Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It is universally accepted in halacha that the continued existence of the Jewish people is dependent on the uninterrupted settlement of Jews in the Land of Israel. However, the extent and structure of the Jewish settlement in Israel before the Final Redemption and the coming of the Messiah is the subject of an ongoing halachic debate.

Should just a few communities settle the Land of Israel? Should there be a mass emigration of all Jews worldwide to Israel? Should the Land of Israel be acquired by peaceful means such as by land purchases or should it be conquered? Should the Jews in Israel organize themselves as a sovereign state or should they live in Israel under foreign rule?

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The halachic opinions on these questions range across the board. There are those – we’ll refer to them as the “Yishuv School” – who would restrict settlement to individual communities living under whatever foreign sovereign power happens to reign in the Land of Israel at the relevant time.

There are others – we’ll call them the “Kibbutz Galuyot School” – who would require all Jews to return to Israel under a Jewish sovereign state.

And there are yet others – the “Territorial School” – who would, in addition, require the conquest of all of the Land of Israel that remains in non-Jewish hands. The fact that the holders of these diverse opinions live side by side in Israel is a tribute to the unifying power of the Land.

This column, the second in a series that sets out to explore and articulate these various opinions, focuses on the Yishuv School of thought. Future columns will focus on the Kibbutz Galuyot and Territorial schools of thought. Some of the opinions cited in these articles may appear extreme to the reader but they are out there and form part of the mosaic of life in Israel today.

The point of departure for this debate is a passage in the Talmud in Ketubot 111a that quotes the following verse from the Song of Songs: “I charge you, O daughters of Yerushalayim, by the gazelles and the hinds of the field, that you stir not up, nor awake my love till it please.” The Talmud’s interpretation of this passage is that God made the Jews and the nations of the world swear four oaths.

The first oath was that before the arrival of the Messiah, the Jews would not converge upon Israel in a “wall of force,” Lo Ya’alu Bechomah.

The second oath was that the Jews would not rebel against the nations of the world that detain them in exile.

The third oath was that the nations of the world would not subjugate the Jews more than necessary.

The fourth oath was that the Jews would not delay the arrival of the Messiah through their sins or that the Jews would not force the arrival of the Messiah before his time, Shelo Yirchaku/Yidchaku et Haketz.

If the Jews were to violate these oaths, then according to the Talmud Jewish lives would become prey to the nations of the world like the “gazelles and hinds of the fields.”

The Yishuv School interprets this passage from the Talmud at face value. What follows are some of the arguments.

It is God’s will that during the Exile, the Jewish people live in all countries, including Israel, but not exclusively Israel, in order to spread God’s message throughout the world. Although every effort should be made to encourage and sustain Jewish settlements in Israel, mass emigration to Israel, as well as the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Israel before the Final Redemption, violates the oath of Lo Ya’alu Bechomah.

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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.