The King of the Khazars Accuses the Jews of a Lack of Sincerity in Their Commitment to Zion – Excerpt from Kuzari Chapter 2 – Is This True Today?

Khazar Khaganate
The Khazar Khaganate 580 -780 years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple (650-850 CE) According to Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi records a conversation of the Gentile King of the Khazars with a prominent rabbi that led the King to convert to Judaism. The Kuzari book is a record of the conversation.

Rabbi: Regarding what they said in this matter: “All are compelled to go to the land of Israel and none are compelled to descend”. And they judged the woman who does not wish to make Aliya with her husband to the land of Israel as fitting to be divorced and forfeiting her Ketuba (alimony) money and in the opposite case – where the man does not wish to make Aliya with his wife to the land of Israel (and the woman does), he should divorce her and pay the Ketuba money; and they further stated: “Forever should a person dwell in the land of Israel, even in a town mostly inhabited by Gentiles, and not dwell outside the land even in a city which contains a Jewish majority, for all that dwell in the land of Israel is compared to him who has a  L-rd, and all that dwell outside the land is compared to someone who has no L-rd”; and so too with David he says: ‘For they have driven me out this day from cleaving to the inheritance of Hashem, saying go serve other lords’ (I Shmuel / Samuel 26:19); to tell you that all that dwell outside the land, it is as if he is serving other lords; and already they ascribed to Egypt a certain level of superiority over other countries on the basis of a syllogism in the following way: “If Egypt, with regard to which a covenant was made, is (nevertheless) a forbidden land, other countries are all the more so”.  And they stated, “all that are buried in the land of Israel it is as if he is buried beneath the altar”; and they praise one who dies within it, more than one who was carried to the land after death, which can be deduced from what they stated, “it is not comparable his absorption from life to his absorption after death”; but they said regarding the individual that could have dwelled in the land but did not, yet commanded that his body be transported to it (the land) after death: “in your lifetime – my heritage you made into an abomination, and in your death – you have come and contaminated my land” (Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 2:7).

It is told that Rabbi Chananya, when asked whether it was lawful for a person to leave the Land in order to take the widow of his brother in levirate marriage (Yibum, Dvarim / Deuteronomy 25:5,6) he answered in disdain, “His brother married a ‘Gentile’ (Jewess who lived in a Gentile land) woman; blessed be the Omnipresent that killed him. Now this one wants to follow him?”

Furthermore they also forbade selling land or the beams of a house to a Gentile (in the land of Israel), which would result in leaving a house in ruins[1]; furthermore they said: “Fines can only be imposed in the land itself”; “no slave must be transported abroad”, and many similar regulations. Further, the atmosphere of the land of Israel makes wise. They expressed their love of the land as follows: “He who walks four cubits in the land is assured of being a son of the world to come”.  Furthermore, Rabbi Zērā responded to a heretic who criticized his foolhardiness in crossing a river without waiting to reach an easy access point, in his eagerness to enter the land: “The place which Moshe and Aharon (Moses and Aaron) did not merit to reach, who says I will merit” (if I wait)?

King: If this be so, you fall short of your Torah obligations, by not making this place your goal and making it your abode in life and death, and you say: ‘Have mercy on Zion, for it is the house of our life,’ and believe that the Divine Presence will return there; and if it had no level of superiority other than that the Divine Presence dwelt there for the duration of nine hundred years, this is sufficient reason for men’s souls  who find it precious to yearn for it and be refined by it, as happens to us near the abodes of the prophets and the pious. All the more so because it is the gate of heaven.

All nations agree on this point. Christians say that the souls are gathered there and from there, then lifted up to heaven. The Yishmaelites teach that it is the place of the ascent of the prophets to heaven, and it is the place where the Day of Judgement will take place. Everybody turns to it in prayer and visits it in pilgrimage.

I see that your bowing and kneeling toward that direction is a bluff or a custom without any thought behind it; yet your first forefathers chose it as an abode in preference to their birth-places, and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens in the country of their birth. This they did even at a time when the Divine Presence was not yet perceived in it, rather the land was full of lewdness and idolatry; nevertheless they had no desire other than to remain in it, nor leave it in times of famine except under the commandment of the L-rd. Further, they requested their bones be transported there (to Israel).

Rabbi: You have put me to shame, O Kuzari King; and this iniquity is what prevented the completion of what was designated for us, during the 2nd Temple period, as he stated:  Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion’ (Zechariah 2:10), for the Divine designation was ready to be initiated like it was at the outset, if all would have agreed to willingly return. But only a fraction returned, while the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring exile and servitude in order not to be separated from their habitations and interests. Perhaps regarding this issue, Shlomo (Solomon) stated: “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Songs, chapter 5). He nicknames the exile as sleep, and the continuation of prophecy among them as “the voice of my beloved knocks”, that is to say the call of the L-rd to return; “my head is filled with dew”, alludes to the Divine Presence which emerged from the shadow of the Temple, and what he stated: “I have put off my coat”, refers to their laziness to return. “My beloved stretched forth his hand through the opening” alludes to Ezra who implored them, together with Nechemiah (Nehemiah) and the prophets, until a fraction of them consented half-heartedly to return. Now Hashem repaid them according to the dictates of their conscience and they received a shortened measure, in accordance to their shortcomings; for the Divine plan is initiated upon a person in accordance with his preparation for it; if it is little, he gets a little, and if it is very much, he gets very much. Now if they had prepared themselves to meet the L-rd of their forefathers with a full heart, and a willing spirit, we would have met the same experience, that was experienced by our forefathers in (the redemption from) Egypt. But our words: “bow towards his holy mountain”, and “bow towards his footstool”, and “he who restores his Divine Presence to Zion” and other statements of this nature are but the chirping of the Zarzir Bird; for we do not pay attention to what is being expressed by this and by similar statements as you have stated, O Kuzari King.

2 Species of Zarzir birds according to Wikipedia


[1]  Commentaries had difficulty explaining this section of the Kuzari and the translation I used was based on the source that I found stating:

לאור ההלכה הכוזרי בהלכה

כלומר: למכור הקורות בלבד ולהניח המקום חרב. חידוש דין יש בדבר: הרי אין כאן לא משום “חנייה” ולא משום הכנסת ע”ז, ובכל זאת אסור מפני ש”מניחו חרב”. ואף מקור מוצאו של הדין יש לראות באותו פרק ראשון של ע”ז. שתי משניות הן: על איסור מכירה במחובר לקרקע, ועל איסור מכירת והשכרת בתים. נתבונן בשני הדינים ונראה שינוי: במשנת מחובר לקרקע שנינו: “ר’ יהודה אומר: מוכר הוא על מנת לקוץ” (וכך נפסקה ההלכה), ואילו במשנת בתים לא נזכר היתר זה של מכירה על מנת שיטול את העצים והאבנים מכאן. סימן, שכאן הדבר אסור.