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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rosenberg and Kastrinsky: Know Who We Are

You can understand the modern nation of Israel through the Hebrew Bible and the Quran.

As proud alumni, we believe in the moral principles upon which Dartmouth College was founded — among them, the dignity of the individual, the right to seek redress for injustice and protection from economic and social harm. These ideals align with the Hebrew Bible and lie at the heart of the mission of the modern state of Israel. They dovetail with the concept of Tikkun Olam, which means “fixing the world” — a rallying call for young Jews today in the U.S. and around the globe.

Half the world’s population follow either Christianity or Islam and revere the words of the Hebrew prophets. If Muslims around the world look towards Mecca, though not all are originally from there, and Catholics everywhere hearken to Rome, even though many do not originate from there, why is it wrong for Jews to connect to Israel, their ancestral homeland and the cradle of Jewish civilization? Why see this connection as problematic? Does the Jewish nation not also deserve its own ethno-religious sovereignty and nationhood? 

Jews have a religious and ethnic connection to the land of Israel that is recognized by the foundational texts of all three of the Abrahamic religions. Implicit here is the idea that a nation is a people with a common heritage and destiny; a nation lives in a particular land, a geographical area with boundaries that set the land apart from other lands around it. Dartmouth’s motto is Vox Clamantis in Deserto, a Latin adaptation from chapter 40, verse 3 of the biblical Book of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. The entire verse in its context reads: “A voice calls out: ‘Clear out a trail for God in the desert, straighten a track in the wilderness for our Lord.’” This verse is hinting at events that will take place during the return of the Israelite nation from its long and difficult exile, back to the Holy Land of Israel, the land of their ancestors.

The primary theme of the Hebrew Bible is the convoluted historical journey of the nation of Israel. The biblical prophets describe the Jews’ exile and eventual return to their homeland, and the future establishment of a just society that will serve as an example for the entire world. Isaiah states elsewhere: “I am God; I have called you in righteousness. I will hold your hands; I will guard you, and I will give you to be a covenant people, a light of the nations.” The concept of ‘light of the nations’ implies that the solutions to the world’s material and spiritual problems will be developed and disseminated by the nation of Israel in its native land. As the verses above indicate, this is for the betterment of the entire world.

See what the Quran says about the nation and land of Israel: “We [Allah] gave the persecuted people [the Children of Israel] dominion over the eastern and western lands [of Israel, east and west of the Jordan River] which We had blessed.” This verse states clearly that the land of Israel was given by Allah (God) as an inheritance for the nation of Israel. Furthermore, there are no verses in the Quran or its oral tradition (Hadith) that contradict this verse.

The Quran is explicit about the future relationship between the nation of Israel and its land: “Then We [Allah] said to the Israelites: ‘Dwell in the Land [of Israel]. When the promise of the hereafter comes to be fulfilled [in the End of Days], We shall assemble you all together [in the Land of Israel].” Again, we see the connection between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel, and the ingathering of an exiled people back to its original land.

We invite all Dartmouth students and alumni to visit Israel and learn from all sides rather than relying on one-sided, second-hand perspectives. This could produce a deeper understanding of the relationship between Jews and Israel. We believe that through this kind of positive, structured dialogue, we could arrive at a mutual understanding and solutions for our differences.

Remarkably, the idea of the return of the nation of Israel to Jerusalem as elaborated by Isaiah and other Hebrew prophets throughout the Hebrew Bible portends a future, utopian era of world peace, metaphorically represented by the image of the conversion of weapons of war into implements of peaceful agriculture. In the following excerpt, envisioned and written down some 2,700 years ago, Isaiah describes a later time, which will take place after the nation of Israel returns to live an independent national life in the land of Israel and in its ancient capital, Jerusalem. The mountain described in this quotation is called Mt. Moriah, which stands in the center of Jerusalem, a city already holy to all three Abrahamic faiths even today.

“And it will be, in the End of Days, that the mountain of the House of God will be established at the head of the mountains, and lifted up from the hills; and all the nations will stream towards it. And many peoples will go and say, ‘Hey, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths!’ Because from Zion will go out the teaching, and the word of God — from Jerusalem.”

This prophecy is completed with the following timeless words, engraved onto a wall that stands directly opposite the entrance to the United Nations: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Dartmouth, through the superlative education it provides to all its students, inspires them to reach out and give of their bounty to the less fortunate residents of the far-flung corners of the globe in order to make the world a better place. This is part of the heritage of being a Dartmouth student. It distinguishes Dartmouth students, alumni and the College as a whole, setting them apart from other universities. This is also the vision of the modern State of Israel. 

This vision presents challenges. The nation of Israel will need help to fulfill it. Anyone and everyone who wishes to be part of this noble enterprise are welcome to join in the effort. Here is what the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel says: “Here, I am taking the Children of Israel from among the nations where they went; and I will gather them from around, and I will bring them to their land.” This is a clear description of Jewish and world history over the past century. One would have to have their eyes shut tightly not to see that the heady days described by all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible are happening now, in our own times.

This process has a purpose. By working to fulfill these visionary words, the extended Dartmouth family can hearken to the dream of the College’s founders and serve as a moral compass for the world. 

James Rosenberg is a member of the Class of 1982 and is a resident of Jerusalem and the author of “Isaiah,” a new translation of the Book of the Hebrew. He attended Dartmouth Hillel as an undergraduate. Jordan Kastrinsky is a member of the Class of 2016 and is a resident of Tel Aviv and a former president of the Chabad House of Dartmouth.

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