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
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 suggest 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.
Last week, we discussed the opinion of Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, zt”l, on dwelling outside the land of Israel and, in particular, in Egypt. He cites the Rambam’s view that it is permissible to dwell anywhere in the world with the exception of Egypt. Rabbi Yosef notes that many gedolei Yisrael, including the Rambam, dwelled in Egypt, and argues that this edict only applies to ancient Egypt, which has seen been destroyed. Egypt today is not considered the same place halachically. Thus, one may dwell today in Egypt and surely anywhere else in the world. How do we reconcile this position, however, with the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael?
* * * * *
The responsum of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, addresses whether a Jew may live outside the land of Israel – more specifically, in Egypt. The question itself assumes that a Jew by default should live in the land of Israel. Therefore, let us delve into the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the land of Israel.
The source for this commandment is Deuteronomy 12:29 (Parshat Re’eh): “Ki yachrit Hashem Elokecha et hagoyim asher ata va shammah lareshet otam mipanecha, veyarashta otam veyashavta be’artzam – When Hashem your G‑d will cut off before you the nations you come to inherit, you shall inherit them and settle in their land.”
Commenting on this verse, the Sifrei recounts the following incident: R. Eleazar b. Shamua and R. Yochanan HaSandlar were traveling to Netzivim to learn Torah from R. Judah b. Beteira. When they reached a place called Tzeidan, they were reminded of Israel. They raised their eyes and their tears began to flow. They then tore their clothing in mourning and recited the verse above. They turned, reached their destination, and said, “Dwelling in Israel is equivalent to all the other commandments of the Torah.”
The Pe’at HaShulchan in his commentary (ad loc.) notes that these Amora’im lived after the destruction of the Holy Temple. Thus, their statement implies that dwelling in the Land of Israel is a biblical imperative even after we were exiled form the land, for if it were merely a rabbinical command they would not have said that this one commandment is equivalent to all the others in the Torah.
Likewise, we find a Tosefta in Avodah Zarah (5:2) that states as follows: “One should dwell in Israel even in a city where the majority of the population are idolaters rather than in the Diaspora in a city inhabited completely by Jews. This teaches us that living in Israel is equivalent to all the commandments of the Torah.”
The Torah Temimah (Parshat Re’eh ad loc.) questions this statement. Why should living in the Land of Israel be equivalent to all the other commandments? He suggests that it is impossible to fulfill all the mitzvot of the Torah except in Israel since there are a number of mitzvot whose performance is conditional on being in Israel. Thus, the Tosefta’s statement (that living in Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah) means that only in Israel is there the potential to perform all the commandments.
The Ramban, in his Mitzvot Asei (LeDa’at HaRamban), quoted in the first volume of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, lists settling in the Land of Israel as one of the positive precepts of the Torah. The Rambam, on the other hand, does not include it in his enumeration of the mitzvot asei.
The Ramban bases himself on Numbers 33:53 (Parshat Mas’ei): “Ve’horashtem et ha’aretz viyshavtem bah, ki lachem natati et ha’aretz lareshet otah – You shall inherit the land and dwell in it because I have given the land to you so that you inherit it.” The Ramban uses this verse as the source of the mitzvah rather than the verse in Parshat Re’eh that we quoted previously.
In his commentary to the verse in Parshat Mas’ei, Rashi notes that this verse teaches us that we should first inherit the Land of Israel from its occupants and then dwell in it. If we do so, then, and only then, will the Jewish people, be able to survive in the land. Thus, inheriting the land and actually living in it are intrinsically intertwined.
Ketubot 110b greatly expands on the Tosefta we cited earlier: “A person should at all times live in Israel even in a city where most of the inhabitants are idolaters, but one should not live outside the land even in a city where the majority are Jews because one who lives in Israel is considered as if he has a G-d and one who lives outside the land is compared to one who has no G-d, as it states in Parshat Behar (Leviticus 25:38), ‘Ani Hashem Elokeichem asher hotzeiti et’chem me’eretz mitzrayim latet lachem et eretz canaan lih’yot lachem l’Elokim – I am Hashem your G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d.’ ”
The Gemara’s assumption is that upon entering and settling Israel one automatically acknowledges G-d, and conversely, one who does not live in Israel does not automatically acknowledge G-d (and thus may be compared to an idolater).
In this light, continues the Gemara, we may also read the statement by David made before King Saul (I Samuel 26:19): “Ki gershuni hayom mehistape’ach benachalat Hashem leimor, lech avod elohim acherim – For they have chased me away this day from joining the inheritance of G-d, saying, ‘Go serve other gods.’ ” (Indeed, we find in I Samuel [infra chap. 27] that David flees to the land of the Philistines which, though it was part of the land promised by G-d to Abraham, was nevertheless inhabited by the Philistines and, for all practical purposes, sojourning there was akin to sojourning outside the land of Israel.)
The Gemara observes that we are not informed that anyone told David to worship other gods; therefore, he must be teaching us that living outside the land is like worshiping idols.
The Maharsha asks what the meaning of this Gemara is. He notes that Hashem is surely the G-d of the whole world. How does living outside Israel make one an idol worshipper? Although Hashem is referred to as “the G-d of the Land” – meaning the land of Israel – one who lives outside Israel cannot be referred to as being without a G-d since Hashem is the G-d of the whole world.
What the Gemara means, rather, is that someone living outside of Israel is considered like an idolater who does not accept Hashem as his G-d – just like the nations of the many lands who worship idols. This was what David meant when he said that he was told to serve other gods; Saul had forced him to live outside Israel, in a place of idolatry.
We thus see that not only is it a positive Torah precept to live in Israel, as the Ramban states, but also that living outside of Israel is considered harmful from a spiritual perspective. If so, we are left with a serious dilemma. Now that there is a State of Israel, how do we explain living in America and the other lands of the Diaspora? Moreover, how to account for the many gedolim who live outside of Israel?
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.