by Congress decades ago to move the American embassy to Israel’s historic capital: Jerusalem. “Israel has had to suffer an indignity that no other country in the world has had to suffer. And that is not only that its enemies don’t recognize the country’s capital or its existence, but its friends don’t recognize the city it has chosen as its capital. During the Cold War, I don’t recall that we did not recognize Moscow as the capital of the Soviet Union, and I don’t recall that the Soviets did not recognize Washington as our capital.”
“It always has been the capital of the Jewish state,” Rabbi Eliach said, “and to have the most important country in the world and greatest ally, the country that is still the standard bearer of democracy, officially recognize a decision that was made in 1995 by Congress, is a huge day: historically, religiously, politically, and on the anniversary of the founding of modern Israel is tremendous.”
Among those who praised the book are famed legal scholar Alan Dershowitz and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. The estate of the late historian Martin Gilbert, whose biographies of Winston Churchill are required reading for those who wish to understand the history of the 20th century, permitted Rabbi Eliach to include many of Gilbert's maps in this book.
Rabbi Eliach has done a great service to historiography by assembling materials from across a range of disciplines, offering materials for both the passionate defenders of Israel, whether Jewish, Christian, or unaffiliated, and Israel’s critics to consider when addressing the past and the proximate future of Israel and its place in the Middle East and the world. By reading the rabbi’s volume, readers can put into context the events of the day that marked both the 70th anniversary of the founding of modern Israel and the United States’ recognition of its capital with the assault on its borders by rioters led by the Hamas terrorist group.