Author Archives: Eliezer Schweid

Eliezer Schweid

About Eliezer Schweid

Dr. Eliezer Schweid is a recipient of the Israel Prize and Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University.

The Promise of the Promised Land

The following article discusses the role and significance of the Land of Israel in the Bible. Reprinted with permission of The Gale Group from Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, edited by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr.

The point of departure for an understanding of this matter is that the tribes were united as a nation, on the basis of the Torah’s covenant, prior to their arrival in the Land. In the Bible the land is less often called the Land of Israel than it is named after the Canaanites and the other peoples dispossessed by the Israelites.

Material & Moral Meaning

The Land of Israel is perceived as the promised land, the acquisition of which involves a moral and religious problem and to the possession of which a moral condition applies. The previous inhabitants of the Land lost their right to it because of their sins, and the Israelite tribes will continue to reside in the Land only if they will be just.

israel as the promised land

As a consequence of the problem and condition attached to the acquisition and possession of the Land, it acquired a special role and assumed a special character. Even as the basis of the nation’s material existence it symbolizes a religious destiny. It is the holy land, and only in it will the nation achieve a worthiness such that the Lord will dwell in its midst.

The Land of Israel is thus the land that was promised as a national homeland, the basis of the nation’s economic weal and state power, but at the same time it symbolize the Torah’s universal moral and religious meaning. These two faces of the Land were meant to he complementary, but in the course of the nation’s history they were often in contention.

Commandments of the Land

Among the main expressions of the dual character of the relationship to the Land are the commandments that “depend on the land,” that is, that can be observed only in the Land: the laws of the sabbatical and jubilee years, the tithes and offerings to the priests, and the laws of the harvest that guaranteed that shares be left over for the poor. These commandments depend on the Land not only in that they apply to the nation when the nation is in its land, but also because they are concrete applications of the moral and religious condition on which possession of the Land of Israel quiz

The Uniqueness of the Holocaust

The existence of evil and suffering has challenged religious thinkers for millennia. But is all evil and suffering equal? Since World War II, theologians have grappled with whether the theological problems raised by the Holocaust can be conflated into the general problem of evil and suffering, or whether the Holocaust poses unique challenges.  Reprinted with the permission of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs from
Wrestling Until Day-Break

The ancient problem of theodicy [justifying the existence of evil] was one of the first philosophical problems related to the Holocaust which Jewish religious think­ers felt obliged to confront even during the evolving events. 

Needing An Impossible Faith

In spite of a strong emotional difficulty to apply “cold,” detached philo­sophical methods to such an intimate painful problem during the terrible trial and in its aftermath, it was too urgent to be avoided. Believers needed so desperately the support and consolation of faith, seemingly the only possible source of support and consolation against such events which, however, refuted so radically the deepest existential foundations of faith. One had at least to protest or pray his question, as a final act of faith, expecting an answer from the depth of his soul, if not in a methodical‑philosophical manner, at least in a prophetic intuition.

uniqueness of the holocaustIndeed, the emotional facticity which served as a necessary empirical foundation even for later philosophical reflections on this ultimate question, made itself manifest in a paradoxical tension between two “measurable” anthropological phenomena-‑in the majority of studied individual cases of survivors (Brenner, 1980) the Holocaust did not affect extreme changes of basic attitudes towards faith in God, both on the part of believers and of nonbelievers. Namely, the majority of those who were believers before the Holocaust remained so after the Holocaust, and the same is true of nonbelievers.

Even those few whose belief was shocked and destroyed during the Holocaust, generally recovered their former position after the end of the war, while both believers and nonbelievers became only more radical in their stances after the events. On the other hand, believers, not less than nonbelievers, admitted in their immediate responses to the events (especially in diaries, prayers and homilies) their feeling that they cannot find any adequate religious justification.