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Q & A: They Live In The Land (Part IV)


Question: I was recently discussing the sorry state of religion in Eretz Yisrael with some friends, noting that unfortunately a majority of the population consists of non-observant Jews. I expressed my view that this fact explains why Moshiach has not yet come. I avidly read your column and am anxious to learn your view of this matter.

No Name Please
(Via E-Mail)

Summary of our response up to this point: We inquired into the statement we say before Kol Nidrei: “We sanction prayer with the transgressors.” To which transgressors are we referring?

Some suggests that “transgressors” refers to the Marranos in Spain who openly committed the sin of idolatry. Others say we are referring to individuals who violated communal edicts that got them banished from the synagogue.

Some compares praying with transgressors to the fragrant frankincense spices in the beit hamikdash which contained among its ingredients chelbona, a foul-smelling spice.

We asked: What if there are no transgressors in synagogue? Does their absence invalidate our Yom Kippur prayer service?

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 33b) states that the obligation to pray falls on every individual congregant, while Rabban Gamliel disagrees and says that the chazzan discharges the congregation of its obligation. The Mechaber notes that someone who is not conversant in praying must pay attention to each word of the chazzan’s repetition to discharge his obligation. One who is conversant cannot be discharged and must say the prayer himself.

However, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper, the chazzan discharges the obligation of everyone, even those who are well versed. Each person must either recite the prayer by himself or follow the chazzan’s prayer word for word.

The Mishnah states that those engaged in agricultural work in the fields are discharged of their obligation by the chazzan. However, those in town who are not engaged in work in the fields are able to pray on their own and thus are not discharged.

* * * * *

Klal Yisrael suffered a major loss with the recent passing of the gaon Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, zt”l, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, whose sheloshim we are about to observe. It is an opportune time to review a previous discussion where we cited his view on dwelling outside the land of Israel and, in particular, dwelling in the land of Egypt.

Religious journalists engaged in reporting on the then-historic peace process between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s had asked Rav Yosef whether they could travel to Egypt to cover the story. It is obvious that these journalists were well acquainted with the view of the Rambam on this matter (which we will cite) and wished not to be in violation of a Torah prohibition.

In Responsa Yechave Da’at (vol. 3:81), Rabbi Yosef cites the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 5:7): “One is allowed to dwell anywhere in the world with the exception of Egypt from the Mediterranean Sea to the west, to the Land of Kush, and the desert. It is forbidden to dwell in all these places. In three places the Torah warns not to return to Egypt: In parshat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 17:16): ‘velo yashiv et ha’am mitzrayma – in order that he [the king] not return the people to Egypt,’ in parshat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28:68): ‘lo tosif od lir’ota – you shall never see it again,’ and finally in parshat Beshalach (Exodus 14:13): ‘lo tosifu lirotam od ad olam – you shall not see them ever again.’ ”

Rabbi Yosef notes that the source of the Rambam’s statement is the Mechilta (Shemot, Beshalach, parshah 3): “We learned, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai says that in three places [in the Torah] the Jewish people are warned not to return to Egypt, as it states…yet three times they returned and for those three times they fell. The first was during the days of Sanchereb (Isaiah 31:1), ‘Hoy hayordim mitztayim le’ezrah… – Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help….’ The second was in the days of Yochanan ben Kareyach (Jeremiah 43:5-7), and the third is mentioned regarding the wealthy Jewish community of Alexandria in Egypt in the days of Troganus (Sukkah 51b).”

Rabbi Yosef comments in his notes that the Gemara refers to Alexander the Great as having killed the Jews in Alexandria of Egypt, but the Gra emends the text to read “Troganus the Roman Emperor” (Trajan, to parallel the text in the Jerusalem Talmud ad. loc.).

The Gemara questions, “Why were they killed?” and it answers: “Because they transgressed the admonition of [the end of] the verse in Deuteronomy (17:16): ‘you shall no longer return on this road again.’ ”

Rabbi Yosef notes that in light of the Rambam’s opinion and the Mechilta, it is quite astonishing that many gedolei Yisrael, even the Rambam himself, as well as many sanctified communities, dwelled in Egypt.

Rabbi Yosef, therefore, cites the Ritva (Novella, Yoma 38b), who explains that the prohibition only applies to the Egypt of old. But all the original Egyptian cities were interspersed and/or destroyed. The present-day cities where Jewish communities are found are not considered the “Egypt” of the prohibition, argues the Ritva.

(The reason the entire Alexandrian Jewish community was destroyed (as mentioned in the above-cited Sukka 51b) is because Alexandria was an age-old city subject to the Torah’s prohibition.)

Rav Yosef thus concludes that one may dwell in Egypt and kal va’chomer anywhere else in the world. It is of course common knowledge that Rav Yosef himself lived in Egypt for a few years before being forced to leave due to his dissatisfaction with the Egyptian Jewish community’s overall laxity in religious practice.

However, how do we reconcile Rav Yosef’s conclusion with the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, which is based on Deuteronomy 12:29, “veyarashta otam veyashavta be’artzam – you shall inherit them and settle in their land”?

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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