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Shabbat Commentary

21/22 July: Shabbat Mattot-Masei comes in 8:51 pm, goes out 10:03pm

In parshat Mattot-Masei, we read about the conquest and division of the land of Canaan.  The precise boundaries are defined.  One question that is often glossed over is the morality of the conquest, i.e., taking the land from its Canaanite inhabitants.

Steven Bayme, in his book, Understanding Jewish History, brings together the various ways in which our tradition has grappled with this problem.  Rabbinic tradition underscored the biblical rationale for the conquest.  The Canaanites engaged in particularly grievous acts, including child sacrifices.  Because of those acts, the land of Israel effectively “threw out” its native inhabitants.

A second line of reasoning brought by the Rabbis relies on the fact that the Canaanites were not the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan.  An earlier people, whom the Canaanites dispossessed, had once ruled there

The third approach that rabbinic tradition has taken to this issue, which was obviously troubling to the Rabbis, is to historicise the moral issues regarding the conquest.  The Rabbis noted that the command to eliminate the seven nations of Canaan was limited to one generation.  In subsequent years, Israelites and Canaanites lived together in relative degrees of both amity and hostility.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

July 20, 2017