Bone Deep: The Foundations of Israeli Independence

May 14, 2024

Did you know that you were born with approximately 270 bones in your body, but as you aged some of those bones fused together so that as an adult you only have 206? I stumbled upon this intriguing piece of information while flipping through a kids’ magazine that one of my children left on the couch. This fact, seemingly trivial, led me to think about the deeper symbolism of bones in the Jewish tradition. With Israel’s Independence Day around the corner, I discovered that this observation was more timely than I thought.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, noted that the word atzmaut, Hebrew for ‘independence,’ is derived from the root etzem, which means ‘bone’. What is the connection between a bone and independence? 

The first time the word etzem appears in the Bible is in the biblical account of Genesis after the creation of Eve. Adam declares that she is “etzem mei’atzamai,” which means a “bone from my bones.” In this narrative, God took a bone from Adam to form Eve, who became a separate, independent individual. According to Rabbi Mirvis, here lies the foundational link between etzem and atzmaut, ‘bone’ and ‘independence’.

Another dramatic example of this idea is found in the prophecies of Ezekiel 37:

In this vision, Ezekiel is shown a valley full of dry bones that look like they have no life left in them, yet they miraculously form into living beings.

This vision represents the revival of the Jewish people and their return to the Land of Israel. One of the darkest chapters of Jewish history, the Holocaust reduced millions of Jews to piles of bones. Yet remarkably, following this tragedy, there was a miraculous ingathering of Jewish exiles from around the world which culminated in the founding of the State of Israel in 1948—just three years after the Holocaust! As Rabbi Mirvis notes, Ezekiel’s vision mirrors the historical ascent from atzamot (bones) to atzmaut (independence).

Today, as we mark Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), we celebrate more than just the status of Israel as a proud and independent nation; we reflect on the resilience that has characterized its history. Like the human skeleton, Israel serves as the structural framework supporting our national identity and pride. Just as our bones work together to form a strong, productive individual, so too has Israel’s journey reflected the unification of diverse fragments into a robust, resilient nation. This nation not only celebrates its independence but also its central role in the life and spirit of the Jewish people.

From the ashes of tragedy to the triumph of independence, Israel embodies collective strength, urging us to appreciate our shared heritage and the unifying power of our convictions. Let us continue to foster this unity, drawing on our diverse strengths to build a future as unbreakable as the bonds that link our bones.

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Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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