The Gemara discusses the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. There are various historical issues involved with identifying the boundaries. We will present a synopsis here of the historical aspect of the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, based on the Gemara, the Book of Maccabees, and Josephus, prepared by Rabbi Yehudah Landy. (This discussion is not intended to be used for practical Halachic purposes.)The following is a translation of the writings of Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVII, Chapter 2) regarding a Jew named Zimri who lived near the Trachon. It is very possible that this area could be identified with the city in the Beraisa d'Techumin called "Rekem Trachon *Zimra* d'Mitcham *l'Botzrah* (Bathyra?)."(a) QUESTION: The Mishnah (2a) quotes Rebbi Yehudah who says, "From Rekem to the east, and Rekem is part of the east; from Ashkelon to the south, and Ashkelon is part of the south; and from Ako to the north, and Ako is part of the north."IN SUMMATION, the Mishnah's depiction of the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael matches the description of the boundaries of Olei Bavel which reflects the Herodian conquests. The Mishnah lists the cities along the main roads leading to and from Eretz Yisrael from the south, north, and east. Rekem is situated in the Trachon region in the northeastern section of Eretz Yisrael. Identifying Rekem as Petra is very problematic.
Eretz Yisrael was captured and sanctified twice. The first time was by the Olei Mitzrayim (the Jews who came into Eretz Yisrael from Mitzrayim, led by Yehoshua). The second time was by the Olei Bavel (those who returned to Eretz Yisrael after the Galus of Bavel). To which of these two sanctifications is our Mishnah referring?
TOSFOS (DH v'Ashkelon) points out that Ashkelon was captured by the tribe of Yehudah, as is stated in the beginning of Sefer Shoftim. When the Mishnah states that Ashkelon is considered Chutz la'Aretz, it is because Olei Bavel did not capture it. Clearly, then, according to Tosfos, our Mishnah is reflecting the situation of the land as sanctified by Olei Bavel.
The Ramban here brings support for this contention from a Beraisa in the Sifri which lists "Techumei Eretz Yisrael, Ad Makom she'Hecheziku Olei Bavel..." -- "The following is the territory of Eretz Yisrael as far as the Olei Bavel controlled....." The first and last places in the list of the Beraisa are indeed on the outskirts of Ashkelon ("Parashas Asheklon").
It is clear from various sources that the conquest and sanctification of Olei Mitzrayim began with Yehoshua, and it continued throughout the period of the Shoftim and onward. For example, David ha'Melech captured Syria (Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova). The Gemara implies that Syria would have been considered part of Eretz Yisrael had it not been a "Kivush Yachid" (a conquest at the initiative of a single person -- in this case, David ha'Melech; see TOSFOS to Gitin 8a, DH Kivush).
The duration of the period from the beginning of the Olei Bavel until the destruction of the second Beis ha'Mikdash was about 440 years (see Megilah 11b), throughout which the borders were constantly changing due to conquests or treaties. Which conquests were classified as the conquests of Olei Bavel? With regard to Kedushas ha'Aretz, does "the conquest of Olei Bavel" refer to the situation during the time of Ezra, or years later during the reign of the Chashmona'im, or perhaps much later during the reign of King Herod (Hurdus), some 100 years before the destruction of the Second Beis ha'Mikdash?
ANSWER: To answer this, we must first review some of the historical background. When the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael from Bavel, they controlled, at first, a very small section of Eretz Yisrael. Sefer Nechemya (chapter 11) describes the Jews living in the territories from Yerushalayim to Be'er Sheva. The tribe of Binyamin lived in their portion, which was just north of Yerushalayim. It remains unclear whether or not there was any Jewish population in the Galil (the northern sector of the country) at the time of Ezra.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia (28a) maintains that the land that was re-sanctified by Ezra included Jews from all tribes, who resettled in their original locations. The Mishnah in Erchin (32a, and Gemara there) mentions that parts of Tzipori, Yodfat, and Gush Chalav were identified and/or sanctified by Olei Bavel.
Historically, the book of Maccabees relates that after the events of Chanukah, the Jewish population in Transjordan and in the *Galil* suffered from their hostile neighbors. Yehudah ha'Macabee went to Transjordan while he sent his brother Shimon to rescue the Jews in the Galil. This is the first historical evidence of Jews living in the Galil during the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdash (in the year 3597, or 163 BCE), or 230 years before the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash.
During the period from Ezra until the events of Chanukah, the province of Judea included only the inner, hilly region of the country. The entire coastal plain was populated by non-Jewish cities. It was only in the year 3619 (141 BCE), or about 210 years before the Churban, that Shimon captured the cities of Gezer and Yafo, giving Judea the vital outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. His son, Yochanan Hurkenos, continued with conquests in the center of the country and along the coast. It is most probable that he was the king who connected Judea with the Galil. (His coins were found in the excavations of Yodfat. However, since he was the first Jewish king to mint coins, it is impossible to use this method to determine how far back in time Jews were living there.)
His son Yanai (who ruled during 103-76 BCE, about 170 years before the Churban) extended the boundaries even further. He captured the northern coast, but he failed to capture Ako. In the southern coastal plain he captured Azah (Gaza) and a place named Rinkorurah, which is identified as Al Arish. However, for political reasons he did not capture Ashkelon. Ashkelon remained a non-Jewish enclave and was never captured by Jews during the era of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. The Tosefta in Ohalos (ch. 18) mentions Ashkelon among the towns that are "Muvla" in Eretz Yisrael. In other words, it is surrounded by Eretz Yisrael, but it is not a part of Eretz Yisrael. In the north, archeological evidence shows that Yanai captured the central section of what is commonly known as the Golan Heights, but he did not capture the northern section adjacent to Mount Chermon.
In the year 3697 (63 BCE), 132 years before the Churban, the Romans captured Eretz Yisrael and wrested away from Jewish control most of the sections which were added on by the Chashmona'i kings.
King Herod ruled from the years 3723-3756 (37-4 BCE), or 106-73 years before the Churban. Eventually, the Romans placed under his control all of the territories that were originally in Chashmona'i hands. They even added on the northern Golan and the Bashan, Trachon and Churan regions, which are situated east of the Golan Heights. He did not control Ashkelon or Ako.
As the Ramban (mentioned above) pointed out, the three locations mentioned in our Mishnah are among those mentioned in the "Beraisa d'Techumin" of the Sifri (Parshas Ekev) cited above, which lists the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael at the times of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. This "Beraisa d'Techumin" may be also found in the Yerushalmi (Shevi'is 6:1). Approximately twenty-five years ago, a mosaic floor of an ancient synagogue was discovered near Beit Shean with an inscription recording this Beraisa, among others. There are a few discrepancies between the various sources, but we must keep in mind that this mosaic dates back farther than any other manuscript we have. Furthermore, it was written near those locations mentioned in it and should therefore be considered most accurate.
The list, which begins from near *Ashkelon*, continues north along the coast until *Ako* and then heads inland. It mentions the city of Banyas, which is just south of the Chermon (under the name Caeseria) and then mentions "*Rekem* Trachon Zimra d'Mitcham l'Botzrah" among others. In other words, the Beraisa clearly indicates that all territories under King Herod's control were considered to be conquests of Olei Bavel!
(The Tevu'os ha'Aretz disagrees and maintains that the Kedushah of Olei Bavel applies only to what was occupied by Ezra. The Kesef Mishneh and Rav Yakov Emden (Chulin 7a) maintain that territories added later are also included. While the Kesef Mishneh refers to Yanai's conquests mentioned in Kidushin (66a), he does not refer to any Herodian conquests. Rav Yakov Emden does not refer to any specific conquests.)
(b) QUESTION: When the Mishnah mentions Ashkelon, Ako, and Rekem, what about the rest of the boundaries of the country? Why did Rebbi Yehudah not quote the entire list?
ANSWERS:1. One possibility is that any territory within these cities is Eretz Yisrael. What about the territory outside of these areas? The northern boundary clearly runs further north than Ako. It perhaps means that anywhere within these cities is surely Eretz Yisrael, while some territories outside can also be part of Eretz Yisrael, but are not necessarily part. While this is a possibility, Rav Zalman Koren points out that in those days there were no maps. It would be impossible for people to know if their current location was north of Ako or south of Ashkelon.
2. According to Rav Koren, the structure of the Mishnah applies to a traveler delivering a Get. The cities mentioned are along the main roads leading to and from Eretz Yisrael. The Mishnah is saying that anyone bringing a get from Ashkelon or from south of Ashkelon, from Ako or from north of Ako, or from Rekem or from east of Rekem, must say "b'Fanai Nichtav...." The Mishnah does not have to discuss the rest of the boundaries, for they are not situated along the main roads.
Roads to Eretz Yisrael certainly led through Ako and Ashkelon (see Kesuvos 112a, "Kipi d'Ako"; Gitin 76b, "b'Ako Havu Mifteri"). What about Rekem? More generally, where is Rekem? (There were a few places named Rekem. It is important to mention that the name Rekem appears twice in the Beraisa.)
Many scholars identify Rekem with the famous city of Petra, currently in southern Jordan. Rav Koren points out that this is very problematic. Petra was the capital of the Nabeteans, and at no time was it populated with Jews.
As we have seen, the list of the boundaries in the Beraisa includes Rekem in the Trachon region. Interestingly, according to Josephus, King Herod chose to settle a group of people in the Trachon in order to protect the Olei Regel who traveled from Bavel to Yerushalayim at the time of the festivals. In other words, the road eastward from Eretz Yisrael runs through the Trachon, and it is most probable that the city of Rekem mentioned in the Mishnah is the city of Rekem in the Trachon region mentioned in the Beraisa.
CONCERNING ZAMARIS, THE BABYLONIAN JEW...
1. AND now it was that Herod, being desirous of securing himself on the side of the Trachonites, resolved to build a village as large as a city for the Jews, in the middle of that country, which might make his own country difficult to be assaulted, and whence he might be at hand to make sallies upon them, and do them a mischief. Accordingly, when he understood that there was a man that was a Jew come out of Babylon, with five hundred horsemen, all of whom could shoot their arrows as they rode on horse-back, and, with a hundred of his relations, had passed over Euphrates, and now abode at Antioch by Daphne of Syria, where Saturninus, who was then president, had given them a place for habitation, called Valatha, he sent for this man, with the multitude that followed him, and promised to give him land in the toparchy called Batanea, which country is bounded with Trachonitis, as desirous to make that his habitation a guard to himself. He also engaged to let him hold the country free from tribute, and that they should dwell entirely without paying such customs as used to be paid, and gave it to him tax-free.
2. The Babylonian was seduced by these offers to come hither; so he took possession of the land, and built in it fortresses and a village, and named it Bathyra. Whereby this man became a safeguard to the inhabitants against the Trachonites, and preserved those Jews who came out of Babylon, to offer their sacrifices at Jerusalem, from being hurt by the Trachonite robbers; so that a great number came to him from all those parts where the ancient Jewish laws were observed, and the country became full of people, by reason of their universal freedom from taxes. This continued during the life of Herod; but when Philip, who was [tetrarch] after him, took the government, he made them pay some small taxes, and that for a little while only; and Agrippa the Great, and his son of the same name, although they harassed them greatly, yet would they not take their liberty away.
3. After a long time passed, Zamaris the Babylonian, to whom Herod had given that country for a possession, died, having lived virtuously, and left children of a good character behind him.