Those Jews who will be in a synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be listening to the reading of the Haftarah, just after the Torah portion will have been cantillated. It relates the story of Hannah, the childless wife of Elkanah.
Hannah decides to take fate into her own hands and, in an early act of feminism, approaches the Tabernacle to pray for a son. She walked into the sanctuary and, facing the Holy of Holies, sobbed. While not raising her voice above a faint whisper, she assumed an oath that if God would only grant her a child, she would consecrate him to the sacred service at the Tabernacle. She prayed, and her prayer was answered.
As the Bible relates in the first two chapters of the first book of Samuel, this extraordinary scene took place at Shiloh. As described at the end of Judges 21, Shiloh is “north of Bethel, south of Levonah and on the east side of the highway that proceeds from Bethel to Shechem.”
Shiloh is a indeed biblical location. It is in the hills of Efraim, in the region of Samaria. In fact, the vast majority of the events described in the Bible occurred in the hills of Judea and Samaria, what is contemporarily termed “the West Bank.” Christians know that Jesus was born “in Judea, in Bethlehem” (Matthew 2), and that the Apostles walked through “Judea and Samaria” (I Acts 8). Muslims know that God had desired that the Israelites live in the holy land (see Sura 5:21 and 17:104).
Is the Jewish people’s claim to its national territory only based on the Bible, the Scriptures and the Koran?
Not every claim based on the Bible is one of religion or faith, or one that must be taken without physical or rational proof. There is also the biblical period of time, when Jews resided in the country, where they established a tribal federation, and later, a monarchy. A time when priests and prophets were active. When houses were constructed and vineyards planted. Battles were fought in the hills and valleys of the land. Great deeds were done, and unworthy sins were committed there.
And we have proof of that. Extra-biblical accounts from Egypt and Rome exist. More importantly, scientific archaeological excavations and studies have uncovered physical material proof of events that took place more than 2,000 years ago. Haaretz’s Sept. 18 headline reads, on an excavation on Edomite sites, “Archaeology Confirms Book of Genesis.” There are the Merneptah Stele, and the Karnak and Mesha Inscriptions, as well as all that is coming out of the City of David and so much more, including the digs at my home village of Shiloh.
Indeed, Shiloh is a classic example of the Jewish people’s link to its land, beginning with the biblical era.
Shiloh is where Jacob and his sons fought a battle with the sons of Shechem [Genesis 48:21, “with my sword and with my bow”]. It is the place associated with Jewish sovereignty [Genesis 49:10, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh is come”] and where the Tabernacle was erected [Joshua 18:1, “the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them”].
Shiloh was the location of the sounding of the exhortation to settle throughout the Land of Israel [Joshua 18:3, “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel: ‘How long are ye slack to go in to possess the land”]. It was to Shiloh that Elkanah ascended in annual pilgrimage [I Samuel 1:1/3, “Now there was a certain man … of the hill-country of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah. … And this man went up out of his city from year to year to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh”] and where Hannah praised God [I Samuel 3:2/7, “… the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed … they that stumbled are girded with strength”].
It is where God revealed his presence [I Samuel 3:21, “the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh”] and where God chastised power [I Kings 14:8/10, “… thou hast not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments, and who followed Me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in Mine eyes; but hast done evil … therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam … ”].
This is a recounting of our history as a people. It is testimony to our heritage, our way of life, that continues until today, and it represents events and persons who set us on our moral, ethical and cultural path through history. Indeed, from Shiloh comes a call to all humankind—Jews and non-Jews—to recognize the right and obligation of the Jewish people to live in its historic homeland and for all nations to act with goodness.
And not only from the biblical period. Throughout history, Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria, and it was only because of the Arab ethnic-cleansing campaign that was carried out between 1920-1948 that the Jews who survived the violent attacks were forced to leave. They were expelled from Jerusalem’s Old City; the nearby moshavim of Atarot and Neve Yaakov; the neighborhoods of Shimon Hatzadik and Sham’ah (current site of the Cinematheque); Hebron; Jericho; Kibbutz Bet HaAravah at the Dead Sea; and much more.
This was not a “biblical” Jewish presence, but one of the past century. Indeed, Israel is the Jewish national homeland from a biblical circumstance, but not only. When the League of Nations decided that the Land of Israel be reconstituted as the Jewish national home, it did so also on the basis that:
“recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
We Jews have not only an ancient history with this land, but one that extended, consistently, over 1,800 years of loss of sovereignty—an ongoing connection throughout the generations. Jews continued to live in the country, despite it being occupied by foreign powers and being oppressed. That history is one that is not just religious in character, but based on a presence that is provable and undeniable.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and political commentator.