The First Hebrew Explorer of the Land of Israel Public Domain

The First Hebrew Explorer of the Land of Israel

Unfazed by rabbinical prohibitions, he took scientific instruments and journeyed to the Holy Land


Rabbi Ishtori Haparchi authored the first Hebrew book on the geography of the Land of Israel, an endeavor that threw the Jewish world into turmoil. 

Back in the 14th century, the only materials available on the Land of Israel were the Bible, Talmud and other religious writings. Haparchi, an Orthodox Rabbi, set out to explore the Holy Land and provide a guide for Jews seeking to make pilgrimage. It was his use of scientific tools to explore the Promised Land that proved to be vital, and controversial. 

Rabbi Haparchi was born in 1280 in the south of France and grew up in Montpelier, a large Jewish and liberal community. It was the early days of the Renaissance, when science and empirical knowledge were becoming more acceptable, together with new philosophies, including higher biblical criticism. The idea that the Bible is not an actual record of events, but only allegory, was popularized. Even rabbis were discussing the possibilities that the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai did not really happen, but is...