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

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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.

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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 compare 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.

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?

Last week we examined the source of this mitzvah, Deuteronomy 12:29 and Numbers 33:53. We discussed the Amoraic adage, “Dwelling in Israel is equivalent to all the other commandments of the Torah” (Sifrei on Deut. 12:29).

The Tosefta in Avoda Zara (5:2) warns that one should dwell in Israel even in a city where the majority are idolaters rather than in a city in the Diaspora inhabited completely by Jews. The Torah Temimah explains one only has the potential to fuilfill all the commandments in Israel since some of them are dependent upon being in the Holy Land.

The Gemara (Ketubbot 110b) says that someone who lives in Israel is considered as if he has a G-d, whereas one who lives outside Israel is compared to one who has no G‑d, as it states (Leviticus 25:38): “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).

We concluded that not only is it a positive Torah precept to live in Israel, but also that living outside of Israel is spiritually dangerous. If that is true, however, how can we explain our continued presence – and those of many gedolim – in the Diaspora?

* * * * *

My uncle HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, addressed a similar dilemma in his Responsa of Modern Judaism (vol. 3, p. 347). We adapt from his discussion, after which we will append concluding remarks.

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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