An American orthodox rabbi in Monsey recently wrote a response on Facebook to a post about the importance of living in the Land of Israel. His response was as follows: “You’re in exile, too. Last I checked, there is still a mosque on the temple mount, with Arabs shooting rockets [at you].”
This is my response to him and to every orthodox Jew who shares that mistaken view.
1. There are more mitzvot here in Eretz Yisrael (E”Y) than in chu”l (the diaspora). In all other facets of life, orthodox Jews prefer to put themselves in a position to perform more mitzvot, and in a more mehudar way. Unfortunately, when trying to find a heter to not have to live in E”Y, Jews in chu”l irrationally choose gashmi’ut over ruchni’ut (materialism over spirituality). I’ve had long discussions with my American orthodox friends, and though it usually takes an hour or more, eventually they all admit that that’s exactly what they are doing. I’m sure if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that truth as well. You don’t choose to live in America as a matter of religious principle, but rather out of convenience and inertia.
2. No religious Zionist claims that the galut is over, or that it is entirely over for Jews residing in E”Y (though Rashbi said that only one kicked out of E”Y is called an exilee). Rather, the question is one of where a Torah-observant Jew should choose to live. There has always been only one legitimate reason for not living in E”Y: pikuach nefesh (preservation of life). It was indeed dangerous to travel, and dangerous to live in E”Y. But that has changed with the emergence of the State of Israel and modern travel standards, such that the pikuach nefesh argument actually supports living in Israel, which has the 3rd highest life expectancy in the world (and 2nd for men)! By contrast, according to Wikipedia, the U.S. is number 37 on the list.
As you can see, the issue of missiles, terror and war, are blown out of proportion by the media. In fact, American men on average live 4.4 years less than their Israeli counterparts. If we look at stats for just Israeli Jews, life expectancy jumps 1-2 years for men and women, while for American Jews, the stats are the same as the general population. Life here is just plain healthier than in the States, and on a number of levels. I hope one day America will be as safe and healthy a place to live as Israel, but certainly one cannot justify refusing to make aliyah based on safety or health issues.
3. I presume you are familiar with the Gemara’s position on where to live when pikuach nefesh is not a factor. If not, here is the key passage from Ketubot 100b:
“Our Rabbis taught: One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are Israelites; for whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a god, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no god. For it is said in Scripture, To give you the Landof Canaan, to be your God. Has he, then, who does not live in the Land, no god? But [this is what the text intended] to tell you, that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols. Similarly it was said in Scripture in [the story of] David, For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave to the inheritance of the Lord, saying: Go, serve other gods. Now, whoever said to David, ‘Serve other gods’? But [the text intended] to tell you that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols. ”
4. Pikuach nefesh aside, there is a philosophical question of whether the Jews should be passive or pro-active in the redemption process. Rather than make the case myself, take the time to read the Vilna Gaon’s position as presented in the first chapter of Kol HaTor (found here).
I will add one thought here, though. When the Jews choose as a nation to live in other nations’ countries, the message that is projected both inwardly and outwardly is that we are not in fact a nation, but just another religion. This message damages almost irreparably the proper sense of identity that a Jew should carry with him/her, while totally undermining our claim to be a nation worthy of returning to the land from which it was dispossessed. In short, redemption is made much harder by the act of staying en masse in chu”l when it is clear that there are no more physical barriers to moving to E”Y.
Had Am Yisrael listened to the Gra (and not just his students) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the entire history of the conflict would not have happened, because the Jews would have constituted the massive majority of E”Y’s inhabitants way before hundreds of thousands of Arabs moved to E”Y from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, a turn of events that is the very genesis of the demographic problem that so shapes peoples views on what should be done and what is justified on both sides of the dispute. It was a huge strategic error and a huge moral error that most orthodox rabbis ignored and even discouraged aliyah both before and more famously after the advent of Herzlian Zionism. Today, rabbis such as yourself continue to make the same horrific mistake.
I pray that all Jews return to the G-d ofIsrael, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel. Amen.
About the Author: Robert Klein lives in Be'ersheva, Israel.
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