During these weeks leading up to Israel's 60th Anniversary, I am interrupting the pattern of examining the vocabulary of the siddur to highlight aspects of our liturgy that emphasize our connection to the land. With so much misrepresentation being made about us, most especially these days by the United Methodist Church, I thought it would be valuable to illustrate for you how Israel has remained central to our aspirations from Biblical times to the present. No document is better suited than the prayer book to make the point. The selections are not in chronological order, but presented to make the point.
And speaking of being out of chronological order, we leap backward twenty-two centuries from last time to the words of Isaiah (2:3), spoken between 740 and 700 before the Common Era. They are as familiar to us as the Torah service – we recite them whenever the Torah is removed from the ark. Ki mitzion teitzei torah ud'var adonai mirushalayim, "For out of Zion shall go Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem."
Isaiah speaks these words as a vision of the future, a time when all the nations of the world will stream to Jerusalem because of its renown as the place of God's glorious presence. Zion (meaning the mountain, the city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, depending on context) will be the place of future revelation, where God and God's will shall be authoritatively disclosed.
What makes the words remarkable is that they are without precedent in Isaiah's time. Revelation – the Torah – occurred outside the land, in the wilderness of Sinai. In fact, with few notable exceptions, all of the great texts of our people have been written outside the Land of Israel. After the Mishnah, the works of Jewish law and thought emerged from communities farther and farther away from Zion.
So impressed were some of our scholars that they often quipped that Torah would come out of places like Vilna and Lublin, the word of God from Volozhin and Vitebsk. I once heard then-Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary Gerson Cohen, of blessed memory, say to a group of rabbinical students at the University of Judaism in L.A., "For out of New York will come Torah and the word of God from Los Angeles!"
Yet our aspiration to make Israel the source of our continuing knowledge of God remained our declaration and expectation for as long as we have read Torah in public worship – two thousand years or more. We declare our desire that Zion be the place of Torah and Jerusalem the origin of God's word. And for the past sixty years, that aspiration has come to fruition. While many texts continue to be produced in the wide Diaspora, the remarkable scholarship of our covenant in all its expressions flows unabated from Israel now that our scholars and thinkers have come home to make it a place of Torah.
Indeed, every Jewish work of lasting worth of the past 2000 years has survived only when written or translated into Hebrew. Imagine how rich our heritage has become these past sixty years now that Hebrew is spoken in the study halls and universities again. Imagine what is yet to flow from Zion and Jerusalem.