Ignaz Maybaum, an Anglo-Jewish philosopher who came from the great prewar community of Germany, regarded this verse as theology, not just history.
If it were only history it would set the scene for the migrations of the Israelite tribes from Canaan to Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. But to Maybaum it was theology. It indicated that Judaism was never limited to the Land of Israel, great and holy though the Land is. Judaism was wherever the wandering ancestor found himself.
Judaism still is wherever Jews live a Jewish life. Maybaum quotes a story. “Once, at a Royal Commission, Chaim Weizmann was asked: ‘Whence to do derive your right to demand Palestine for the Jewish People?’ His answer was: ‘The Bible is our Charter'”.
Maybaum comments, “This answer, appropriate in the hour when Weizmann gave it, could cause the Bible to cease to be the Jewish Book for the whole of mankind, and let it degenerate into a charter given only to one political group” (Jewish Chronicle, 2 Sept., 1955).
Many of us would tone down Maybaum’s criticism because to us Israel is so crucial and central to Jewish identity and faith, but we cannot entirely repudiate his words. Jews can be Jewish anywhere in the world and millions are, whilst some are almost non-Jewish even in Israel.
The ideal is the words of the Book of Exodus: “In every place where My name is invoked I will come to you and bless you” (Ex. 20:24).