In our modern era, the term “green belt” is used to refer to the preservation of nature areas and agricultural areas which are surrounding or neighboring urban areas. As we shall discuss in this letter, the concept of the “green belt” is found in our Torah.
We discussed how the Tribe of Levi is to be dedicated to Divine service, including the study and teaching of Torah. This is why the Tribe of Levi was not given a regular portion in the Land; instead, the members of this tribe were given cities throughout the Land in which to dwell, and these cities are to serve as spiritual centers for all our people. In this letter, we shall discuss the Divine mandate to have an open space – a “green belt” – around the cities of the Levites. This mandate appears in the following verse:
“Command the Children of Israel that they shall give to the Levites, from the heritage of their possession, cities for dwelling; and open space all around the cities shall you give to the Levites. (Numbers 35:2)
“Open space all around the cities” – The commentator, Rashi, explains: “This means a space – a vacant area outside the city and around it – to be an aesthetic enhancement of the city.” Rashi adds that within this space, they are not permitted to build a house, to plant a vineyard, or to do any sowing.
The following teaching reveals that the prohibition against agricultural work only applies to the inner part of this green belt, for in the outer part, it is permitted:
The Torah states that the length of the open space is “one thousand cubits” (Numbers 35:4); however, in the very next verse it states that the length is “two thousand cubits” (35:5). How do we understand this contradiction? In his commentary on verse 35:4, Rashi explains that the entire belt is 2,000 cubits all around, and it is divided into two circles. The verse which mentions 1,000 cubits is referring to the inner circle. Rashi writes: “The inner thousand are for the open space (for beauty), and the outer thousand are for fields and vineyards (for agriculture).” As a result, the residents of the Levite cities not only have a connection to the beauty of nature; they also have the ability to do some local farming.
The commentator, Neztiv, points out that the ability to do some farming in an area close to their cities was of special benefit for the Levites for the following health-related reason:
The members of the Tribe of Levi, including the Kohanim, were supported by various tithes from the harvest of the fields and vineyards of the other tribes. The produce of the harvest which was saved for the Levites, however, was dried. The agricultural belt around their cities therefore gave the Levites the opportunity to have fresh fruits and vegetables, which are known as “live” produce. (“He’amek Davar” on 35:3)
There is a specific mitzvah in the Torah which protects the green belt from commercial development, as it is written:
“And the open country on the outskirts of their cities must not be sold, for it is an eternal heritage for them.” (Leviticus 25:34)
The Talmud cites the tradition that the above verse has the following broader interpretation: The original purposes of the city and the two parts of the green belt must be preserved; thus, it is forbidden to change any of these three areas at the expense of the other (Arachin 33b). As Rashi explains in his commentary on the Talmud, each area – the city, the outer space for beauty, and the outer space for agriculture – serves a valuable purpose within the Land of Israel.
The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides is a classical work on the “halacha” – the detailed steps of the Torah path. According to the Mishneh Torah, the Divine mandate to preserve the city and both parts of the green belt does not only apply to the cities of the Levites; it also applies “to all the cities of Israel” (Zeraim, Hilchos Shmittah V'Yovel 13:5). This halacha reveals that all the cities of Israel are to have the benefit of the green belt. The cities of the Levites therefore serve as Torah centers which offer an ecological model of urban planning for all the cities of our people.
During this series, we cited prophecies which reveal that in the last stage of our exile, our people will fully return to the path of the Torah – the Divine Teaching. We will then experience the dawn of the messianic age with the ingathering of all our tribes in the Land of Zion. In addition, all forms of collective and individual suffering which inhibit our complete fulfillment of the Torah will be gone; thus, we will be free to lovingly keep all the mitzvos of the Torah and thereby develop in Zion a model society. Among the mitzvos that we will fulfill are the mitzvos regarding the green belt, and through fulfilling these particular mitzvos, we can offer an ecological model of urban planning for all the nations of the earth.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. As mentioned
the entire green
belt was 2000
the entire green
belt was 3,000
inner green belt
cubits, and the
outer green belt
was 2,000 cubits
2. As Rashi explained, the inner green belt contributes to the aesthetic enhancement of the city. The Sefer Hachinuch, a classical work on the Torah’s 613 mitzvos, states that the outer green belt for agriculture also contributes to the aesthetic enhancement of the city. (Mitzvah 322)