Our Gemara introduces us to a baraita that appears in Seder Olam that teaches that the passage in Sefer Devarim (30:5) asher yarshu avotekha ve-yerishta indicates that there are only two times that the Land of Israel is sanctified in history. In other words, aside from the sanctification that took place when Yehoshua brought the children of Israel in from the desert, the only other sanctification that was necessary occurred when Ezra brought the Jews back from exile. That second sanctification lasts forever.
The question of the status of the Land of Israel after the destruction of the second Temple is one that both tanna’aim and amora’im grapple with, and about which the rishonim do not come to a clear conclusion. Nevertheless, we can reach certain conclusions in specific areas of discussion.
It is clear that the basic sanctity of the Chosen Land lasts forever, and that no other country can replace it. The question is whether that basic level of sanctity is all that is necessary for the rules of the Holy Land to apply, or is there a need for other factors, as well. For example –
Do we need the Temple to be standing?
Do we need the majority of world Jewry to be living there?
Do we need autonomous Jewish rule in the land?
According to many opinions, the rules of shemita – the Sabbatical year – have not operated on a biblical level since the exile of the ten tribes, while the first Temple was still standing, and even during the period of the second Temple, the rule of agricultural commandments were kept only a Rabbinic level.
Regarding terumot and ma’asrot (tithes), the Rambam views the obligation today – and even during the second Temple period – as being of rabbinic origin, while the Ra’avad believes that Ezra’s arrival gave sanctity to the Land that included an obligation in tithes, and that obligation remains to this day.