There is an interesting and lesser-known Talmudic prohibition against taking sefarim, holy books, out of Eretz Yisrael.1 There is even a view that sefarim brought from chutz la’aretz to Eretz Yisrael must remain there.2 The reason the rabbis instituted this prohibition was to ensure that there would always be sefarim in Eretz Yisrael for people to learn from. It is also noted that making sure there are sefarim for people to enjoy and learn from contributes to the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael – settling the Land of Israel.3
Another reason for this enactment was that it was felt that taking sefarim out of Eretz Yisrael lowers their level of holiness. Indeed, Eretz Yisrael, and anything holy that is in it, like sefarim, assumes an additional measure of holiness, while in chutz la’aretz there is no such concept.4 In fact, it seems that at one time, even taking sefarim out of Jerusalem to use in other cities in Eretz Yisrael was frowned upon. This is because the holiness of Jerusalem is greater than the holiness of any other place in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, removing sefarim from Jerusalem was also seen as lowering their level of holiness, even if they were to remain in Eretz Yisrael.5
Nevertheless, there have always been exceptions to this rule. For example, it is permitted to ship sefarim to chutz la’aretz that were written or printed with the specific intention that they would be sent there.6 So too, a Torah scholar who moves from Eretz Yisrael to chutz la’aretz is permitted to take his personal sefarim library with him. It is also permitted to take sefarim out of Eretz Yisrael when one’s intention is to bring them back, such as when one is going on a trip and wants to take some sefarim for the journey.7
Almost all contemporary halachic authorities rule that in our day, when sefarim are abundant and relatively inexpensive, it is permitted to ship or otherwise take sefarim out of Eretz Yisrael without exception.8 This is especially true when such sefarim are likely to make their way back to Eretz Yisrael.9 Indeed, the original enactment was made at a time when sefarim were scarce and in short supply in Eretz Yisrael. So too, when the enactment was made, sefarim were handwritten and not mass-produced as they are today. It is also noted that the three primary pillars of halacha, the Rif, the Rosh, and the Rambam, make no mention of this prohibition at all.10
Somewhat related to the prohibition against taking sefarim out of Eretz Yisrael is the prohibition against taking produce and foods that are basic staples out of Eretz Yisrael. Such foods include wine, oil, and flour.11 Nevertheless, one will readily note that such foods are regularly exported around the world. Award-winning Israeli wines can be found in almost every major wine outlet in the world. So too, Israeli fruits, especially oranges, are also shipped worldwide. What about the etrogim used for Sukkot? What’s going on here?
According to most, if not all, authorities, the prohibition against exporting produce and basic staples from Eretz Yisrael no longer applies. The halacha follows this view.12 This is because the original reason for the enactment was to ensure that the residents of Eretz Yisrael would not be left without food. Additionally, there was a concern that extensive exporting would cause the local prices for such foods to rise considerably. These concerns are no longer valid.
Today, the Israeli economy is much more robust than it was when this Talmudic-era enactment was first made. Indeed, exporting such items is of great benefit to both the state and the residents of Israel; such items are intentionally grown for export, and if it weren’t for such income the economy would not be as successful as it is. Furthermore, some foods are so abundant that if they weren’t exported they would go to waste. For all these reasons, the prohibition no longer applies and efforts should continue to export more and more of such items.
- Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 3:9.
- Dovev Meisharim 2:21.
- Aruch Hashulchan, YD 267:128; Chaim Sha’al 2:38:95; B’tzel Hachachma 4:63:2.
- B’tzel Hachachma 4:63:3; Shu”t Rabbi Shaul Moshe, OC 25, cited in Ma’adanei Asher, Ki Tavo 5766.
- Kol Gadol 26.
- Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 3:9; B’tzel Hachachma 1:77:2; Kol Gadol 26.
- B’tzel Hachachma 1:77:6.
- Ibid., 4:63:2, 4; Chaim Sha’al 2:38:95, Kol Gadol 26; Beit Ridbaz 40; Yabia Omer, CM 8:4.
- B’tzel Hachachma 4:63.
- Ibid., 1:77:5, 4:63:4.
- Bava Batra 90b; Choshen Mishpat 231:26.
- Shevet Halevi 2:108:2.