Is it proper for a Jew to live in Germany?
Before I took a position in Aish, my wife and I were planning on moving to Berlin, Germany. I had been offered a position at a yeshiva there. Before our big move, I went to spend a Shabbat there, to see what the community is like and try it out.
I was blown away by the number of Jews that had moved there, the majority of whom were Russian immigrants. They were hungry for inspiration and knowledge. There was so much interest in learning Jewish wisdom and a return to one’s heritage that it was inspiring. However, for technical reasons, it did not work out, and we did not move to Germany at the time as planned.
There is no prohibition according to Jewish law against living in Germany. Is it proper? It is always proper to decide where one will live based on where you are best able to serve Hashem. The default answer is, of course, Israel, since this is where we can do the most amount of mitzvot, and are meant to be.
One should only consider living anywhere else – including Germany – if it is to inspire the Jews that are living there and strengthen them, and being able to bring them to a higher level of spirituality. If residing in Germany gives a person the ability to impact the Jewish people that are living in the diaspora, then I would think it is proper. That is the same reason anyone should live anywhere else in the world, outside of the ideal place for the Jewish people, the land of Israel.
– Rabbi Dovid Rosman is the director of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah and the dean of the Gesher, Aish Gesher Women, and Aspire programs. He received his B.A. and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Rosman’s lectures can be found on yutorah.org and www.torahanytime.com. He is the author of Torah Connections – Reaching Your Potential Through the Parashah, and the best-selling book: Your Wife, Your Self: A Husband’s Guide to Shalom Bayis.
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Up until a few years ago, I would have answered in the negative. But that was before I was invited by the German consulate in Toronto to visit Germany as part of that country’s effort to show worldwide Jewry the reparations and repentance it has made over the years. In Berlin, we encountered a thriving Jewish community, including a Lakewood kollel supported by the community and the Ronald Lauder Foundation.
Germany was ground zero for the Final Solution, the plan to commit mass genocide against the Jews. It only could have succeeded if the average German citizen supported it, or at least did not protest against it. This is well documented in Daniel Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners (Knopf, 1996). German efficiency and expertise saw to it that the Holocaust was tragically successful.
My mother is a Holocaust survivor and her parents were murdered by the Nazis. I grew up knowing that I could never dream of owning a German car or buying anything made in Germany. But in 2017, I found myself sitting in one of the meeting rooms outside of the Dachau concentration camp, where the first Nazi murders took place. Many school buses were parked outside, and there is a regular stream of students from all over Germany who visit the camp to learn about its history.
Our guide warned us not to confront the high school students about feelings of guilt; the prospect of taking blame for mass genocide is simply too overwhelming for any young mind to process. In engaging the students, we discovered that while they acknowledged the horror of what their ancestors had perpetrated, it had nothing to do with them. These young Germans lived in a multicultural society where racism had been all but eliminated. Of course, the Holocaust was horrific; but it was a Germany of the past, and had nothing to do with their Germany.
In Berlin, we toured the Reichstag, the capitol building that houses the German parliament. The dome on the building is completely transparent, an act of penitence to demonstrate that never again will Germans tolerate secret plotting of government officials to commit atrocities against humanity. A full and open confession of Germany’s crimes is on display in the center rotunda of the building.
In Parshas Chukas, the Torah makes a point of explaining why Bnei Yisrael had a right to conquer the city-state Cheshbon (21:25-26). It had been previously owned by the Moabites, a people whom Hashem had commanded us not to attack. But because Sichon had conquered the land from Moab, Bnei Yisrael was permitted to conquer it in turn. It was the same land, under new ownership. The Germany of today appears to have done real teshuvah, unlike other countries such as Poland, Latvia, and Austria. While the masterminding of the atrocities took place in Germany, today’s Germany is a different people and a different country.
We all belong in Israel. But if someone needs to live in galut for financial reasons, I see no reason why Germany today should be any different from the rest of the Diaspora. Because of my mother, I don’t think I could ever live there. But others can find a truly meaningful and fulfilling Yiddishkeit-infused life there.
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is mara d’asra of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (the BAYT) congregation in Thornhill, ON. He is honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
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It is very clear that our halachic tradition (Sanhedrin 27b) believes that children should not be punished for the sins of previous generations when they do not follow in their footsteps. As such, German citizens of 2022 should not be blamed for the sins of their Nazi ancestors.
At the same time, sometimes we must not simply forgive and forget what a nation has done to the Jewish people. In 1952, when West Germany and Israel signed a reparations agreement to compensate the State of Israel and individual Jews for Nazi persecution, not only was opposition leader Menachem Begin opposed to such an agreement, but a number of Rabbinic leaders opposed the terms of the agreement. For example, the chief rabbi of Petach Tikvah, Rav Reuven Katz, argued that accepting money from the Germans would constitute a disgrace and a chillul Hashem because it would seem to the world that Jewish blood can be bought and sold.
I am not sure if a chillul Hashem argument can be made against settling in Germany more than 75 years after the Holocaust. All things being equal, I could see how living in Germany might be perceived as insensitive to Holocaust survivors and descendants of Holocaust victims. However, living in Germany sometimes may be the best option available to many Jews. I don’t feel comfortable criticizing the approximately 120,000 Jews who currently live in Germany. For example, many Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Germany. Many did so because of antisemitism, economic crisis and political instability. I don’t know if these Jews had other options, but I cannot criticize those who felt that this destination was the best option for them considering their particular circumstances.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
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Interesting is that we are only obsessed with [relatively] current history. The most recent being the Nazi’s Final Solution, the Holocaust, where six million of our brethren were butchered and murdered by the evil Germans and those who aided them in the lands they conquered, in their effort to annihilate the entirety of the Jewish people. In fact, the famed Nazi hunter, the late Simon Wiesenthal, authenticates persecutions of the Jewish people and the horrors associated with them to having occurred every day in the calendar over the centuries, in his book Every Day A Remembrance Day. These events occurred in the many countries where Jews resided.
In 1182 the Jews were expulsed from France, then in 1290 the Jews of England were expulsed; then in 1492 the Jews were expulsed from Spain. These are just a handful of persecutions our people endured only due to fact of our being born Jews. Indeed, the Jews forced to flee did enact a cherem – a ban for any to return to Spain. The main reason for that cherem was in order that no Jew suffers due to the harsh “Inquisition” decreed against the Jewish people. However, in the year 1837 the Inquisition officially ended, thus any reason to prohibit a Jew from visiting or even living in Spain no longer existed.
Nevertheless, we find that Rambam, in spite of three exhortations in the Torah (Shemos 14:13; Devarim 17:15; Devarim 28:68) against our returning to Egypt, did live in Egypt. How so?
The answer lies with the famed Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid who writes (Sefer Chasidim, os 424) that there was once in a certain city an evil ruler who wished to force the Jews to abandon their religion. Lest they comply, they chose to flee and they resolved never to return forever. One of their sages told them the following: “Do not create a stumbling for future generations, rather enact a decree only to last for the duration that those evil rulers are living and remain in power; one who is wise, his eyes are in his head in this matter.”
Additionally, according to some our entire reason for having been exiled is as, R’ Elazar (Pesachim 87b) tells us: “Hashem exiled us among the nations only in order that we gather converts. R’ Yochanan concurs, but each derives from different verses in the Torah.”
Finally, we have the Yalkut (Isaiah, remez 503) who states: “In the future Jerusalem will spread over all of the Land of Israel and Israel will spread over the entire world…”
Indeed, the entire world is ours. True, there are places that you and I wish not to go, but that’s our choice. But to forbid – especially as there is a Jewish community in Germany – is totally not proper.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu, Flatbush, Brooklyn; is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; he also serves as chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com and Rabbi@igud.us.
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As Jews, we belong in Israel,; that’s our homeland, that’s our country and that’s where we should be. That being said, the reality for many of us, for many reasons, is that at this moment it is not and cannot be a reality. So the question becomes, assuming one has to live outside of Israel, is there a significant difference from one country to the other? Certainly if there is overt, obvious antisemitism, one would be obligated do what he can to protect himself and shouldn’t live in that country.
To bring up historical evidence of past antisemitism, I believe that would mean a Jew could not live in any of Europe, anywhere in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, or anywhere within most of what had been the populated world for the past 2,000 years. The bigger question is what do we learn from this. If we learn to fear the antisemite, to fear the various governments, we are missing the much larger picture. They are but pawns in the hands of Hashem, they are but puppets.
The only questions that remain are what does Hashem want from us and where does Hashem want us to be? I’d be hard pressed to believe that anyone should live anywhere because of safety, unless there is clear and overt antisemitism.
According to that logic, Israel would be the worst place for a Jew to live because of the amount of antisemitism and overt hatred there. Nevertheless, it is certainly preferable for us to live there and recognize that Hashem runs the world.
In conclusion, certainly we’d be better off in Israel. If we are living outside of Israel, then we must ask if there is overt danger in a particular place. I don’t see any direct danger in living in Germany. Historical antisemitism is something that would preclude all countries, other than the United States, and therefore I don’t think it’s something that goes into the calculation or needs to be considered.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).