Chaf-Tet beNovember: The Significance of November 29

  • by: Shalom Berger

The streets of Jerusalem have names that are not found in every city in the world. There are neighborhoods where the medieval commentators like the Ramban and Maimonides, the Rashba and the Radak, intersect on a daily basis. Only a block or two away, one can meet authors of renown, like Ahad Ha’am, political leaders and fighters like Jabotinsky, or famous Israeli spies, like Eli Kohen. One can learn Jewish history – modern and ancient – by walking the streets of Jerusalem. Look at a map of Jerusalem, at Rechov Chaf-Tet beNovember (November 29 Street).

Why would the Jerusalem city planners name a street after a day on the Gregorian calendar?

What happened on November 29 that puts it on the map together with the giants of Jewish history and culture?

Before we try answering this question, lets try to get a picture of what Jerusalem and the Land of Israel looked like just over 100 years ago at a time that it was ruled by the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. A Christian pilgrim who went by the pen-name of Mark Twain traveled the world and recorded his travels in a book that he called “Innocents Abroad.”

Chapter 52 will let you visit Shechem with Mark Twain, and head for Jerusalem of 1867. See also Chapter 56 (pp.607-608), when he sums up his visit to the Holy Land.

What are Mark Twain’s impressions of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel in the late 19th century?

Who lived there?

What was the state of the economy?

Was it a crowded, bustling country?

How well kept were the holy places in the Holy Land?

The world does not stand still, however. About thirty years later, Theodore (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl, a journalist published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), which described his vision of a national Jewish homeland.

What made Herzl feel a need for a Jewish country?

Why did he argue that that country should be in the area called Palestine, which at the time was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire?

Years of work by Zionist leaders brought about a sympathetic reaction from the British government. Here is the text of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

What did the declaration offer to the Jewish people?

What limitations were placed on that promise?

World War I ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The victorious allied powers split up the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

What did they suggest should happen to those communities whose development made them almost ready for independence?

In 1922, the League of Nations placed the area of Palestine in the hands of the British government.

Why did the League of Nations believe that Jews should be assisted in creating a national homeland in Palestine?

What was the point of giving Britain this mandate? The original mandate covered areas on both the east and the west bank of the Jordan River. What happened to the western half?

In 1939, the English government presented a “White Paper” that clarified its position regarding the Mandate that it received from the League of Nations in 1922. Here is the text of that paper.

As you read in the excerpt, the original Mandate obligated the British to “facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions.” How did the British now view those conditions?

What else was going on in the world in 1939? (If you don’t know, you can be assisted by this timeline.)

How did British policy in Palestine affect the Jews of Europe?

How does the “White Paper” explain the apparent change in policy?

We have finally reached November 29, 1947 (remember, we are trying to understand the significance of November 29). Here is the full text of the November 29, 1947 United Nations Partition Plan. Here is a map of the area and how it was to be partitioned.

Why did the United Nations decide to partition the area of the British Mandate?

What was the reaction of the Jews of Palestine to the Partition plan?

Why did the Jews perceive the Partition Plan as being so important to them? *

What was the Arab reaction?

The Jews acceptance of the Partition Plan led to the Declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948, in which the Jews tried to fulfill the United Nations decision.

How did the neighboring Arab countries, which had rejected the Partition Plan, react to the establishment of the State of Israel on the land granted to them by the United Nations?

Look closely at the original front page of the Palestine Post from May 16, 1948. What are the other headlines, aside from the declaration of the State?

Based on the 1949 armistice agreement between the new State of Israel and the Arab countries that attacked it, what came of the Partition Plan after the Jews’ acceptance and the Arab’s rejection?

We are pretty much done here. Let’s take a moment to review:

What happened on November 29, 1947 that was so significant that there is a Jerusalem street named “November 29th”?

A decision to allow for the establishment doesn’t happen all by itself.

List three significant occurrences that were crucial in the United Nations vote of November 29, 1947.

What decisions were made by the Jews and Arabs of the area, based on the November 29 decision?

How do those decisions affect the State of Israel today?

Further references:

Arab view of the British Mandate period

Review of “From Time Immemorial”

Map of the Middle East

*Note: There are some who suggest that the impact of the United Nations decision on November 29th was not only political, but also religious. For generations, much of religious Jewry rejected a mass return to Biblical Israel because of the Rabbinic statement in Gemara Ketubot 111a that teaches of three oaths imposed on Israel and the nations. Based on an interpretation of passages from the Song of Songs, the Rabbis concluded that:

1. The Jewish people should not return to Israel by force.

2. The Jewish people should not rebel against the nations of the world.

3. The nations of the world should not oppress the Jewish people overmuch.

Although it could be argued that the Holocaust was a clear violation of Oath #3, it was the gathering of the nations of the world under the auspices of the United Nations who voted to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. This decision freed world Jewry from Oaths #1 and #2, and gave the Zionist movement religious sanction to encourage Jews to return to Israel.

Ketubot 111a: Hebrew English