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Allotments of the Tribes

Rabbi Shlomo of Chelm, c. 1780

The map of the Allotments of the Tribes shown here is part of Rabbi Shlomo of Chelm's treatise "Hug ha-Aretz" written in Poland c. 1780. The map is an autograph, that is a manuscript written by the author himself, as is the rest of the manuscript.


Rabbi Shlomo of Chelm was renowned for his book Mirkevet ha-Mishneh. Notwithstanding the fact he was a learned rabbi, Shlomo of Chelm, according to his own testimony, was also engaged in the study of philosophy and science, a rare phenomenon in his time, and was regarded as one of the harbingers of the Jewish Enlightenment movement. In his introduction to Mirkevet ha-Mishneh, he took pride in his knowledge of secular wisdom and even called out to others to engage in secular learning, which he called "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," in reference to the Liberal Arts.


This essay, "Hug ha-Aretz," which discusses the boundaries of Eretz Israel, the territories of the tribes and the place names as mentioned in the Bible and which contains eight maps, is one of R. Shlomo's lesser known essays. In the introduction to the essay, the author expresses his love for Eretz Israel and his prayer that he might be able at least to see the land in its ruin, and to tread upon it before he dies. R. Shlomo remarks that he views the Promised Land in the map as Moses viewed it on Mount Nebo. The book is called by the title of "Hug ha-Aretz," because the borders and cities were drawn with a compass (mehuga).


In this essay too, which is prima facie based purely on the biblical text, Shlomo of Chelm demonstrated his familiarity with secular wisdom and availed himself of an essay by Christian van Adrichom, a Christian priest and scholar engaged in biblical research. Despite his efforts to adapt the text for the Jewish reader, the terms and names which originated in Adrichom's essay can be read between the lines; most prominent examples being "Iscariot," the birthplace of Judas of Kerayot according to Christian tradition, and "the hill Calvaria" – none other than Mount Calvary.


The map of the territories of the tribes is also clearly based on non-Jewish sources and is copied from the map of Mattheus Seutter, a map prevalent in Europe at the time. Certain references in the map reveal traces of Seutter's text such as "River Eleutherus" (for the Kishon River), "Bersabas" (for Be'er Sheva) and the "Jordan Crossing."


To view the full manuscript including the maps of the tribes