Eilat The Biblical City

When thinking of Biblical cities, what usually comes to mind? Jerusalem, Chevron, Shechem…Eilat?


Although you may not think of Eilat as a holy city, it is in fact a Biblical city mentioned in Parshat Dvarim 2:8: “We passed over from our brothers the descendents of Esav, who live in Seir, from the Arava road, from Eilat and from Etziyon Gaver…”


Eilat is also mentioned in the Book of Melachim, Kings I, 9:26: “And King Shlomo made a ship in Etzion Gaver, which is beside Elat on the shore of Yam Suf in the land of Edom.”


In Kings II, 14:21-22 we see that Eilat was in Jewish hands: “And all the people of Yehuda took Azarya who was sixteen years old and made him king instead of his father Amatzyahu. He built Eilat and restored it to Yehuda after the king slept with his fathers.”


Unfortunately, it was taken away in Kings II, 16:6: “At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Eilat to Aram and drove the men of Yehuda from Elat and the Adomim came to Eilat and dwelt there to this day.”


In 1949, Eilat became part of Israel once again.


When we trace the original Biblical borders of Israel we actually find that Elat and part of the Arava desert were below the Biblical borders and may not be considered part of the Land of Israel.


Why is it important for us to know if Eilat and the Arava desert were actually part of the Land or not?


If they are not considered part of the Land then the agricultural mitzvoth such as Shmitta would not apply, meaning that one would be able to grow produce there during the Shmitta (Sabbatical) year.


If they are considered part of the Land then all of the mitzvoth that apply to the Land of Israel would also apply there.


According to the book Katif Shviit which outlines the laws of Shmitta:

 “One may not work the Land that had already been conquered in the time of the First Beit HaMikdash (Temple). According to most authorities, these borders include the entire Modern State of Israel and beyond.”


HaGrim Tokchinsky in his book Sefer Eretz Yisrael states: Eilat and its surrounding areas are included in the borders of Olei Mitzrayim (from when B’nai Yisrael first entered the Land of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt) and there is no leniency to work the land there during the Shmitta year. The proof is found in Shmot 23:31: “And I will set thy bounds from the Sea of Suf (Red Sea) even to the Sea of Plishtim (Mediterranean) and from the desert to the river…”


There are other Rabbis who are lenient on this issue.


We see from here that Eilat is not just a city of snorkeling and sunbathing. It is a Biblical city which is at the center of Halachic debates and now boasts many synagogues, mikvas and Kosher hotels and restaurants.


The next time you find yourself planning a vacation, why not consider Eilat?


Shabbat Shalom and Have a Meaningful Tisha B’Av

Sharona Margolin Halickman