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WARNING! Living in Israel is a Commandment of the Torah


Meir Kahane

No one refutes the Torah greatness of the Ramban. He established that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is commandment of the Torah. An Orthodox Jew who doesn’t live in the Land of Israel is like an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t put on tefillin, or an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t keep Shabbat, or like a Frum Jew who doesn’t keep kosher or study Torah. True, if a person wants to fulfill a positive commandment of the Torah, but is prevented against his will, his inability to perform the mitzvah is not considered a transgression. For example, if a man travels to some faraway island where his tefillin are stolen, and there is no other set of tefillin around, then his not putting on tefillin is not held against him. Likewise, if a person wants to live in Israel but is unable to because of circumstances beyond his control, then he or she is freed from the obligation as long as that preventing circumstance lasts. But if he or she could make aliyah and doesn’t, then that person is transgressing a positive commandment of the Torah.

Which bring us to another must book which belongs in every home library: The Jewish Idea, the opus, two-volume work of Rabbi Meir Kahane, in which he clarifies the foundations of Torah.

In addition to his path-breaking struggle on behalf of Soviet Jewry, his unparalleled and fearless activism and total self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish Nation and Eretz Yisrael, and his bringing myriads of Jews to Torah Judaism and a new spirit of Jewish pride, Rabbi Kahane was a Torah scholar par excellence, whose banner was TRUTH, the whole TRUTH and nothing but the TRUTH.

For any reader who may be confused about the obligation to live in the Land of Israel, this sweeping halachic and Talmudic overview of Rabbi Kahane will surely put all uncertainty to rest. Because of its vital importance to each and every Jew, we will be presenting it in two installments.

From The Jewish Idea, Volume 2

LIVING IN ERETZ YISRAEL is a mitzvah de’oraita – a mitzvah commanded by the Torah itself. Not only that, but it carries equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined. In fact, it supersedes them in importance, because all of them are dependent upon it, since we are commanded to perform all the commandments there, in the Land of Israel.

The Torah says, “When the Lord your God cuts off the nations whom you are approaching to inherit, you shall expel them and live in their land” (Deut. 12:29). This verse explicitly states the two mitzvot tied to Eretz Yisrael. The first is expelling the non-Jews. The Hebrew corresponding to, “whom you are approaching to inherit,” is rendered by Onkelos as, “Whom you are approaching to banish.” The second is “You shall live in their land.” It is a mitzvah to live in their land, in Eretz Yisrael.

Regarding this verse our Sages said (Sifri, Re’ei, 80):

“You shall expel them”: R. Yehudah ben Beterah and R. Matia ben Cheresh and R. Chanina ben Achi and R. Yehoshua and R. Yonatan were leaving the Land, and they arrived at Paltum and they remembered Eretz Yisrael. Their eyes brimmed over and their tears poured forth, and they tore their garments and they recited this verse: “You shall inherit it [the Land] and dwell therein, and you shall carefully keep all the laws” (Deut. 11:31-32). They returned to their place and they said, “Living in Eretz Yisrael equals the combined weight of all the mitzvot in the Torah.”

Here our Sages state explicitly that living in Eretz Yisrael is not just a mitzvah but such a great mitzvah that it equals all the others in their combined value. Likewise, it emerges clearly from here that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael does not depend on the existence of the Temple. After all, the anecdote above occurred after the Destruction. All the same, the scholars of the Mishnah established that living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah from the Torah, and so is the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisrael.

Our Sages said further (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah, 5:2):

“A person should live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and not outside the Land, even in a city that is entirely Jewish. This teaches that living in Eretz Yisrael is of equal weight to all the mitzvot of the Torah combined. If someone is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as though he is buried under the altar. One should not leave Eretz Yisrael unless the cost of wheat rises to two se’ah for a sela. Rabbi Shimon said, “This refers to where one lacks the wherewithal to buy it, but if he has the wherewithal, then even if it is one se’ah for a sela, he should not leave.”

Likewise, Rabbi Shimon used to say, “Elimelech was one of the great luminaries of the generation and leaders of the community, and because he left Eretz Yisrael, both he and his sons died of hunger, while all of Israel survived on their land, as it says, ‘All the city was astir concerning them’ (Ruth 1:19). This teaches that the whole city survived, while he and his sons died of hunger.

“Now then, when it says, ‘I shall return safely to my father’s house’ (Gen. 28:21), why should it have to add, ‘Then the Lord will be for me a God’ (Ibid.)? Yet the Torah says, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a God to you’ (Lev. 25:38). As long as you are in Canaan, I shall be for you a God. If you are not in Canaan, I am not for you a God…”

“Likewise, David said, ‘For they have driven me out this day, that I should not cling to the inheritance of the Lord [saying, ‘Go serve other gods’]’ (I Sam. 26:19). Would it occur to you that King David was an idolater? Rather, he expounded as follows: ‘Whoever abandons Eretz Yisrael in peacetime and leaves it, it is as though he is worshipping idols, as it says, “I will plant them in this land in truth [with all My heart and with all My soul]” (Jer. 32:41).’ If they are not on this land, they are not truly ‘planted before Me,’ not with all My heart and not with all My soul.”

The Talmud likewise said (Ketuvot 110b):

“The Rabbis learned: One should always live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and he should not live outside Eretz Yisrael, even in a city with a Jewish majority. Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has a God, and whoever lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has no God, as it says, “To give you the Land of Canaan, to be a God to you” (Lev. 25:38). And does anyone who does not live in the Land not have a God? Rather, the point is that if someone lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idols. King David said, “For they have driven me out this day that I should not cling to the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19). Did anyone tell King David to serve other gods? Rather, this teaches that whoever lives outside the Land, it is as though he worships idolatry.”

“Everyone can compel moving to Eretz Yisrael.” Our Sages also established that a husband can force his wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael because of the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, and a woman can force her husband, and even a slave can force his master. We learn in the Mishna (Ketuvot 110b):

“The Rabbis learned: If the husband says to go up to Eretz Yisrael and the wife says not to, we compel her to go up. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketubah. If she says to go up and he says not to, we compel him to go up. Otherwise, he must divorce her and give her a ketubah. If she says to leave Eretz Yisrael and he says not to, we compel her not to leave. Otherwise, she may be divorced without receiving a ketubah. If he says to leave and she says not to, we compel him not to leave, or to divorce her and give her a ketuvah.”

This Mishnah was codified as the law for all times by the following poskim [legal authorities]: Rambam (Ishut, 13:19-20); Rif (Ketuvot 110b); Rosh (Ibid., Ch. 13:18); S’mag (Negative Precepts, 81); Piskei HaRid (Ketuvot, Ibid.); Ritva, Ran and Nemukei Yosef (Ibid.), and many, many more. This is because the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for all times. Rabbi Yosef Karo ruled the same way (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75:3-4, see there). Following is Pit’chei Teshuvah (ad loc., se’if katan 6):

“The Ramban counted this mitzvah among the [613] mitzvot in accordance with, “Inherit it and dwell there” (Deut. 11:31), and it has equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined (Sifri, Re’ei, 80). Also, Terumat HaDeshen in his rulings (siman 88) emphasized the importance of this mitzvah. An exception is Tosafot on Ketubot in the name of R. Chaim Cohen… Indeed Maharit in his responsa, section 28, and in his chidushim [original thoughts] on Ketubot, proved that some errant student had written this idea in the name of Tosafot, and that the quotation was entirely non-authoritative. Maharit is correct, and Netivot Mishpat made the same point. It follows that all times are equal as far as fulfillment of this mitzvah, and such is clear from all the medieval and later Sages who ruled that we compel the wife to go up to Eretz Yisrael with her husband, as in the simple text of the Mishnah.”

We also find in Bava Kamma (80b):

“When one purchases a house in Eretz Yisrael, we may write the deed of purchase even on the Sabbath. May we actually write it on the Sabbath? Rather… one may tell a non-Jew to write it. And even though telling a non-Jew to perform work forbidden on the Sabbath is itself rabbinically forbidden, the Rabbis did not apply decrees where settling Eretz Yisrael was at stake.”

Rashi comments (Gittin 8b: “I.e., expelling the nations and settling Jews there.” Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 6:11) ruled this way, too, as well as Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:11. If the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael did not apply today, or even if it were only rabbinic in force, how would we dare permit this rabbinically forbidden act on the Sabbath? After all, Tosafot wrote (Bava Kamma 80b: “Specifically for this mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, but for another mitzvah, telling a non-Jew to violate a Torah prohibition is not permitted.”

Our Sages further said (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 8:4) regarding one who returns from the battlefield because he has built a new house and not lived in it: “I might think that someone who has built a new house outside the Land should have to return from the front. It therefore says, ‘And has not begun to live in it’ (Deut. 20:5). The verse refers to one for whom living in it is a mitzvah (in the Land of Israel), and excludes all others (living outside).

“P’nei Moshe” comments (Ibid.), “One for whom it is a mitzvah: In Eretz Yisrael, due to the mitzvah of living in the Land. This excludes outside the Land, where there is no mitzvah to live there.”

Ramban further wrote (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precepts Not Mentioned by Rambam, Mitzvah 4):

“We were commanded to occupy the land God gave our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We must not abandon it to any other nation, or leave it desolate. God said, ‘Clear out the Land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the Land to occupy’ (Num. 33:53-54). Proof that this is a mitzvah comes from God’s saying in the spy episode, ‘Head north and occupy it, as the Lord God of your fathers has told you. Do not be afraid and do not be concerned’ (Deut. 1:21). Furthermore it says, ‘At Kadesh Barnea, the Lord sent you forth and said, Head north and occupy the land that I have given you’ (Deut. 9:23). And regarding the Spies’ not wishing to go up to the Land, it says, ‘You rebelled against the Lord’ (Deut. 1:26,43; 9:23), and, ‘You would not listen’ (Deut. 1:43). God’s word to Israel had been a command rather than a promise.”

So effusively did our Sages speak of living in Eretz Yisrael that the Talmud states (Ketuvot 110b), “Whoever leaves Eretz Yisrael and dwells outside of it should be viewed as an idolater, as it says, ‘They have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the Lord’s inheritance, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (I Sam. 26:19).

This, and other such expressions in this regard, find their source in our having been commanded to occupy the Land and to dwell in it. It is, thus, a positive precept for all time, and every single Jew is obligated in this, even during the exile, as the Talmud is known to state in many places.

It is, thus, clear that God not only gave the Jewish People a special Land, but also decreed that they must live in it. Living in the Land is not merely a right, but a duty that cannot be forgone. It is a mitzvah, a Divine decree, that we must live in Eretz Yisrael under God’s dominion, sanctifying His name, in order to create a holy state and society which clings to mitzvot completely and properly, uninfluenced by the alien, false culture of the nations.

At the same time, it is an unforgivable, loathsome sin to refuse to live in Eretz Yisrael, and to prefer the depravity of the exile and foreign rule. It is a Chillul Hashem, and Israel as thus exposed to the influence of the nations and their abominations.

The greatest have failed in this important mitzvah. God, therefore, was angry at our ancestors in the desert when they refused to go up to Eretz Yisrael, declaring, “Let us appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4). Surely the Spies Moses sent out were prominent and righteous, as our Sages said (Tanchuma, Shelach, 4): “Send out men” (Num. 13:2): This is in line with, “He that sends a message by the hand of a fool, severs his own feet and imbibes damage” (Prov. 26:6). Were the Spies fools? Surely the Torah said, “Send out men [anashim],” and anashim always refers to righteous persons… Rather, they were called fools only because they slandered the Land… All the same, they were great men who made themselves into fools.”

Thus, they were great and righteous men, yet they sinned in turning their backs on Eretz Yisrael and wishing to settle down in the exile, in the wilderness. As King David said, “They scorned the Desirable Land, they believed not His word” (Ps. 106:24).

Here we see that even the great luminaries of the generation made themselves fools in that they wished to return to Egypt and treated the Desirable Land with contempt. This happened only because they feared the strength of the nations there and did not trust in God, as it says, “They believed not His word.”

Ostensibly, they had a good argument, “pikuach nefesh,” i.e., they wished to prevent loss of life. The Spies said of the Canaanites, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight” (Num. 13:33). They were certain that the war against the Canaanites would be brutal, and it would be hard to defeat the giants. Moreover, even if they defeated them, Israelites would fall. After all, we do not rely on miracles, they argued.

For that reason, these great and righteous men rendered a halachic ruling that “pikuach nefesh” overrides Eretz Yisrael in its entirety. They certainly did not intend to abandon God’s Torah, but rather to return to Egypt and keep it there. This, however, was their sin, because God had decreed that it was forbidden for them to dwell outside the Land, and that only in Eretz Yisrael could they sanctify His Name and live in the holy isolation of Torah. For that reason, the excuse of danger to the nation does not override the commandment to dwell there, the only place the Jewish People can keep the Torah completely and properly.

A war regarding the mitzvah of living in and conquering Eretz Yisrael is a “milchemet mitzvah,” which no danger to life overrides. Quite the contrary, this mitzvah overrides such danger, as Ramban wrote in Sefer HaMitzvot (Ibid., Mitzvah 4):

“This is what our Sages call ‘milchemet mitzvah.’ In the Talmud (Sotah 44b) Rava said, ‘Joshua’s war of conquest was an obligatory duty according to all opinions.’ One should not make the mistake of saying that this mitzvah only applies to the seven nations we were commanded to destroy… That is not so. We were commanded to destroy those nations when they fought against us, and had they wished to make peace we could have done so under specific conditions. Yet, we cannot leave the Land in their control or in the control of any other nations in any generation.”

Fear of the nations is just one dismal reason the Jewish People treat the Desirable Land with contempt (longing for the good life is another). Precisely because of this delusion that the exile is safe but Eretz Yisrael is dangerous, God became angry and decreed death in the desert for the generation that left Egypt, adding, “You said your children will be taken captive, but they will be the ones I will bring there, so that they will know the Land that you rejected” (Num. 14:31). Those who feared that they and their children would die in Eretz Yisrael, died precisely in the desert, whereas their children entered the Land and lived. This teaches that the only security for the Jewish People is in Eretz Yisrael, whereas the exile is their burial place. Our Sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, Ch. 1)): “‘You will live securely in your Land’ (Lev. 26:5): In your land you will live securely, but not outside it.” Likewise, Obadiah said (v. 17), “Upon Mount Zion there shall be deliverance.” In other words, in Zion but not in the exile.

God, Who knows His people’s mind, knew, as well, that the Jews would always prefer the non-Jewish life of the exile, whose abominable depravity is so sweet to the sinner among us. As King Solomon said, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17). God, therefore, decreed that Israel would never find safety and security in the exile. Regarding Noach, Bereshit Rabbah, 33:6, teaches:

“He sent out the dove…. It could find no place to rest its feet” (Gen. 8:8-9): Yehuda bar Nachman said in the name of R. Shimon, “Had it found a place to rest, it would not have returned. Just so, it says, ‘She dwells among the nations; she finds no rest’ (Lam. 1:3); and, ‘Among those nations you shall have no repose; there shall be no rest for the soles of your foot’ (Deut. 28:65). If Israel found rest in the exile, they would not return.”

Not in vain did our sages (Mechilta, Bo, 1) compare the exile to a cemetery, for if Israel refuse to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, if they spurn it for the depravity of the exile, they have no future, but suffering, tragedy and annihilation. As the Prophet Ezekiel said (20:32-34): “That which comes into your mind shall not be at all, your saying, ‘We will be like the nations, to serve wood and stone.’ As I live, says the Lord God, with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out, will I be King over you. I will remove you from the nations and gather you in from the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with fury poured out.”

In saying, “to serve wood and stone,” Ezekiel did not mean that Israel actually wished to worship idols. His point was really in line with Onkelos’s translation, quoted above, of the verse, “There you will serve other gods, wood and stone, unknown to you and your fathers” (Deut. 28:64): “There you will serve nations that worship idols.” That is, Israel would not actually worship idols, but would serve the non-Jews who worship idols. This bondage to these nations constitutes a terrible Chillul Hashem, for it thereby appears as if their idols have vanquished God, Heaven forbid. Likewise, Yonatan rendered the same verse, “You will pay taxes to idol worshippers.” In other words, instead of the nations being subjugated to Israel in Eretz Yisrael with taxes and servitude, Israel will be subject to them the same way. Jeremiah says (5:19), “Just as you have forsaken Me and served strange gods in your land, so shall you serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”

Today’s alien culture has replaced idolatry, one more reason God promised not to let Israel dwell among the nations. God said, “With fury poured out will I be King over you” (Ezek. 20:33), and He said He would remove Israel from the exile by force – at least those who survive the suffering there and are not killed by God like the Jews who, despising Eretz Yisrael, preferred to remain in Egypt. (It is known that the last redemption will be like the first.)

Woe to the stubborn children who think it possible to flee God and Eretz Yisrael, and who think that despite their having lost their homeland, Eretz Yisrael, they will be able to settle in the exile in ease. Of them it says, “I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them” (Jer. 9:15).

God have mercy!

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3 Responses to “WARNING! Living in Israel is a Commandment of the Torah”

  1. Rabbi Leon Pettyjohn.

  2. I surender it to G-d!

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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