1. The Land of Israel Was Given to Abraham and His Children

In more than one place in the book of Genesis,1 G‑d promises the Land of Israel (then known as the Land of Canaan) to Abraham and his children. This promise is reiterated to his son Isaac,2 and grandson Jacob,3 the progenitor of the Jewish people. It remains in effect until this very day,4 and Israel remains the eternal inheritance of the Nation of Israel.

Read: The Land of Israel

2. It Is Called the Holy Land

In Hebrew the Land of Israel is Eretz Yisrael. It is also referred to as Eretz Hakodesh, “the Holy Land,” or Artzeinu Hakedoshah, “our Holy Land.” This is because the very space is sacred, designated so by G‑d.

Watch: What Is Holiness?

3. It’s the Top of the World

Shortly after Abraham and Sarah came to Canaan, a famine forced them to leave to Egypt. Scripture5 describes this trip as a “descent.” The sages note that Israel is (metaphorically) higher than all other lands,6 making travel to Israel an ascent and leaving it a descent. Those who returned to Israel in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah are referred to as the olei Bavel (“ascenders [from] Babylon”), and in modern parlance moving to Israel is referred to as aliyah (“ascent”).

Read: What Does Aliyah Mean?

4. There Are 4 Holy Cities

A 19th-century depiction of the Four Holy Cities of Israel. (Photo: Wikimedia)
A 19th-century depiction of the Four Holy Cities of Israel. (Photo: Wikimedia)

All of Israel is holy, yet four cities—Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias—can have the words ir hakodesh (“the holy city”) appended to their names.

Each one of these is considered unique and holy for different reasons, but the term “four holy cities of Israel” was coined in the 16th century, when these cities banded together for charitable purposes under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Alshich, together with Rabbi Yosef Caro, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and Rabbi David ibn Zimra (Radbaz).

Read: Four Holy Cities of Israel: What and Why?

5. First Purchase Was in Hebron

After Sarah passed away, Abraham purchased a cave for her burial in the city of Hebron for 400 shekels. This is the first recorded Jewish purchase of property in what was to become the Land of Israel.

Read: 22 Facts About Hebron Every Jew Should Know

5. Its Capital Is Jerusalem

For generations the Kotel, the supporting wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, has been the spiritual center of the Jewish nation. (Painting by Gustav Bauernfeind)
For generations the Kotel, the supporting wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, has been the spiritual center of the Jewish nation. (Painting by Gustav Bauernfeind)

In the book of Deuteronomy,7 Moses speaks of a place in the Land of Israel where G‑d will cause His glory to rest. In a dramatic turn of events in the final chapter of the book of Samuel8 it becomes clear that this place is a mountain abutting the city of Jerusalem. Ever since the Holy Temple was built on that mountain, known as Mount Moriah or the Temple Mount, Jerusalem has become the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

Read: 15 Facts About Jerusalem Every Jew Should Know

6. It Has 12 Territories, One for Each Tribe

After 210 years of suffering in Egypt followed by 40 years of wandering through the desert, Abraham’s descendants returned to settle the land promised to their ancestors. The land was divided by lottery, with separate portions given to each of the 12 tribes. The only tribe not to receive a portion was Levi, who had been assigned to serve as ministers to G‑d, and were supported by various tithes and “gifts” members of the other tribes would give them. They lived in cities scattered throughout the land.

Read: The 12 Tribes of Israel

7. For Many Years It Was Divided Into Israel and Judah

Saul was the first king to rule the Land of Israel, followed by David and Solomon. After Solomon’s passing, his descendants ruled over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in what became known as the Kingdom of Judah (or Judea). The other 10 tribes were ruled by the kings of Israel in the north. This continued until the northern kingdom fell to the mighty Assyrians in the year 3205 (556 BCE), leaving just the kingdom of Judah. Since then, the surviving people of Israel have become collectively known as Jews (“of Judah”), regardless of their tribal ancestry.

Read: Who Are the Israelites?

8. Its Borders Are Not the Same as Modern Israel

The Talmud records a debate whether Acco is considered part of Israel. (Photo: Seth Aronstam)
The Talmud records a debate whether Acco is considered part of Israel. (Photo: Seth Aronstam)

The Torah spells out the borders of the Land of Israel,9 which were subsequently expanded by King Solomon. Some of that area, to the east and north, is in modern-day Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Conversely, the southern borders of modern-day Israel may very well extend past the historical boundaries of the Holy Land.

Listen: The Biblical Borders of Israel

9. Jews Pray Towards It

Even as the Jews were exiled from their land, it remained central in their hearts and minds. The thrice-daily prayers and Grace After Meals make numerous mentions of our desire to once again settle there. And even though we may not physically be in the Holy Land, our prayers ascend to heaven through it. Daniel, who lived during the Babylonian exile, faced Jerusalem in prayer: “Daniel . . . went into his house—now, his windows in his upper chamber opened toward Jerusalem—and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed . . .”

Following this tradition, Jews in the Diaspora face Israel (which is often to the east of them) when praying the Amidah.

Read: Why Do We Pray Toward the East?

10. Its Air Makes You Wise

For hundreds of years there were two centers of Jewish learning, one in Babylon and the other in the Land of Israel (based in the holy city of Tiberias). After the Talmudic sage Rabbi Zeira traveled from Babylon to the Land of Israel, he commented that the very air of the land makes a person wise.10

Read: Why Two Talmuds?

11. Jews Give Lots of Charity for Israel

Volunteers pack up boxes of kosher-for-Passover items as part of Colel Chabad’s largest food drive to date, which will be distributed to those in need in time for the holiday. (Photo: Israel Bardugo)
Volunteers pack up boxes of kosher-for-Passover items as part of Colel Chabad’s largest food drive to date, which will be distributed to those in need in time for the holiday. (Photo: Israel Bardugo)

For many hundreds of years, living in the Holy Land was something most Jews could only dream of. However, communities all over the world regularly sent donations to support the needy of the Land, many of whom were impoverished scholars and elderly people. This charity is often known as tzedakah (charity) of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness. The oldest such fund, Kollel Chabad, was founded by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in 1788.

Read: 15 Tzedakah Facts Every Jew Should Know

12. Many Holidays Are Shorter There

In the Diaspora, the Jewish pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot (and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah)—are observed for an extra day. Historically, this was to ensure that even remote communities, who may have made a mistake in their calculations, celebrated on the appropriate day. In Israel, however, there was never any concern, and the only holiday which is expanded into a second day is Rosh Hashanah.

Read: Why Do We Still Celebrate Holidays for Two Days in the Diaspora?

13. It’s Generally Forbidden to Leave Israel

Israel is the holy land, and Jewish law forbids a Jewish person to leave it unless he or she has good reason, which may include: to study Torah, to marry, or for pressing financial reasons. After achieving those objectives, one must return to Israel.11

Read: Why Didn’t the Rebbe Ever Visit Israel?

14. It’s Called the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’

When G‑d spoke to Moses at the burning bush, He informed him that He would redeem the Israelites and bring them to a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . .”12 Honey here (and in some other places in Scripture) is understood to refer to fruit nectar, specifically date honey—not bees’ honey.

Read: Why Is Israel Called a Land of Milk and Honey?

15. It Is Praised With Seven Fruits

A cash crop even today, in antiquity date palms provided food, shelter, shade, medicine—and became a symbol of Judea.
A cash crop even today, in antiquity date palms provided food, shelter, shade, medicine—and became a symbol of Judea.

In describing the extraordinary beauty and uniqueness of the Land of Israel, Scripture tells us, “For the L‑rd your G‑d is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water . . . a land of wheat and barley, [grape] vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-producing olives and honey [from dates] . . .”13

When eating any of these along with other fruit, we partake of these first. And a special blessing is said after we eat them, in which we thank G‑d for the land He gave us.

Read: What Is So Special About the 7 Species?

16. Its Topography Varies Dramatically

Transport on and near the Dead Sea in 1920.
Transport on and near the Dead Sea in 1920.

Although Israel is a relatively small country, it has an incredibly diverse natural landscape. In just a few hours of travel one can traverse sandy deserts, fertile valleys and woodsy mountains, with great fluctuations of weather. It can be snowing in the hills of Jerusalem and sweltering hot just 20 miles away on the sandy beaches of the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on earth (1410 feet below sea level).

Read: All About the Dead Sea

17. It Has Several Water Sources

The Torah describes the Land of Israel as “a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains.”14 Blessed with an abundance of water, it sits east of the Mediterranean Sea. On its northwestern corner lies the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which feeds into the Jordan River, which in turn feeds into the Dead Sea in the southeast. Since the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea are both salty, the freshwater supply is limited, propelling modern Israel to become a leader in the desalination industry.

Read: Why No Special Blessing Over Water?

18. It’s Strategically Located Between Asia and Africa

The shortest land route from Eurasia to Africa runs through the Land of Israel, which is one of the reasons the area was the site of so much historic warfare. For example, when the Alexandrian Greeks (headquartered in Alexandria, Egypt, which is in Africa) butted heads with the Syrian Greeks (headquartered in what is now Turkey), Israel saw more than its fair share of Greeks in uniform. This led to the Maccabean rebellion and the miracle of Chanukah.

Read: 13 Facts About the Maccabees Every Jew Should Know

19. Kissing the Ground Has a Long History

Upon alighting onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, it is not uncommon to see passengers kissing the ground. This is an ancient tradition in Judaism. In the words of Maimonides,15 “Great sages would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, kiss its stones and roll in its dust. Similarly, Scripture declares:16 ‘Behold, Your servants hold her stones dear and cherish her dust.’”

Read: Why Jews Kiss Torah Books

20. People Want to be Buried There

Before his passing in Egypt, Jacob asked his son Joseph to transport his body to be buried in his ancestral burial plot in Hebron. According to the Talmud, being buried in the Land of Israel brings a certain measure of atonement to the deceased. In addition, in the time to come, the dead will come back to life in Israel. The bodies of those who are buried outside of Israel will burrow through the earth until they reach the Land, and then their souls will be reinstated in their bodies. Being buried in the Holy Land precludes the need for this process.

Read: Why Do Jews Fly Their Dead to Israel for Burial?

21. Not All Fruit Is Kosher in Israel

Jews in the Diaspora are long used to making sure that processed food is certified kosher. But raw grains, fruits and veggies are almost always okay, provided that they are bug-free. Things are very different in Israel, where many biblical agricultural laws are still in effect (to a degree). Thus, produce may not be enjoyed until a battery of tithes have been separated; fruit of the seventh year is sacred; and one must ascertain that fruit grew from a tree older than four years.

Read: Food From Israel

22. G‑d Is Always ‘Watching’ It

Scripture describes the Holy Land as “a land the L‑rd, your G‑d, looks after; the eyes of L‑rd your G‑d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”17 The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, often cited this verse as proof that Israel’s denizens receive G‑d’s special protection, making it “the safest place in the world.”

Read: The Safest Place in the World

(Photo: Aviad Tevel)
(Photo: Aviad Tevel)