A few days after the news broke that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had reached a peace agreement, I telephoned a friend who runs a travel agency and asked if anyone had called wanting to fly to Dubai, the Emirates’ most populous city. He reported that his office actually has been inundated with inquiries about visas to Dubai, the price of hotel rooms in the city, and more.
One of Israel’s main TV channels recently aired a special report on tourism in “eye-popping” Dubai. Newspapers and websites run almost daily photo essays showing the material wonders Israelis will soon have a chance to see firsthand.
These media outlets, however, seem to have forgotten one thing: According to halacha, it is likely forbidden to leave the Holy Land for a vacation in Dubai.
When a Jew leaves the Land of Israel, he is essentially turning his back on the Shechinah. Our Sages have stated, “A person who lives in Eretz Yisrael is like someone who has a G-d, and a person who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no G-d and is considered like someone who worships idols” (Ketubot 110b).
I recently asked Rav Shlomo Aviner, rosh yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim in Jerusalem, about the halachos of leaving Israel. He referred me to his Hebrew treatise, Responsa on Eretz Yisrael. Here is a very condensed summary of his words:
According to the Rambam, it is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel, even temporarily, except for three reasons: to study Torah, to find a wife, and to do business. Once a person has fulfilled his task, the Rambam emphasizes, the person must return to Eretz Yisrael (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:9; see Avodah Zara 13a).
Commenting on this ruling, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said, “Baruch Hashem, today there is no need to leave the Land of Israel to study Torah, there are an abundance of women of valor to find here, and a livelihood can readily be obtained here.”
According to the Shulchan Aruch, it is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel for vacation. The Magen Avraham rules that leaving the Land is permitted to perform a mitzvah, even meeting a friend, but leaving for vacation is prohibited.
The Maharit rules that leaving the Land for a short period is permitted, but his opinion stands in opposition to that of all other major halachic authorities.
Some people claim that leaving for a short trip is permitted if a person purchases a roundtrip ticket. Some also claim that leaving is permitted for psychological relief. Some claim further that leaving is permitted to see wonders of nature that will inspire reverence of Hashem. However, no sources in halachic literature back any of these claims.
Some people try to justify their trips outside Israel by claiming they performed a mitzvah while abroad, but this justification doesn’t hold water because it is obvious that they didn’t leave to perform this mitzvah, but rather did it once outside the Land to justify having left the Land.
A person may enjoy the sights of nature outside the Land if he left temporarily to perform a specific mitzvah, such as raising money for an Israeli yeshiva. It is even permissible to arrange a fund-raising trip outside Israel in order to see beautiful sights because a mitzvah performed not for the sake of heaven is still a mitzvah.
Some people take trips to chutz la’aretz to trace their roots (“tiyulim shoreshim”), but doing so is improper since a Jew’s roots are not in Germany or Russia, but in Eretz Yisrael.
Leaving the Land of Israel to visit concentration camps is also not proper unless these trips are for youth who are totally estranged from Torah, Am Yisrael, and Jewish tradition, and a visit to Auschwitz, for example, will shock them into identifying with the Jewish people. Since pikuach nefesh is a factor in this case, leaving the Land is permitted.
The Sdei Chemed writes that leaving Israel to visit the gravesites of tzaddikim is permissible. Rav Avaraham Yitzhak Kook, however, disagreed. He argued that visiting the graves of tzaddikim is an exalted practice, not a mitzvah (Mishpat Kohen, 147).
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes that if visiting the gravesite of a tzaddik in chutz la’aretz is personally important to a person’s connection to Hashem, traveling to it is permitted.
When Rav Auerbach traveled to his yeshiva in Bayit Vegan, he would pass by the military cemetery on Mount Herzl and occasionally ask his driver to stop by the side of the road so he could pray near the gravesites of the Israeli soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation. He would say there was no need to travel far away to pray at the gravesites of famous rabbis when so many holy tzaddikim are buried right here in the IDF Military Cemetery.