All this has nothing to do with the particular religious Jew’s attitude toward the government or State of Israel. We speak here not of political Zionism, but of the original and permanent obligation to go up and settle the Holy Land — an obligation that is clear and binding upon all — from the Mizrachi through the Agudat Israel to Amram Blau and the Neturei Karta.
What kind of Jews are we who profess a Judaism that builds up a dream in ritual and prayer — until it is at the very center of our aspirations — and then make a mockery of it in practice? Those who are able to return and do not must cease to weep salted tears and put an end to insincere lamentations. Let us rather admit that we have eaten too long at the fleshpots of galut — exile — and that the bribery of the good life has compromised and blinded us. When a famous Rosh Yeshiva chided Ben-Gurion on the secularism of Israel, the then-Prime Minister cunningly replied: “Let the American religious Jews come here and put me out of office.”
He could well afford to be clever, for he knew that most would not come. The Catskills have overshadowed the hills of Jerusalem, and the Rockaways conquered the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Electric appliances have replaced the flame of sacrifice and the television set the Book of Lamentations. In a sense, it is symbolic of a general loss of ability to sacrifice on the part of the American Jew — and the religious one is little different. It is a sad and dangerous thing.
From the religious point of view, there is a double tragedy here. What power lies in the hands of a dynamic religious immigration! What a noble impression and Kiddush Hashem — Sanctification of the Name — it would create in the young Israeli mind if religious Jews showed the courage of their convictions! What a Jewish state could be shaped out of a state of Jews!
Certainly it is difficult; to be sure there would have to be sacrifices in the economic standard of one’s life. Yes, there is a language barrier, and no doubt employment would be a problem for a time, and life would not be quite as materially sweet as back home with the good life and the American Nazi Party. But since when has a religious Jew assumed that life was made to be sweet and that the All Mighty placed him here so as to be comfortable? Is the excuse of economic difficulty enough to justify, in the religious Jew’s mind, the rationale given him by the non-observant for violating even the rabbinical laws of Sabbath? Is the Jew who tells us that economic need makes it imperative that his store remain open on the Sabbath, since that is by far his busiest day, given dispensation? Do we calmly accept the decision of people not to send their children to yeshivot because of the economic difficulty involved, or do we call upon them to make that sacrifice that is needed for the great commandment of Torah study?
Yet, here, on a question that every authority in the past has conceded is a religious obligation, we find the religious Jew ready to join behind the Hadassahs, the ZOAs and the B’nai B’riths in their shabby attempts to transform the galut — the exile — of America into such tortured sophistry as “chutz l’aretz” (outside the land). The very one who girds his loins for battle against all who seek to lighten some other halachic burden now suddenly descends into the intricacies of pilpul to explain that in reality Maimonides believes that the settlement of the land is only a rabbinical injunction (thus “merely” putting it on the same level as eating chicken with milk or doing business on the Sabbath); that one is free of the obligation if there is danger; that there are economic difficulties; ad infinitum.
No argument will blot out the shame of our craven surrender to materialism. The words we mouth in our daily prayers, the slogans we shout at the conclusion of Yom Kippur and at our Passover Seder all become empty and meaningless words when we have no intention of following them. It is up to the yeshivot to teach and to emphasize the religious obligation of a Jew to live in the Land of Israel. It is up to the traditional congregation to take steps to implement it. Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisroel (the commandment to settle the Land of Israel) becomes more than merely another of the laws. It becomes a mirror reflecting our weaknesses and hypocrisies. Next Tisha B’Av it would do well for us to weep — not for the land, but for ourselves.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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