The Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman is a well-known ritual for followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. This is based on Rabbi Nachman’s request that his followers spend Rosh Hashana each year at his gravesite.1 While participating in the festivities is completely acceptable for those who live in the Diaspora, doing so is halachically problematic for those who live in Eretz Yisrael. This is because one is generally not permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael unless one has sufficient justification for doing so.
A growing number of authorities insist that leaving Eretz Yisrael for the Uman pilgrimage, along with all other tomb-touring excursions, is without halachic support. It is also argued that doing so is an insult to all the tzaddikim who are buried in Israel. As Rav Avraham Kook once quipped: “Are we without graves in the Land of Israel that you travel to the Exile?!”2 Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv have all ruled likewise. Furthermore, the money that is spent to finance such trips would be better served if put towards charitable causes.3
Although not widely known, many of the early disciples of Rabbi Nachman felt that the annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman was never intended for those living in Eretz Yisrael – only for those already in the Diaspora. In an essay on the subject, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner cites4 a number of sources from the Breslov booklet “Rosh Bnei Yisrael” that clearly imply this. Among them:
“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s strong and clear wish was that on Rosh Hashana the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, who are fortunate to dwell in the King’s palace, not travel to Uman because in Eretz Yisrael the light of the tzaddik shines powerfully.”
“For many reasons, one should not leave the holy land for the Diaspora to spend Rosh Hashana there, and to do so is very much not in keeping with the will of our Master, Rabbi Nachman.”
“Rabbi Shimon [disciple and servant of our master] never left Eretz Yisrael to spend Rosh Hashana in Uman.”
“Rabbi Avraham ben Rabbi Nachman deduced that one need not leave Eretz Yisrael for Uman before Rosh Hashana, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak said the same explicitly.”
“Our master Rabbi Natan went to Eretz Yisrael even though he knew that by doing so he would probably forfeit the opportunity to spend Rosh Hashana in Uman, and that is, indeed, what occurred. From this we derive that Eretz Yisrael overrides Uman.”
“Rabbi Meir Tekplicker, a major disciple of our master Rabbi Natan, did not leave Eretz Yisrael to go to Uman for Rosh Hashana.”
There are many other such testimonies as well. It would also be remiss not to recall that the Chatam Sofer declared that the devastating earthquake that struck Tzfat in 1837 occurred because people turned Tzfat into a center of pilgrimage to the detriment of Jerusalem,5 – and Tzfat is a city in Eretz Yisrael, not the Ukraine!
Nevertheless, there are authorities who justify leaving Eretz Yisrael for the Uman pilgrimage and other similar trips, arguing that doing so can be no worse than leaving Eretz Yisrael for business purposes, which is permitted.6 There are also those who allow one to leave Eretz Yisrael to visit the graves of rabbis that one enjoyed a personal relationship with.7 Some sources include the devout followers of a chassidic Rebbe in the category of a rabbi “that one enjoyed a personal relationship with” even if one never met him.
Finally, some authorities explicitly permit one to leave Eretz Yisrael to visit the graves of any holy rabbi, calling it “a great mitzvah.” This is because when the gentiles see that the Jews regularly visit and maintain these sites, they are less likely to be vandalized or to be tampered with.8 One is permitted to leave Eretz Yisrael to visit an important living rabbi.9
Bottom line from this writer: One who chooses to leave Eretz Yisrael for Uman for Rosh Hashana has halachic authorities upon whom to rely. Unfortunately, however, many people are under the mistaken impression that being in Uman for Rosh Hashana is inherently greater than being in Eretz Yisrael. Some people even believe that one who spends Rosh Hashana in Uman will receive extra blessings for the coming year, especially in the area of financial success. This, of course, is simply absurd. There can be no spiritual advantage to spending Rosh Hashana in a Ukrainian cemetery rather than in Eretz Yisrael regardless of who is buried there.
- For much more on the concept of spending Rosh Hashana with one’s rabbi in general, and the Uman pilgrimage in particular, see Divrei Yitzchak (Kaduri) Shaar Moadim V’zmanim 11. See also Divrei Yitzchak (Kaduri) Shaar Tzionei Hatzaddikim 2.
- Mishpat Kohen 147.
- Az Nidberu 12:28; Doleh U’mashkeh p.360. See also Mishpetei Tzedek 74
- See: http://www.yeshabulletin.com/RABBIS%20CORNER/Rabbi%20Shlomo%20Aviner-Eretz%20Israel%20and%20Not%20Uman-Eng.doc
- Torat Moshe, Emor.
- Pri Ha’aretz, YD 3:7; cited in Bishvilei Haparasha p.493.
- Mishpat Kohen 147.
- Sdei Chemed, Eretz Yisrael 1; Aseh Lecha Rav 2:54.
- Aseh Lecha Rav 2:53, 54.