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United Monarchy

This lesson begins with the leadership of the prophet Shmuel (Samuel), the last of the pre-monarchic rulers of Israel, and continues with the narratives of King Shaul (Saul) and King David. It tells the story of a significant period in Israelite history — the transition from charismatic leadership, with leaders appointed at times of need, to an established, dynastic monarchy, politically uniting the Israelites.

Rabbi Yehuda in Sanhedrin 20b tells us that after their 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Hebrews coming into the Land of Israel were required to fulfill three commandments sequentially, each one contingent on the performance of the previous one. They were to anoint a King, annihilate the nation of Amalek and build a Holy Temple. This lesson explores the dramatic story of how each of these commands was fulfilled, and the legacy each has had on the Jewish nation to this day.

The Jewish Story Explained is based on the book Letters to Auntie Fori: 5,000 Years of Jewish History and their Faith by Martin Gilbert.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Name the two tribes that settled the south of the Promised Land?
    • Yehudah and Binyamin (Judah and Benjamin)
    • Reuven and Gad
    • Ephraim and Menashe
    • Naftali and Bennett
  2. For how long did the United Monarchy remain intact?
    • 60 years
    • 70 years
    • 80 years
    • 90 years
  3. Which of the following are true about David?
    • Warrior
    • Romantic
    • Shepherd
    • Poet and Musician
    • All of the above 
  4.  With what weapon did David defeat Goliath?
    • Hands
    • Knife
    • Spear
    • Rock
  5.  David could perform wonders playing this instrument
    • Timbrel
    • Lute
    • Harp
    • Mandolin
  1. Shaul does not fulfill Shmuel’s instruction to exact a penalty on Amalek for what they did to the Children of Israel when they left Egypt.Do you view Shaul as a weak leader for having shown mercy to King Agag, who was an enemy to the Jewish people?
  2. In Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, Elliot Horowitz implies that contrary to the lachrymose conception of Jewish history, Jews have actually been a militant people throughout their years in exile drawing on the killing of King Agag, the wars against Amalek, and the violence that consumes the final chapter of Megillat Esther as prime examples. The book was highly criticized when it first came out for not adequately substantiating the claims presented. How does the way we remember the past, whether as victims or victors, determine our Jewish identity today? Is Horowitz right or is he misguided?
  3. As punishment for the sin with Batsheva, God said to David that the rest of his days would be filled with warfare. He also forbade him from building the Temple as he had too much blood on his hands. The privilege of building the First Temple went to David’s son Shlomo (Solomon). In order to build the first Temple, Shlomo entered into an alliance with Hiram, King of Tyre, who provided him with cedar wood from Lebanon for building the Temple. In exchange, King Solomon transferred 20 cities in the land of the Galilee to Hiram King of Tyre (1 Kings 9:11-13), apparently in order to erase the debt he owed Hiram for his assistance in building the Temple. These 20 cities, with their land and their inhabitants became the property of the Phoenicians. We are also taught that the Temple was constructed far away from the sacred ground on which it eventually stood. What does the builder and manner in which the Temple was built teach us about how God views His house on earth and its purpose for both the Jewish people and humanity as a whole?
  4. Rabbi Yonatan said: Anyone who says that David sinned with Batsheva is nothing other than mistaken, as it is stated: “And David succeeded in all his ways; and the Lord was with him” (I Samuel 18:14). How do you think he came to this view? Do you agree?
  5. Shlomo’s death is recorded without fanfare shortly after the Northern Kingdom splits from the southern Kingdom of Yehuda (Judah), which ends the United Monarchy. As for the ten northern tribes of Israel, they are eventually conquered by the Assyrian Empire and vanish culturally from the world stage. The next time the people of Yehuda, now known as Jews, would rule the land from north to south under their own sovereign power would be almost three thousand years later when the modern State of Israel was established in 1948. Why do you think the gap between the Jewish sovereignty and majority rule in the land between the time of Shlomo and the modern State of Israel was so long? What can we learn about what it means to be a Jew today from the fact that throughout their exile, Jews never lost hope of returning and finding self-determination in their promised land?
  1. Use a ready-made lesson plan on the United Monarchy HERE
  2. On the Campaign Trail: A Human or God as King?
    • List the attributes of a good leader for the people of Israel.
    • In his farewell address to his people, Moshe warns that having a human king comes with certain risks (See Devarim 17:14-19)
    • Do you agree with the description of Moses as to the attributes of a King? Are they similar to yours?
    • Read Shmuel 8:7-22. What was God’s response to the people’s request for a king? How did Shmuel describe the future king? Why do the people still want a king despite Shmuel’s warning?
    • Create two campaign posters: one calling for a Human King and another calling for only having God as King. Create slogans, songs and a stump speech for each campaign.
    • This article may be helpful for background reading for this task.
      Michael Wyschogrod, A King in Israel 
  3.  The Fate of King Agag and other enemies of Israel: A debate about the death penalty

In 1962, the eyes of the world were transfixed on Israel for nine months during the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal who played an instrumental role in implementing the final solution. After he was found guilty, a debate arose in the Jewish State about his punishment, given that Israel has no death penalty. Ultimately, the president of Israel at the time, Yitzchak Ben Zvi, rejected Eichmann’s pardon request writing:

After considering the pardon requests made on behalf of Adolf Eichmann and after having reviewed all the material presented to me, I came to the conclusion that there is no justification in giving Adolf Eichmann a pardon or easing the sentence imposed on him.

As Samuel said to Agag, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.’ (Samuel 1 15:33)”

Why do you think the President of Israel quoted the story of Agag in the case of Eichmann?

The Reform Movement view the Jewish tradition as being completely opposed to the death penalty, wheras the OU suggest that given we “live in a society wherein heinous murders regular occur, one may suggest that abolishing capital punishment altogether would be at odds with the wisdom of Yahadut [Judaism].”

Choose two students to debate the arguments they see within the Torah as being for and against the death penalty.

4. Listen to Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah about the life of King David and explore the questions below.

Leonard Cohen was the grandchild of a Rabbi who was also the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. In explaining why he wrote this song, Cohen said in 1985, “Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that means “Glory to the Lord.” The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist . I say : “All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value .” It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion. – Leonard Cohen in an Interview with magazine “Guitare et Claviers.” Leonard Cohen was the grandchild of a Rabbi who was also the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. In explaining why he wrote this song, Cohen said in 1985, “Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that means “Glory to the Lord.” The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist . I say : “All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value .” It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion. – Leonard Cohen in an Interview with magazine “Guitare et Claviers.” Leonard Cohen was the grandchild of a Rabbi who was also the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. In explaining why he wrote this song, Cohen said in 1985, “Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that means “Glory to the Lord.” The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist . I say : “All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value .” It’s, as I say, a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion. – Leonard Cohen in an Interview with magazine “Guitare et Claviers.”

Discuss in pairs:

  • Which biblical stories can you see references to in this song?
  • After studying the story of Batsheva, what does the final verse of Cohen’s song teach us about the teshuva (repentance) performed by David and how it was received by God?
  • It’s the most popular song for buskers on Ben Yehuda Street, appears in every American Idol song contest and is often heard at weddings and funerals in many different faiths. Being one of the most covered songs in history, how do you explain the universal appeal of lyrics that reference such specific Jewish stories? Is Hallelujah a love song, mourning song, both or neither?

 

5. Give your students our Kahoot on the United Monarchy!

  1. David chose Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to be the capital of his kingdom after he secured the crown through winning a civil war. To consolidate his gains, heal the wounds of the conflict and unite the tribes he chose an extraterritorial location for his administrative center. Yerushalayim, then outside the tribal territories, was a neutral site (somewhat analogous to the choice of Washington D.C. as the U.S. capital, a compromise between the northern and southern states). Despite David’s attempts at harmony, 3000 years later, Yerushalayim remains one of the most contested cities on earth, with many of her residents having enormously different dreams about the religious, political and social future of this city. After watching this video “One Wish Jerusalem,” make your own short video message sharing your vision for Yerushalayim.
  2. If you could ask King David one question, what would it be?
  3. How do you think Judaism would be different if a Temple stood in Yerushalayim today?

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