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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Calling a spade a spade

[I've alluded to this issue a couple of times in gentle responses to commenters, but as I celebrated Israel's birthday yesterday, this topic really began bothering me enough that I felt it deserved its own post.]

When Jews make travel plans to visit England, Japan or Italy, they announce it to the world.  Whether or not they agree with the policies or legitimacy of their destination country, they call the country by name... meaning the modern name the country has chosen for itself. 

Likewise, if someone were planning a business trip to the Czech Republic or Croatia, for example, they wouldn't think of telling friends about their upcoming trip to Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia. 

Yet a sizable portion of the Jewish community... specifically those in the Haredi and Hardal (Hasidic and 'yeshivish') world... have adopted a code-phrase by which they studiously avoid any overt mention / recognition of the modern State of Israel.  Instead of simply saying, "We're going to Israel at the end of the summer", they say "We're going to 'Eretz Yisroel' ...". 

Now this may seem like a very petty thing about which to gripe but there is a world of complexity and difference behind this seemingly innocuous turn of phrase.  For those not deeply invested in this topic, you need to understand that the basic stumbling blocks stem from two basic, and peripherally related, questions:

1.  Whether or not there is any religious significance to the establishment of the modern Jewish State (and the subsequent in-gathering of the 'exiled' Jews from around the world).


2.  Whether or not man (as opposed to G-d) has the right... or even the ability... to bring about the beginning of the promised return of Jews to our land ('Reshit Tzmichat Geulateinu' /First flowering of our redemption).

While there is much debate about what, if any, religious significance can be attributed to the founding of the modern State of Israel, there is little or no argument among Jews as to whether the land itself is intrinsically holy. 

And in terms of religious laws and obligations, even if one allows no possibility that the founders of the State of Israel may have intentionally or inadvertently played a small part in the divine process of redemption, there is also only minor debate over the fact that 'Medinat Yisrael' (the modern State of Israel) and 'Eretz Yisrael' (the Biblical Land of Israel) are clearly defined, overlapping, but perfectly distinct entities. 

My point being that there is really very little room for confusion that would require such careful usage of labels.  Nobody is likely to be tripped up or led astray by a careless use of the word 'Israel'.  So why is it anathema to a sizable portion of my coreligionists to elocute their travel destination as it appears on their e-tickets?

I inwardly cringe when I hear people say they are going to 'Eretz Yisroel" instead of simply saying 'Israel'.   This code-speak formula can't be argued away as a matter of convenience or brevity.  You actually have to add a couple of syllables to employ this expression.

When pressed, some of my black-hat wearing friends have admitted that their choice of words is connected to the issues I've mentioned above... but they insist that they mean no disrespect to the Modern State when they say it.

When I've gently mentioned to commenters my discomfort with this unnecessary distinction, I have received blunt, unhelpful non-sequitur such as: "When I make Aliyah, it will be to Eretz Yisrael. There is no mitzvah to live in medinat Yisrael".

Aside from the fact that nobody has ever made a contrary claim on treppenwitz, what makes the above statement so jarring (not to mention superfluous) is that it leaves the reader with the mistaken impression that the commenter only plans to 'make aliyah' (literally 'go up') to the Land of Israel in Messianic days.  Because if not, it begs the simple question of what justification could be made for allowing the modern State of Israel to shower Olim (those who make aliyah) with generous financial assistance, universal health care and the mantle of citizenship (to name but a few of the aliyah benefits), while all the while the Olim make a studied effort to avoid ever mentioning it by name?

The only parallel I can come up with (and an imperfect one at that) is the concept of accepting Holocaust reparations from Germany while placing that country in a kind of mental exile... never to be spoken out loud.

Even if one's contemplated trip to 'Eretz Yisrael' is not meant as a permanent move, but only a vacation or year of study, how can one simultaneously reject the very existence of the modern State of Israel and tour, study, sleep and eat under the protection of the army and police force who were created, trained and funded by that never-spoken-of entity?  How can one derive benefit and enjoyment from beautiful municipal gardens, zoos and parks and reject the existence of the hand that builds and tills them?

I'm not (G-d forbid!) asking anyone to reject the intrinsic holiness of the Land of Israel when announcing their vacation plans!  But it just seems silly to include a tax-free shopping spree to such places as Eilat in one's travel itinerary (a place outside of Israel's Biblical borders) and yet maintain with a straight face that you are going to 'Eretz Yisrael'

By the same token, if you have no intention of taking in the historically-significant Jewish sites in Jordan or the southern Lebanon (both of which are very much within the borders of Biblical 'Eretz Yisrael'), why make such a show of using only the one phrase while eschewing the other?

I'm not asking you to explain why you feel the need to remind all within earshot of your deep personal connection to the 'Land of Israel'.  I get that.  I simply want to understand why you feel no need to acknowledge... and in fact seem bent on avoiding any acknowledgment of... a legitimate modern country that affords every Jew a host of freedoms, rights and privileges that have been denied us for almost 2000 years?

Let's pretend for a moment that I am an Am Ha'Aretz (an ignoramus)... admittedly not much of a reach... and that every basic assumption I have made here is incorrect or ill-conceived.  Please explain to me (using small words) why you can tell your friends that you are going to England, Italy or Japan... all of which have many ancient regional and historical names other than the ones in use today... but you'd eat a BLT on white with mayo before telling them that you're going to 'Israel'


Posted by David Bogner on May 4, 2006 | Permalink


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1) I would assume that most people who say this are simply using the Hebrew version of what you naturally assume is English. "Israel" is an English word. The name of the country in Hebrew is Eretz Yisrael. That is the term most used in any place where Hebrew is spoken or written.

2) We have been praying for 2000 years for the land, not the current state or government. You don't have to wait for a good government to move to Eretz Yisrael, but I can see being pissed off at the state of Israel.

3) A "spade" is a racist and derogatory name for an American black. Although you use it innocently, plenty of people would want to know why you are using a racist term. If you defend yourself and say that you did not have that as a motive, you are undermining your entire point in this article, which is that the fine usage of language is precise and full of meaning, rather than simply cultural.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 4, 2006 1:30:30 PM

Sorry, David, I think you're being a little paranoid here.

I'm (now) a legal citizen of Israel, but I still refer to the place as Eretz Yisroel. Whether the Medina is reishit tzimichat geulateinu (local transliteration used, as per R' Gil) or not can be unclear at times, as well as whether the current government is a bracha or not. Even in my darkest days, however, I still think that it's an enourmous bracha that we have the ability to govern overselves, and that Hashem cannot be "blamed" for what our government has done.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the return to Eretz Yisroel (again, local transliteration) is a much clearer brocha than the Medina. True, we wouldn't have one without the other, but the Kedushas Eretz Yisroel is not dependent on the medina. Contrast this with the medina, which derives it's importance from it's location. If not for this simple fact, I'd much prefer the American gov't to the Israeli one.

It should also be noted that most of those who visit England, Japan, etc. are doing so to see the modern country. Those who are intending to visit the historical sites may in fact use the historical name, at least when dealing with those who are familiar. A similar analogy may be used for those who visit (or even move to) E"Y/I for it's kedusha. Again, while obviously we would not have such an oppurtunity to do so under certain other governments, this may not be sufficient reason to assign the Medina such a high status.

You may be right that there are some who are deliberetly doing so to slight the medina. Ok. However, don't forget that many of those who habitually say Eretz Yisroel regularly pepper their conversation with yeshivishisms (do they say they're going to daven or to pray?), and I don't think this is anything special.

Posted by: Mike Miller | May 4, 2006 1:38:23 PM

re: Spades, it appears this is NOT a racist expression. See http://www.word-detective.com/back-w.html

Posted by: Mike Miller | May 4, 2006 1:40:41 PM

I ame in to leave a comment but - let's just say that I learnt abt idiomatic expressions early enough when i was being taught Enhlish and "calling a spade a spade" is one of the first ones I remember, and I don't mean to be rude or impolite but it seems that all the world feels it's rather all right for them to stick their PCness down my long-suffering oesophagus and I feel I have a right to just say ARGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!


Bcs quite frankly, it's offensive to me taht we are not allowed to use the word Spade simply bcs it has been semantically reivested to mean something other than its ORIGINAL meaning. So yes, David, how dare you call a spade a spade. What a racist thing to do, and I happen to have been reading long enough to know you are also an anti-semitic homophobic frog-hating man. Next you'll be calling the kettle blak and then it's all over.

Mr. Berlinger, this: "you are undermining your entire point in this article, which is that the fine usage of language is precise and full of meaning, rather than simply cultural."

In its precise and full meaning, calling a spade a spade is exactly THAT, nothing more. Your remark bothers me on a) a linguistic level and b) a human one. a) bcs it'd be like David writing "and then I honked the horn" and yoru saying don't say "honk", "honky" is a derogatory term; and b) tells me you are looking for something to pick on when the title is so very clear.

I think there is even a difference btwn saying Eretz IsrAel and Eretz IsrOel and quite frankly, this is how I feel, and it ties in with your last post: if you are moving to Israel, then kindly move to Israel as we know it. Not some place that really doesn't exist and where you are allowed to live your life as you choose to cnfabulate it simply bcs the one that does exist, the modern, half secular, militarised one gives you the means to. Anything other than that is, in my opinion, a disrespect to everyone that has worked and fought and died to make it possible. Alternatively, go live in a hut on a faraway hill with none of the modern comforts and life-enablers, everything bare as possible, receiving no money, living from the land only, and then I may start to respect your choice. Anything other than that I find offensive and hyppocritical.

Also, I am tired of the self-aggrandisement that comes with Eretz IsrO/Ael, you want to be better than others? More enlightened? Then BE more, through real actions, not empty words. It's so very easy to excel verbally isn't it.

Posted by: Lioness | May 4, 2006 1:59:09 PM

Yehudah... I'm a bit pressed for time so I hope you'll excuse a somewhat niggardly response. ;-) Much as I'd like to be annoyed with you for ignoring most (if not all) of the central points of my post, I can't really manage it because I tend to do what you have done. By this I mean I often get distracted by a few words or phrases that bother me and build my response around them instead of responding to the carefully assembled case of the speaker/writer. With that said let me take your comment point by point:

1. "The name of the country in Hebrew is Eretz Yisrael. That is the term most used in any place where Hebrew is spoken or written."

Um, no it's not. The name of the country in Hebrew is 'Medinat Yisrael' (long form), or just 'Yisrael' (accepted short form). And as to places where Hebrew is commonly spoken or written... Israel is the only place that fits that definition.

2. Please check back at the point in my post where I spoke about non-sequiturs meant to respond to challenges that have not been made. I agree that Jews have not been praying for 2000 years for the current modern State of Israel. But that is no reason not to call the modern state by its legal name.

3. I admit that I didn't do exhaustive research before selecting the title for this post (meaning I didn't call up my brother-in-law the Lexicographer), but I did find several respectable references to refute your claim. Most pointedly this one which when asked if 'Calling a spade a spade' was a racist phrase from Civil War times answered: "Although the English language, and particularly American English, contains many examples of the influence of racism on popular speech, in this particular case there is ample evidence to prove the defendant phrase not guilty. "To call a spade a spade" not only predates slavery in North America by quite a bit but harks all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, occurring in the work of, among others, the playwright Aristophanes, and is still commonly heard in modern Greek. The original phrase seems to have been "to call a fig a fig; to call a kneading trough a kneading trough," applied to someone who spoke exceedingly frankly. Evidently, when the phrase was first translated from Greek in the Renaissance, the Greek word for "trough" was confused with the Greek for "spade," and thus the modern version was born. The "spade" referred to in the phrase, incidentally, was the digging implement, and not the black character on playing cards that underlies the racial epithet."

Mike... While paranoid might be too strong a word... 'over-sensitive' would be perfectly accurate. You've been reading me long enough to know that I do a lot of thinking out loud here, and much of what passes for thinking over here is my knee-jerk reaction to various written and spoken stimuli. With that said... as I said to Yehudah (and in my post), I am not discounting the reasons why one might occasionally say 'Eretz Yisrael' where appropriate. I am asking why it is consistently said INSTEAD of the more currently/legally correct place name 'Israel'.

Lioness... Oh my, I'm glad I read your comment before responding to Yehudah. First of all, while I was bothered by his comment for many of the same reasons you were, I know enough about him and his background to know that he meant no disrespect or harm... and that he was just doing what I have done on any number of occasions; meaning he took his eye off the ball and simply responded to the words or phrases that bothered him instead of the real meat of the post. Your little, erm, outburst (can I call it that without offending you?), helped pull me back from being annoyed with Yehudah and reminded me to take both the comment and the commenter into consideration. It's nice to know you have my back, though. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 4, 2006 2:39:51 PM

Oh all rigt then. Still annoying though. "Spade". *harrumph*

Posted by: Lioness | May 4, 2006 2:47:22 PM

Jesus, you guys have too much time on your hands. Would someone come here to The Land of America to do a two o'clock feeding please?

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | May 4, 2006 2:55:54 PM

Just yesterday, we were talking to our kids about how old the State is compared to their grandparents. Saba, Savta, Medinat Yisrael, etc.

When I mentioned that my father is older than Medinat Yisrael, my son asked, rather suprised, "Saba is bigger than Eretz Yisrael?"

(And, no this isn't anything about his Zionist education - or mine - just a cute story)

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | May 4, 2006 2:59:00 PM

If I knew the Hebrew word for miracle, that is what I would call Israel.

Think about it. For 2,000 years , Jews have been longing for their homeland. 58 years ago that dream came true. Isn't that what really matters?

To me, Israel has always been a miracle. Whether in Biblical times or today.

I have never really understood the arguement of why there is so much discord among some religious Jews(or Reform for that matter) that say Israel should not exist today.

To me, G-d's hand was in the making of the State of Israel. First there was the UN vote that allowed it's existence.

Then, when faced and outnumbered by 5 Arab armies, the Israelis fought and defeated those armies.

Israel is a miracle. I long to make aliyah to Israel. To live in a place where I can live as a Jew.

There is a connection between Jews and the land. Israel is what called me to the faith of father and grand-father.

Maybe some reading this will think I'm crazy. But the longing is there. Israel is such a miracle.

Posted by: seawitch | May 4, 2006 3:56:29 PM

Amen. Think you could give a speech about this at the next Nefesh b'Nefesh flight arrival. I think it goes beyond that in the sense that there are those who make aliya to Medinat Yisrael and those who make aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Mind you, as I said before - and I think this is also important to those who make distinctions - Medinat Yisrael is important BECAUSE of its historical ties and because (most)of it is within Eretz Yisrael. But, as someone who made aliya to Medinat Yisrael (although sometimes I really think it is easier to move to Eretz Yisrael ... i.e. Ramat Beit Shemesh (sorry, I take that back ... maybe) ... than Medina as a matter of conciousness (that is, it's easier to ignore the problems of the government - and I mean left and right wing - if they have no theological or macro significance). I have to say I was shocked upon making aliya to find out just how many people didn't make aliya out of Zionism or make aliya to the Medinah but rather the Eretz (and this is irrespective of whether one lives in Judea and Samaria or "within the green line"). Personally, it doesn't make sense but I also didn't grow up in a Hardal or Haredi (or Orthodox) context (although I often notice it among Baalei Teshuvot).

BTW, people should read Rav Shlomo Aviner and other religious Zionist thinkers about the sanctity of the Medinah. (And Rav Aviner is more important now in the sense that, while opposing disengagement, his views don't seem to have changed). Perhaps some Rabbi David Hartman may also be in order as he speaks of the importance of the State of Israel in a non-messianic context, although I don't think he is so popular in the circles that refer to Eretz Yisrael.

Posted by: amechad | May 4, 2006 4:02:17 PM

I think it's a "yeshivishism". Israel is English and the yeshivish people like to add all the Yiddish/Hebrew that they can into their speech.

Posted by: Essie | May 4, 2006 4:21:40 PM

Until you brought up this issue, I did not really make any distinction between "Medinat Yisrael" and "Eretz Yisrael". As seawitch said, the fact that we are able to travel there, to live there is a miracle. I do understand what you are saying (and the differences in what the actual words imply) but I'm sorry that there is such a distinction between the two!

What pops into my mind is phrase "Am Yisrael V'Eretz Yisrael Al Pi Torat Yisrael" which I think encompasses 'Medinat Yisrael' and the variety of people from different backgrounds. I hear that and I think not only of the historical and spiritual significance of the country but also of the modern times and the sacrifices and bravery that happens on a day to day basis. The land or state - it means something different to every person.

(I hope that made sense...!)

Posted by: Sarah | May 4, 2006 4:22:05 PM

>I am asking why it is consistently said INSTEAD of the more currently/legally correct place name 'Israel'.

I would think that the vast majority of people do not use one name INSTEAD of the other. They use whichever name they have become accustomed to saying due to various influences. Schooling, family, neighborhood etc. Especially if the land has been refrenced as E"Y from the day you first opened up a siddur or chumash as a child.

Posted by: G | May 4, 2006 4:48:53 PM

Lioness, David,

No offense taken in either of your responses, and I hope very much that none was taken in mine. David, thank you for assuming the best of me!

The comments to a blog post are a strange place to hold a conversation, but if you don't mind, I would like to clarify what I was saying.

I'll start with Lioness's.

Your response to my response seems to have completely inverted the meaning of my response. I said to David: "you are undermining your entire point in this article, which is that the fine usage of language is precise and full of meaning, rather than simply cultural."

In other words, I was saying that the point of David's article was "that the fine usage of language is precise and full of meaning", while my response to that point is that "[language is] simply cultural". (The word "which" is used to expand on the previous clause in a sentence, not to introduce a contrary clause.)

In other words, I entirely agree with you that "calling a spade a spade" is NOT racist in this day and age, only that some people think so. To be bothered by people using the expression is to read incorrect meaning into their usage of the phrase, which would be incorrect. That was my point.

It is preceisely this argument that I was using to compare to David's reading subtext into people who use the words "Eretz Yisrael" as having some sort of implication that they, in his words, "seem bent on avoiding any acknowledgment of... a legitimate modern country".

Isn't that a rather far reaching implication for choosing to use one term for a country over another? That was the main thrust of his argument, but let's get back to that.


First we have to acknowledge that thousands of place around the world share many names. For instance, think of Holland vs The Netherlands, The U.S. vs America, Russia vs C.I.S. Within countries, particular regions will have numerous names based on historical, local, modern or other reasons. There is usually not only one right name for a place.

Now, it is certainly true that some of these names have political implications, such as Jerusalem vs Al Quds. But also, surely some of the names are simply a result of native culture, and not political.

The Jewish world, up until half a century ago, learned and breathed Eretz Yirael, in prayer, in hope, in dreams, in books. The bible is full of references to the land - you acknowledged this.

Even after the state was founded, the great number of thousands of Hebrew songs did not sing about "Medinat Yisrael shelanu" but about "Eretz Yisrael shelanu". Most of these are secular songs by the vast secular population of Israel, not just the religious.

Barely a half a century after a modern state was founded, why should all of this change? The language of "eretz yisrael" is ingrained in our Hebrew language, as well as our hearts and souls; in probably the same way, some native word for Ireland is ingrained in people who live in northern Ireland, or the homeland in Czekoslovokia, no matter who runs it or rules it.

Do you still say shabbat or shabbos? Do you still speak English in a Hebrew speaking society? Does the fact that you are an Israeli blogger who writes in English have political overtones?

Of course it doesn't. It's just habit (or market, in the case of writing). And so is the word "eretz yisrael" to the vast majority of people who say it. If anything, it means that it is still a dream that the State of Israel will one day be a complete Eretz Yisrael, which is why we still say, even when living in Jerusalem, "next year in Jerusalem".

That's the main point, and why I brought up the historical context.

But beyond that, all of those people who wanted to come to the land; did they really want to come to the State of Israel? Do they tour the knesset and Safra square? Or do they visit graves and the kotel?

Of course, we owe a tremendous debt to the State for making it possible for jews to come to the land. But it is not the State that people are coming to see, nor the State to which people are making aliyah. It is the land.

I don't have to be "dismissing the state" when I say that. I have carried a gun through this land, I have walked its hills and streams, and had personal friends involved in (in one case, killed in) terror attacks. I have children soon going into the army. I don't think that most people will question my loyalty to the country. But I would be willing let the entire State of Israel dissolve if it meant permanent and absolute peace and freedom in the land of Israel (it's not going to happen, but it's theoretical).


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 4, 2006 5:18:50 PM

Man, I learn something here almost every day. I have only ever read the phrase "Eretz Yisrael" in books concerning the diaspora in one way or another, and took it in context to mean basically the same as "ersatz." (Yes, I know. Ignorant shiksa.) So I thought it stopped being, once there was an actual Israel. Very interesting.

Posted by: Tanya | May 4, 2006 5:31:07 PM

Treppenwitz, you aren't the only one sensitive to this. Last Yom Haatzmaut our shul made the mistake of inviting the Rav of the moshav to speak between Mincha and Maariv. He gave a lovely speech about "eretz yisrael" but never once mentioned "medinat yisrael". A speech he could have given any other day of the year. More than one person picked up on this and commented on the mistake of inviting a chareidi (despite the immense respect we all have for this particular rav) to speak on Yom Haatzmaut.

Posted by: President, Kippot Srugot for Kadima | May 4, 2006 6:17:35 PM

The vast majority of people do NOT use one name instead of the other. When I tell people that I am going to Israel the response is always something like "I never heard of Israel, do you mean Eretz Yisrael?"

Posted by: Tiger | May 4, 2006 6:34:07 PM

Up to now, I've been using "Israel" and "Eretz Israel" interchangeably, assuming that "Eretz" means land in the sense of a state, as opposed to aretz, which means ground or physical land. Oops. I haven't heard of the phrase "Medinat Yisrael" until quite recently, and then got totally confused, because I thought of an Arabic word and thought that someone was being deliberately facetious. I wish there was a way of learning these things before making a fool of myself . Thanks for clarifying the terms!

Posted by: Irina | May 4, 2006 7:11:33 PM

I find it interesting that two or three commentors have talked about "America"....I guess there arent any Canadians or Mexicans commenting about how it is the United States of America, because both Canadians & Mexicans are also Americans--North Americans

Posted by: safranit | May 4, 2006 7:18:29 PM

My experience is similar to David's. In the community from which we made aliyah (Minneapolis) "Eretz Yisroel" was only ever used by the chareidi community and it was very specifically used as a code word.

Interesting datapoint: We belonged to the Modern Orthodox shul in Minneapolis. When I whined to the shul president about the Rabbi's use of the term (chareidi-lite Rav in a MO shul -- a bad hire, but it's a long story) he responded: "I just thought it was the 'frum' way of saying Israel."

I suspect that for many who hear the term, that's what they think. I'm sure, however, that that's not what's meant by those who use the term.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | May 4, 2006 7:43:17 PM

However, don't forget that many of those who habitually say Eretz Yisroel regularly pepper their conversation with yeshivishisms (do they say they're going to daven or to pray?), and I don't think this is anything special.

I'm inclined to agree with Mike on this, but that aside...

When you say that Eilat is outside Eretz Yisrael, it's outside what border, exactly? I can certainly believe it's true but can't think of why. Certainly Timna is Eretz Yisrael, right?

Posted by: JSinger | May 4, 2006 7:49:49 PM


Are you denying that there are a fair number of frum Jews who absolutely deny and/or are against the state?

I happen to have two cousins who live right here in J-m who (of course, not officially, they never actually made aliyah) In fact, when each of their children are born (in this country) they go to misrad hapnim and REVOKE their citizenship. That's how far they go to deny the existence of the state. And they're not even Neturei Karta or anything like that.

And I've wondered about them the same things David wonders in this post- how could they dare live here under the protection of the police and army (which my husband has served for the past 12 years), enjoy the municipal parks and services like road cleaning, garbage pick up, water, electricity and continue to deny the existence of the state. It's just mind boggling.

In short, I don't think it's just "habit". It's a conscious political decision and it disgusts me.

Posted by: Jerusalemom | May 4, 2006 7:50:10 PM

Yehuda, all right, I now understand you didn't mean to be offensive. Still, nothing is simly cultural and the idiomatic expression David used was pretty clear in itself and if that was the point you wanted to make I'm afraid it was a bad strategy bcs I still don't see the connection.

Jerusalemom, well said. That's EXACTLY it.

Posted by: Lioness | May 4, 2006 8:00:26 PM

Jmom: Are you denying that there are a fair number of frum Jews who absolutely deny and/or are against the state?

Not at all. I don't think that David was talking only about these people. I would agree that spitting in the face of a government that is protecting you and providing you services is extremely rude, unethical, and unwarranted, except in extreme circumstances.

But I also thought that while there may be an overlap between these people, and people who say "eretz yisrael", that it is the latter that is being discussed.

Heck, I'll even agree that people who live in this country, and do use the term "eretz yisrael" as a perjorative slight on the state, are being rude and marginally unethical.

David asked, however, why some people might use the term "eretz yisroel" rather than "Israel", so I answered.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | May 4, 2006 9:28:02 PM

Jordan... Stop your whining. If you weren't so sleep-deprived this is exactly the kind of argument you'd love to have! :-)

Dave... For most kids the concept of a legal entity known as 'a state' is too complex to handle so we tell them stories about 'The land of Israel'. I'm sure this is what was behind your very cute anecdote.

Seawitch... I'm right there with you on every point... and unfortunately many people will take this post to mean that I favor/honor the State over the land... and nothing could be further from the truth. I just get irritated when the state that provides us secure access to the land is dismissed out of hand.

Amechad... Thanks for the wonderful comment and for the reading suggestions. You left out Rav Kook, though. :-)

Essie... There is undoubtedly some of that. And there are also many who have been culturally indoctrinated to say 'Eretz Yisrael' rather than just 'Israel'. However, the culture within which they live is well aware of the ramifications of saying one over the other regardless of whether every individual understands it.

Sarah... It does, and I appreciate you making clear the obvious point that not everyone who says 'eretz' is willfully dismissing the 'medina'.

G... I agree, but those 'influences' certainly had a source/reason for using one formulation over the other.

Yehudah... Unlike EY/MY or just plain I, Calling a spade a spade was NEVER racist and anyone who considers it racist is just plain wrong. That's why I used the word 'niggardly' in my first response to you as this is another one that ignorant people around the world have incorrectly labeled racist.

Tanya... Don't feel bad... I always used to think that the holiday song went "Chipmunks roasting on an open fire...". I was singing along with the radio one December while I was in Jr. HS and a friend who was sitting nearby nearly wet his pants he started laughing so hard! The mind is a funny thing and once it decides it has heard/read and understood a word... that's it!

President... Did he at least let you leave the Israeli flag up? :-)

Tiger... I hate to point this out, but your first and second sentence seem to contradict one another.

Irina... You should know by now that the LAST thing you should take from anything you read here is clarity. :-)

Safranit... I was wondering the same thing but I didn't want to further muddy the waters. :-)

Andy... I agree, but as I said earlier I am sure that many people who are culturally acclimated to using EY do not have any conscious thought how it relates to the state. However the culture responsible for making this distinction bears some communal responsibility for perpetuating it.

JSinger... Most poskim I've read have ruled that if those in Eilat for the 3 festivals should keep 2 days. I don't know precisely where the border if EY is but it sure didn't go down to the gulf of Aqaba.

Jerusalem... Yikes, that must take some diplomacy at family get-togethers and smachot. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 4, 2006 9:44:16 PM

>but those 'influences' certainly had a source/reason for using one formulation over the other.

I think you're giving people too much credit :)

Posted by: G | May 4, 2006 9:54:13 PM

My husband basically thinks their idoits. That's his diplomacy. :) Good thing he's not running for the next ambassodorship to anywhere.

Posted by: Jerusalemom | May 4, 2006 10:30:11 PM

Hmm. I'll bite.

First off, I fully understand the argument, but I've always felt it's a bit silly. I don't check my speech patterns to make sure I refer to either Medinat Yisrael, Israel, Eretz Yisrael, etc. for the given circumstance (ie, I should theoretically use those 'correctly' depending on what I'm talking about). Oh, sure, there are people who will go out of their way to deny that Medinat Yisrael exists, or that it's remotely important to Jews... just as there are Israelis who will vigorously deny that 'Eretz' Yisrael has any meaning to Jews today. *shrugs* Most of the time I just say Israel.

But in reality, I think that the clear 'political' distinctions of the words are an artificial construct placed on them by both sides of the arguments.


I attended Modern Orthodox, heavily Zionist schools when I was growing up. Nearly every one of my teachers was of the firm opinion that Israel was 'Reishit Tzmichat Ge'ulateinu' (RTzG), half of the shlichim lived in settlements, etc. Pretty much old-school Dati Leumi, right? Yet half of the children's songs they taught me (good old socialist/Zionist stuff, no religious overtones) always referred to *Eretz* Yisrael. Sure, most of the songs were written before the state was founded, but no one found that remotely offensive.

Perhaps specifically *because* we were taught Israel is RTzG, it didn't seem to matter. Sure, the state was a state, but it was the beginning of our return to biblical Eretz Yisrael (so what if the borders are a bit different? Half of my teachers wanted to forcibly *take* everything in old 'Eretz Yisrael', and some more besides). These people didn't really see a *difference* between the 'Medinah' and the 'Eretz': both were presaging a messianic age, tying up Jewish sovereignty and religious redemption all in one nice package.

It wasn't until I became more conscious of the chareidi community (and met more secular Israelis) that I realized that this argument even exists. Even so, most chareidim pay little attention to it... oh, if you read Hamodia or whatever, they'll be very careful to always call it 'Eretz' Yisrael, but in common speech? I don't know too many people who get anal-retentive about saying it one way. (And I live in *Baltimore*, now. That should make my chareidi cred pretty good. *Grins* )

Anywho... I think it's silly. I'm not quite as... uhm... enthusiastically sure that RTzG has come about by Zionism, but that hardly means that there is not deep religious significance to the current Medina. *shrugs*


Posted by: matlabfreak | May 4, 2006 10:36:43 PM

When I made aliyah I made it to Medinat Yisrael. I liked it.
In English I say "Israel" because that is what people understand.
In Hebrew I say "Aretz" because that is what Israelis say.

Anything else is politics.

Posted by: lisoosh | May 4, 2006 10:42:08 PM

because both Canadians & Mexicans are also Americans--North Americans

Nope, they are the 51st and 52nd states. Our little brother if you will. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 4, 2006 11:17:10 PM

Eretz yisrael sheli yaffa ve-gam porachat...

Posted by: David Cohen | May 4, 2006 11:24:01 PM

This is clearly a loaded topic so I'm going to try to tread cautiously...

As Mike alluded to in his first post, "Aliya" is entirely a function of Eretz Yisrael. Medinat Yisrael has done much to facilitate Aliya, and the vast majority of us would not be here without the Medina, but your status as an "Oleh" is independent of the State.

People who refer to Israel as "Eretz Yisrael" are simply using the term that Jews have always used to refer to the holy land (remember, until 1948 the whole rest of the world called it "Palestine").

Taking it from a slightly different angle, one could argue that saying "Medinat Yisrael" is making a deliberate political statement, while saying "Eretz Yisrael" is simply making a generic Jewish statement. It's not a "denial" of the existence of the State -- it's (at worst) ignoring the State, or (more likely) just not addressing the State.

Wether or not it is appropriate to live in the State of Israel and ignore it... That's a whole other conversation... But I don't think that was the point of the original post.

To help put all of this in perspective, I think it would be helpful to look at this through "Avreimel's Mirror" ;-)

Imagine, if you will, (G-d forbid, etc.), that the State of Israel was established somewhere else. Like, say, Uganda. Would any of us be there now? Would we dream of someday living there? If so, would we call it "Aliya"???

And while we're dreaming, let's pretend (G-d forbid, etc.) that there was a benign, Zionistic, but non-Jewish ruling power in Eretz Yisrael. Let's say they even encouraged Jews to emigrate. Let's say they called their country "Palestine"... Would you want to live there? I'd like to think that I would.

And it's a safe bet that those people who call it "Eretz Yisrael" -- those people who live in Eretz Yisrael even while they ignore Medinat Yisrael -- they'd ignore "Medinat Palestine" too -- but they would still be living in Eretz Yisrael...

I'd like to think I would too... would you?

Posted by: wogo | May 4, 2006 11:25:13 PM

It does not matter so much which (EY/MY/I) "they" say if they celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut and say Avinu shebashamyaim, tzur yisrael vego'alo barekh et MEDINAT YISRAEL reishit tzemichat geulateinu.

I see those two points as more of the true dividing line or test, while the choice of EY/MY/I could have all sorts of perfectly benign motives and/or reasons. Once one refuses to celebrate the holiday and/or recite the prayer, then the line is crossed, a conscious decision is made, and efforts to ascribe innocence or ignorance are (at best) disingenuous.

Posted by: Drew | May 5, 2006 12:40:10 AM

I almost always agree with what you write, but this time I think you're being a bit, um, something, I'm not sure what. In any case, of course, some haredim, especially the self-conscious American neo-quasi-type haredim tend to be somewhat churlish about acknowledging the State of Israel and the benefit it has brought us. But the references to "Eretz Yisrael" are not a manifestation of that churlishness. The Land of Israel is significant to Jews in many ways that are independent of, and chronologically precede, the founding of the state. This is not true of Italy or any other country. (Would you really want Jews to relate to the State of Israel or the Land of Israel, the way they relate to Italy?) Yes, the reference to Eretz Yisrael for some -- definitely not all -- haredim is not completely natural and is consciously meant to convey that their allegiance to the land transcends the existence of the state. But I don't find that idea especially offensive. Think of it as a counter-weight to the more annoying attitude of those who would never use the phrase Eretz Yisrael because for them history begins in 1948.
Go back to the tear-jerkers. You're so good at them. ;)

Posted by: Ben Chorin | May 5, 2006 1:00:14 AM

i think that often those who use the term eretz yisrael just think they are saying "israel" in hebrew, and that their use of eretz over medinat doess no tcarry any hidden agenda. yom haazmaut is a REALLY big deal at my kids school. the kids come to school dressed in blue and white, include hallel in davening, have a parade around the school's neighborhood, and have additional programs that absolutely celebrate the state of israel's "birthday" and aknowledge how many years it has been since the establishment of the state of israel. however, when these festivities were written up in the local jewish paper, the principle, was quoted as saying that they were celebrating eretz yisrael. it might not be technically correct, but i find it difficult to believe he meant it as a slight.

Posted by: rachel | May 5, 2006 1:37:23 AM

Wow, talk about conincidences. I have just used the same title on a post about something entirely different. Goes to show that words and their meanings could change from one user to another.

I think that many, of not the majority, use "eretz yisrael" without really meaning what you imply.


Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon | May 5, 2006 7:59:13 PM

"Go back to the tear-jerkers. You're so good at them. ;)"

Yeah. Ben Chorin, it is not my blog, so I shall be gentle. You could be a nice person. Probably.

Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon | May 5, 2006 8:00:58 PM

I almost always agree with what you write, but this time I think you're being a bit, um, something, I'm not sure what. In any case, of course, some haredim, especially the self-conscious American neo-quasi-type haredim tend to be somewhat churlish about acknowledging the State of Israel and the benefit it has brought us. But the references to "Eretz Yisrael" are not a manifestation of that churlishness. The Land of Israel is significant to Jews in many ways that are independent of, and chronologically precede, the founding of the state.

- Ben Chorin

That was half of what I was going to say (ugh, I'm late to the party - stupid virus). The other half... Many (Dati Leumi) Israelis consistently use the term "Ha'aretz" to refer to the State, instead of "HaMedina". Many people I know (such as myself) use both EY or Israel; though I do notice that I'll use Eretz Yisrael more often than Israel with yeshivish people (shame on me) to keep conversations civil. Furthermore, and I think more important, I think many people call it EY out of respect. It's not just a State like any other, it is the land of our forefathers, the land given to us in the Torah. Perhaps the question should be why people call it Israel and not Eretz Yisrael. :)

Seperately, is it better or worse that there are those who call it EY and specifically do NOT take citizenship? Aren't they less hypocritical that way?

Posted by: Ezzie | May 5, 2006 9:51:13 PM

Well said, Mr. B!

Posted by: tnspr569 | May 7, 2006 4:38:33 AM

Thanks, Snoopy, for pointing out that my back-handed attempt at a compensatory compliment could easily be taken as a slight. Public apology to my favorite blogger with whom, as I said, I almost always agree. Sorry, David. Awright now, everyone, move along. Nothing to see here...

Posted by: Ben Chorin | May 7, 2006 8:57:21 AM

G... I usually do. It will probably be my undoing one day. :-)

Jerusalemom... Just as anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac... so too most of us tend to give unflattering labels to people who don't exactly share our religious and political views. I'm guilty of this all the time.

Matlabfreak... If that was an eloquent way of saying you're not sure. Join the club. :-)

Lisoosh... You, of all people, should know that it's ALL politics. :-)

Jack... Now, now... just because you're on a blog break doesn't give you the right to pick fights over here. :-)

David Cohen... No argument from me on that.

Wogo... I haven't advocated anywhere that people should start saying they are going on vacation to 'Medinat Yisrael'. Also, when you say "People who refer to Israel as "Eretz Yisrael" are simply using the term that Jews have always used to refer to the holy land", you ignore the very real possibility that many people use this phrase for a variety of reasons. You'll notice that nowhere in my post did I say that all people who say this mean it as a slight to the modern state. As to your hypothetical 'benign' non-Jewish ruler of 'Palestine'... this strikes too closely to home for me to consider objectively. I appreciate your comment though.

Drew... It may surprise you to know that I have less problem with Jews who don't say the prayer for the Medinah. This is a conscious decision that ties in with whether or not one sees the modern state as [possibly being] the start of something bigger. Those who make a conscious decision to not even say the proper name of the country while enjoying all of its benefits just piss me off.

Ben Chorin... You began your comment with a blanket statement that you felt whatever 'churlishness (an excellent word for what I was trying to convey, by the way), was not present in the use of the phrase 'EY' over the more conventional/proper 'I'. But I see you backed off this somewhat when you said "Yes, the reference to Eretz Yisrael for some -- definitely not all -- haredim is not completely natural and is consciously meant to convey that their allegiance to the land transcends the existence of the state. But I don't find that idea especially offensive.", so I really think we are in basic agreement about all but the proportion of people who make this conscious verbal distinction. Fair enough. And no, I wasn't the least bit offended by your comment. I know you well enough to sit up and pay attention to what you have to say... it's always well-considered and more-often-than-not right on the button. In this case we're not disagreeing so much as we're arguing over how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin. :-)

Rachel... I'm sure you're right about some of the people who do so. But there are certainly others who either make a conscious distinction with their phraseology... or come from communities that have made such a distinction. Just my opinion.

Snoopy... I appreciate you having my back but Ben and I have drunk enough of each other's bourbon to require that we give one another the benefit of the doubt on matters like this (meaning where nobody can ever be proved wrong or right).

Ezzie... The fact that you feel the need to use EY in certain company makes my case far better than anything I wrote. I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone who uses the phrase means to exclude or discount the modern state. But your statement supports my supposition that a significant number of Jews do this (and some of us play along for the sake of 'shalom bayit').

tnspr569... Thanks.

Ben Chorin... As I said earlier, we're just fine. I'll be the first to agree that whenever I dabble in such political/religious issues here it is usually an unqualified disaster. I'll stick to the human interest stuff where possible. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 7, 2006 9:34:08 AM

Not 'feel the need', just that I do so automatically (hence the shame on me). But yes, you're right.

Posted by: Ezzie | May 7, 2006 11:08:14 AM

Hi. I'm still catching up in your archives (and enjoying them greatly). I haven't been commenting much, of course, because the conversations are months old and it seems silly. But I assume you get alerted by email to comments even on old posts, and I'm very surprised that something in particular was only peripherally mentioned by anyone else here. Ezzie said that many dati leumi refer to Israel as "ha'aretz" -- but really, all Israelis I've ever heard do. Secular or religious, if they're speaking in Hebrew, they ask how long you've been "ba'aretz" or whether you're planning to spend a chag "ba'aretz or in "chul"...which is just an abbreviation for "chutz la'aretz." If native Israelis, who identify fully with the State, refer to their home according to the land rather than the political entity, why shouldn't other Jews as well?

Posted by: Alisha | Feb 18, 2007 5:24:21 AM

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