Thinking About Israel @ 70 Through Jewish '70' Texts

Numerology is bountiful within Judaism. Gematriah (the numerical value of each letter of the aleph bet) adds depth of meaning to words chosen; recurring numbers can draw parallels; and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) draws deeply on numerology.

The number seven is important in Judaism as it represents completion: the six days of creation (the physical world) culminating in the seventh day, Shabbat (the spiritual element). Many holidays have seven days, there are seven blessings given to a bride and groom, etc. Seven is also directly applicable to the land of Israel, with seven species, the seventh year as a shmittah year (sabbatical year where land is left uncultivated), and even the emblem of the State of Israel is the seven-branched menorah. The number 10 is another powerful number representing the 10 Commandments, the number of people to create a minyan (community for prayer), the number of righteous people needed to save the city of S’dom. It is therefore unsurprising that when one multiplies these two numbers, one unleashes a powerhouse.

This number [70] symbolizes the world. There are 70 nations in the world, 70 languages, and 70 princely angels. The Greek translation of the Bible, the first to make it available to the gentile, was done by 70 Jewish scholars, who, though working separately, produced 70 identical translations.

- Taken from: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Magic, Myth, and Mysticism  (LlewellynWorldwide)

The following source sheets offer perspectives on the number 70 in our tradition. Using them together in a workshop or as separate sessions, we uncover different meanings of the number 70 and apply them to the State of Israel’s upcoming birthday.

  • What is the importance given to the number in 70 in each text?
  • What can we learn from these texts?
  • How can we apply the learnings about each '70 text' to where Israel currently is and our hopes/wishes/prayers for Israel’s future?
  • These texts can be used together as multiple dapei mekorot (source sheets) for a single workshop, chevrutah (paired learning) or Beit Midrash style activity.
  • Each daf mekorot (source sheet) can be used as a stand-alone session or workshop. Start by discussing the main text, followed by any supporting texts, and end by applying to Israel.
  • One text can be chosen and stand-alone as a ‘way into’ Israel at 70 through Jewish sources and paired with a different activity of your choice.

Seventy as a Sign of Pluralism

Shiv'im Panim L'Torah (שבעים פנים לתורה, "Seventy Faces of Torah")

[source: Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 13:15-16]

Using the above quote as a springboard for discussion, this source sheet is designed like a page of gemara, allowing the supporting texts to offer commentary on the main, central piece. Through this text study, we can explore themes of pluralism, inclusivity, and diversity as they are expressed both in Jewish sources as well as more contemporary Israeli sources. While each of these texts can stand alone, together they provide a window into exploring Israel at 70. What or who are the "70 faces of Israel"? How do these texts enrich our understanding of Israeli society? How can pluralism and diversity go hand in hand?

Click here to download the source sheet below

Click here to listen to Shir Yisraeli in its entirety

Seventy as an Era and a Legacy

This source sheet focuses on the main part of a well known and loved story: that of Choni HaMe'agel. The prologue and part of the epilogue is added here to give context, as well as provide other interesting uses of the number 70. Through this text study, we can explore the idea of time in relation to bearing fruits – the investment and patience needed, and the reaping of the benefits. How can we understand the meaning of 70 in this text? What "fruits" is Israel now bearing? What "seeds" are being planted for the next 70 years? What is Israel’s legacy? Or is Israel the legacy? Included on this source sheet are some interesting facts about the carob tree and its connection to the land of Israel.

Click here to download the source sheet below

70 as a Sign of Wisdom and Maturity

The starting point for this source sheet is a strange, often glossed over part of the Pesach haggadah: near the start of the Maggid (story telling) section, we recount the story of a group of Rabbis who gather together in B'nei B'rak for seder night. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya adds his teaching to the night, yet his words are prefaced with 'הֲרֵי אֲנִי כְּבֶן שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה' – ‘even though I am like a man of 70’.

The supporting texts provide perspectives on what this line might mean. What does it mean to be 70 according to the text? How does 70 connect to age and/or wisdom? How does self-perception compare with the perception of others?  How does self-perception and the perception of others relate to Israel, it’s policies, and decisions? Has Israel at 70 reached an age of wisdom and maturity? Is there a difference in the weight of the number 70 in a person’s life versus in the life of a State? 

Click here to download the source sheet below