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Diaspora Religious Zionism: Some Current Reflections

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Matthew Arnold opened his critical essay on Wordsworth by citing Macaulay's observation, "after Wordsworth's death, when subscriptions were being collected to found a memorial of him, that ten years earlier more money could have been raised in Cambridge alone, to do honour to Wordsworth, than was now raised all through the country."[1] I very much hope that Diaspora religious Zionism is not in the throes of terminal demise but there is no denying that if this Forum had been convened half or a quarter of a century ago, the context would have been much livelier. Unquestionably, this movement – as a public and as a private phenomenon, institutionally and ideologically, qua political entity and in the form of a shared spiritual commitment - has seen more vibrant days. And yet, many of the relevant contemporary issues still cut to the heart of a Torah hashkafah, and remain worthy of note and incisive discourse.


            Religious Zionism, tersely described and defined, is comprised of several components. In part, political movement, in part, both personal credo and public manifesto, it fuses the active and the contemplative. In all respects, however, it finds itself currently – in significant measure, in Israel, too, but to a greater measure, in the Diaspora – paradoxically, both embattled and dormant. The primary causes of both are dual. On the one hand, the fate of its religious element is but a local manifestation of the overall status and fortunes of Zionism in general. As the locus and the object of Zionist fervor, the State of Israel has been the victim of its own successes. Once the threat to its existential security waned, and as the erstwhile David became increasingly perceived as a Goliath, concern for the yishuv and for the welfare, physical or spiritual, of its inhabitants, lessened. As an impetus for energizing the Jewish world, no fresh goal could even approach the struggle for the founding of the state and the subsequent nursing of its fledgling body politic and institutions. Moreover, whereas the haredi world has a clearly focused agenda which it has pursued with great intensity, much of the religious Zionist camp has encountered difficulty in the apportionment of effort and resources between religious goals and more general Zionist aims.


            In addition, as the dream metamorphosed into reality, a modicum of disillusionment set in, fuelled, moreover, by an erosion in the ethical status of Israeli society and a decline in its general idealism. At the same time, specific Diaspora issues such as intermarriage and assimilation were becoming exacerbated. Consequently, in many communities, Zionist commitment, even amongst the strongly identified, Jewishly, became jaded, as local  and national interests competed for moral and material support.[2]


            Unfortunately, these trends did not spare the religious sector. In its case, however, the adverse effects were compounded by a major additional factor. The changes in the internal fabric of the general religious world and of the Orthodox community, in particular, has impacted significantly upon the strength, both relative and absolute, of its Zionist component. If, at mid-century, Mizrahi and its adherents were a dominant presence and Agudah was perceived, even by many of its supporters, as marginal, the situation today is palpably and dramatically reversed. Moreover, at issue is not just the matter of political clout. One senses a loss of vitality and vibrancy in internal debate and discourse. A young acquaintance who recently had occasion to survey religious Zionist publication of a generation ago was astounded by the richness and the level of the discourse, as compared to the thinner fare to which he had become accustomed.[3] Unfortunately, this decline is manifest in Israel as well, where a blend of ideological rigor mortis has combined with obsessive concern with territorial issues to paint the dati-leumi parties – at least, for the time being – into a corner of isolation and political irrelevance. However, its impact is more keenly perceived around the world, where, due to physical and, hence, emotional, distance, the divisive debates over foreign policy which have generated much heat, as they have riven the Israeli polis asunder, have not registered abroad with equal resonance.  


            Small wonder that many Diaspora religious Zionists find themselves today, weakened and possibly befuddled; perhaps asking themselves, as did Wordsworth, in the very different context, of his "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality,"

Whither is fled, the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


Moreover, beyond ideology, they are confronted by another issue – Halakhic, philosophic, existential, and, perhaps acutely, pragmatic.  Over all, looms the prospect of aliyah. And it looms as a genuine option. Admittedly, to some extent, as, in recent years, with respect to France and Argentina, anti-Semitism continues to impact upon consideration of the issue. Broadly viewed, however, and relative to the sociohistorical course of the last century and a quarter, with respect to most contemporary Jewry, aliyah is more truly a matter of choice. Not, obviously, wholly free. Economic factors, for instance, still weigh heavily. And yet, choice has been considerably magnified. On the one hand, the gates of the Promised Land are open, and, on the other, the pressure to leave current host countries and enter through them has receded. Hence, judgment in the light of merit is more readily possible. At the public level, literal ascent to the promised rose-garden is, preeminently, all sweetness and light. At one plane, conceived en masse rather than in individual terms, it contributes to the service of national needs – social, political, economic, and security – as it fleshes out and intensifies the character of Erez Israel as our homeland. At another, viewed from the perspective of classical secular Zionism, it ameliorates the Diaspora's Jewish problem. And, of course, beyond the pragmatic, aliyah, straddling the historical and the eschatological, constitutes a fulfillment of the divinely mandated providential commitment, on the one hand -


הנני מביא אותם מארץ צפון וקבצתים מירכתי ארץ בם עור ופסח הרה וילדת יחדו קהל גדול ישובו הנה. בבכי יבאו ובתחנונים אובילם אוליכם אל נחלי מים בדרך ישר לא יכשלו בה כי הייתי לישראל לאב ואפרים בכורי הוא (ירמיהו לא:ז-ח) -


and of the realization of our own collective aspiration, on the other:


בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים (תהלים קכו:א)


And, while even at the public level, aliyah exacts a toll insofar as it may entail a brain drain, as the exodus of the most highly motivated thins the ranks of Diaspora Zionism, on the whole, the net result is clearly deemed positive.


At the private level, however, aliyah is, palpably, very much a mixed bag. Of the components of religious Zionism, it clearly offers the broadest opportunity, but, just as clearly, exacts the greatest toll. I trust that the major relevant factors are well-known, but a summary catalogue may nevertheless be helpful.


            On the positive side of the ledger, the primary focus is, evidently, upon spiritual elements – particularly, of a normative character. At least four elements, bonding residence in Erez Israel with the performance of mizvot, may be identified. The first and most direct is the position of the Ramban, widely trumpeted and popularized by Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, that the anticipation, at once promise and command, that we are to possess and settle Erez Israel is to be enumerated amongst taryag mizvot; and this, in two respects. Most fundamentally, this mizvah is realized through the establishment and maintenance of the hegemony of knesset Israel in the promised land, which is not to be left under the aegis of foreign rule, or as wilderness at the disposal of natural forces:


היא שנצטוינו לרשת את הארץ שנתן לנו הי"ת ושלא נעזוב אותה ביד זולתנו מן האומות או לשממה מבלי ישוב[4]


In this vein, viyeshavtem bah denotes yishuv as settlement – and, if necessary, conquest – as it affects the status of the land. Secondarily, however, the Ramban also subsumes yeshivah, mere physical residence – even in circumstances under which one's absence would in no way endanger national interests – as a personal fulfillment of the mizvah.[5]


            While this element was included by the Ramban in a list of positive commandments whose omission by the Rambam he criticized, it is generally assumed, given the inclusion of halakhot concerning the obligation to reside in Erez Israel and prohibition of leaving it in Mishneh Torah,[6] that the Rambam would assent to the substance of the Ramban's position, the lack of formal enumeration notwithstanding. Be that as it may, no such gap exists with respect to a second factor: the status of the country as venue for the performance of many other mizvot – particularly, agriculturally related mizvot hateluyot ba'arez.[7] This aspect is most sharply delineated in a gemara in Sotah – strikingly, with respect to Mosheh Rabbenu's aspiration to enter Erez Israel and his passionate pleas in this connection:


דרש רבי שמלאי מפני מה נתאוה משה רבינו ליכנס לארץ ישראל וכי לאכול מפריה הוא צריך או לשבוע מטובה הוא צריך אלא כך אמר משה הרבה מצות נצטוו ישראל ואין מתקיימין אלא בארץ ישראל אכנס אני לארץ כדי שיתקיימו כולן על ידי אמר לו הקב"ה כלום אתה מבקש אלא לקבל שכר מעלה אני עליך כאילו עשיתם (סוטה יד.)


The comment was subsequently cited by rishonim[8] as a paradigm for the principle that one should actively seek out circumstances which will generate obligation, rather than rest content with its circumscription; but for our purposes it is precisely the specific application which is most immediately relevant.


            A third factor returns us to the Ramban; and, this time, with reference to a frequently-stated – and yet, surprisingly radical – position. Not content with linking certain mizvot with location, the Ramban contends that the Halakhic regimen in its totality is geared to Erez Israel which constitutes a metaphysical and yet natural habitat for its realization. Basing himself, in part, upon a comment of the Sifre that the mizvot of tefillin and mezuzah should be observed even in the Diaspora as a propaedeutic device for maintaining a mindset which should ensure their observance upon return to our native land, he notes that the remark apparently applies even to hovot haguf, personal, as opposed to agricultural, obligations;[9] and hence, he boldly draws the inference concerning the intrinsic bond between normative content and geographic context.[10]


            This is, I repeat, a bold thesis, and one which, despite my enormous admiration and respect for the Ramban, I have great personal difficulty in digesting. Is it conceivable, we ask ourselves, that the avodat Hashem and kiyum mizvot of many gedolei Israel, kedoshim hasidei elyon, had only instrumental, but no intrinsic, value? And even if we circumscribe the comment to refer to specific acts but not to the totality of avodah, or if we suggest that the Ramban only delimits the rationale for Diaspora Halakha but not its character, once commanded, does not this still demean the tefillin of the Rif or the Gra and diminish their significance?


            And yet, in a milder version, the Ramban's position can be readily understood and fully appreciated. Without divesting Diaspora Halakhic observance of intrinsic value, one could accept the notion that context and location affect the character and significance of an action, so that the identical ma'asseh mizvah could have incremental qualitative value when performed in erez hakodesh. Thus, it has been reported of mori verabbi, Rav Y. Hutner z.t.l., that, upon coming to Israel, after having worn tefillin en route, he was wont to put them on again, commenting: "Those had been huz la'arez tefillin; now we shall put on Erez Israel tefillin." And this increment is at the disposal of our prospective oleh with respect to each and every mizvah.


            Finally, we note a fourth factor, more amorphous but no less significant than the preceding. Erez Israel is conceived as a plane of paradoxical particular immanence – as a locus to which Hashem attends directly, with which He bonds, and in which, mutatis mutandis, He inheres. It is described, Scripturally, as, uniquely,


ארץ אשר ה' א-להיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ה' א-להיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה (דברים יא:יב)


Hence, Hazal could postulate that it is watered by the Ribbono Shel Olam directly, as opposed to the mediating agency employed vis-à-vis other countries:


ארץ ישראל משקה אותה הקב"ה בעצמו וכל העולם כולו ע"י שליח שנאמר הנותן מטר על פני ארץ ושולח מים על פני חוצות (תענית י.)


And, Halakhically, it is designated in the mishnah,[11] as the most elementary and comprehensive of ten levels of the sanctity of mikdash, whose conceptual essence is encapsulated in the summary commandment, ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם.[12] Hence, quite apart from formal and/or technical mizvah performances, to live in Erez Israel is, to subsist and suspire in the shade and in the shadow of the Ribbono Shel Olam, over and above the norm prevalent in the Diaspora. To the sensitive religious soul, the implications for service and experience are self-evident.


            These positive elements, signaling the religious significance of Erez Israel and life within it, are complemented in classical texts by statements, some quite sharp, denigrating the Diaspora. Thus, at one plane, life in huz la'arez is perceived as a spiritual vacuum of sorts, bonding with the Ribbono Shel Olam being conditioned in some sense and to some extent, by location:


כל זמן שאתם בארץ כנען הריני לכם א-לוה אין אתם בארץ כנען [כביכול] איני לכם לא-לוה.[13]


At another, emigration is described as tinged with idolatry – presumably, either because of the free choice of its environment per se:


כל המניח את ארץ ישראל בשעת שלום ויוצא כאילו עובד עבודת כוכבים;[14]


or, because subjection to pagan worshippers entails an element of subjugation to their deities:


משאתם עובדים לעובדיהם כאלו אתם עובדים להם.[15]


The ke'illu, "as if," softens this formulation. It remains however, harsh indeed. But can anyone contend that it is wholly inconsonant with perceived reality?


            This brief catalogue, comprised of elements directly and immediately related to the religious realm, hardly exhausts the attractions of aliyah and subsequent residence in the promised land. All that has been outlined heretofore could have confronted a prospective oleh several centuries ago no less than his contemporary counterpart. The current scene differs, however, markedly. Despite the momentous impact of the factors we have considered, they do not abide alone. At the very least, one additional major area which the modern religious Zionist – if he is truly that, not just an individual who is committed to both Yahadut and Zionism, but one in whom the two are thoroughly intertwined – will take into account, bears examination. I refer to the sociohistorical reality our prospect will encounter in Israel should he reach its shores. That reality is itself, divisible into three components. There is, first, the vertical historical axis, bonding with the full range of Jewish existence, across the millennia, from our incipient national cradle to the epiphany of our meta-historical vision. Second, we note the horizontal social axis – particularly, as manifested by the demographic reality, or, as his Shunamite hostess told Elisha בתוך עמי אנכי ישבת (מלכים ב, ד:יג) – "I reside amongst my people" – life as part of an indigenous majority rather than of an alien minority, with all this crucial fact implies for the organic unity of state and society and for the organic unity of personal sensibility.


            Finally, we encounter the more narrowly Zionist dimension. I have noted elsewhere, that one of the major cruces dividing Zionist from non-Zionist Orthodoxy, concerns, at its core, a theological issue: the division, as it were, of the historical drama between providential control and human initiative. Abstract and abstruse as the point may seem, the question of the legitimacy and scope of activism bears directly upon the appraisal of the re-entry of knesset Israel as a national entity upon the universal arena. To the extent that a religious Jew identifies with dynamic activism, he will be attracted to religious Zionism. And he will be drawn to ascending to Erez Israel, for that is where the action in this vein lies.


            Even if truncated, this is an impressive list; and it invites some question concerning the limits of its impact. Why, then, one might naively ask, do so many sincere and committed religious Zionists persist in residing and laboring in the Diaspora?


            As in parallel Halakhic scenarios, the answer, in part, lies in ambivalence or rejection regarding a number of the aforementioned contentions, some of which may be dismissed as fallacious, tendentious, or both. Differential immanence may be denigrated as theologically primitive, and the grading of mizvot on the basis of some geographic scale likewise. The centrality accorded to yeshivat Erez Israel by the Ramban may presumably be challenged in favor of the Rambam's – or, in a later era, Habad's – more arguably universal focus.


Alternatively, one may turn the Halakhic argument on its head, contending, as did one fo the ba'alei hatosafot, that precisely because of the normative demands imposed by residence in Erez Israel, the burden is more than one can bear, and we are consequently now exempt from it:


והיה אומר רבנו חיים דעכשיו אינו מצוה לדור בארץ ישראל כי יש כמה מצות התלויות בארץ וכמה עונשין ואין אנו יכולין ליזהר בהם ולעמוד עליהם.[16]


And we bear in mind that in order to neutralize the impact of an argument it need not be rejected categorically as false; marginalizing it may suffice.


            The Halakhic discourse proper – in part, as expressed in commentaries on relevant Talmudic texts, but primarily concentrated within the corpus of sh'eylot uteshuvot, wherein the issues were confronted and decision required formulation at the specific pragmatic plane – is multifaceted. The principal issues concern the basic normative obligation of aliyah – does it exist at all, and, if so, whether mi'd'oraitha or mi'd'rabbanan. Second, to what extent, if any, can it be mitigated or overridden by circumstance.[17] For the most part, poskim, largely following the Ramban, were inclined to affirm a measure of obligation. There were, however, notable exceptions. Thus, Rav Shlomo Kluger[18] in the nineteenth century and Rav Mosheh Feinstein[19] in the twentieth, both argued that if most observant Jews, including pious and saintly kedoshim hasidei elyon, scholarly talmudei hakhamim as well as the untutored, remained in the Diaspora, evidently their sojourn there entailed no clear violation.


            As to mitigating factors, these varied in character and degree. Rav Yizhak di Leon, in his role as expositor and defender of the Rambam against the critique of the Ramban, contends that the mizvah was not enumerated by the Rambam because it had no contemporary application, as the norm is confined to periods of Jewish hegemony in Erez Israel:


נראה לי כי צה שלא מנאה הרב הוא לפי שמצות ירושת הארץ וישיבתה לא נהגה רק בימי משה ויהושע ודוד וכל זמן שלא גלו מארצם אבל אחר שגלו מעל אדמתם אין מצוה זו נוהגת לדורות עד עת בוא המשיח.[20]


The emphasis here is clearly upon teleology: will aliyah manifested within a national context, advance the collective goal postulated in וירשתם אתה וישבתם בה? In an analogous and yet fundamentally different vein, the nineteenth-century Avnei Nezer[21] asserts that the impediment of foreign rule is too formidable a barrier for an individual oleh to surmount; hence, he is exempt from braving alien masters. Most qualifications focus, however, upon personal factors – security, whether en route or, in Erez Israel, once reached; livelihood; Halakhic observance. Obviously, if recognized, these factors require definition and the continued current relevance of previously granted license bears examination; and these, too, figure in many responsa.


            In summary, despite the numerical preponderance of poskim who dwell upon the obligation of aliyah, it may be fairly stated that, while the positive religious aspects of life in Erez Israel, as previously summarized, are clear and significant, and while these should militate a far greater scope for religious aliyah than presently exists, there is enough qualification to enable many to refrain. In this sense, at the level of personal existential decision, the Halakhic debate remains for many inconclusive, and those who desire dispensation may find a basis for it. As formulated in the bottom line of the brief teshuvah of the fifteenth-century Terumat Hadeshen:


לכן כל איש ישער בעצמו בהכנת גופו וממונו באוצר, דרך יוכל לעמוד ביראת השם ובשמור מצותיו כי זה כל האדם.[22]


The statement focuses upon spiritual ramifications, but, on the view of many poskim, that material elements bear consideration as well, its differential approach can be readily adapted.


            In large measure, however, the impact of the pro-aliyah arguments is not so much affected by their total denial as by their being counterbalanced, and possibly outweighed, by contrary considerations. Many Israelis are wont to assume that the primary restraint upon aliyah among religious Zionists derives from cleavage to the fleshpots of Egypt. This is a convenient assumption, especially inasmuch as it enables its advocate to flatter himself by basking in the reflected glory of his own comparative idealism. It is, however, also simplistic. I have no doubt that it is indeed true of a segment of the religious Diaspora community, and that, moreover, basic economic factors – such as, for instance, the ability to purchase adequate housing – enter into almost everyone's decision making. For the most part, however, I believe that other factors, of a less materialistic or hedonistic cast, figure more prominently.


            These include the quest for vocational self-fulfillment, with respect to personal development, on the one hand, and potential contribution to yishuvo shel olam, on the other. In a parallel vein, many are wary about the educational climate in the dati-leumi community in Israel, and bemoan the absence of certain desired options – say, the fusion of positive haredi passion for lomdut with serious readiness for secular profession – as well as the presence of radical ideology which brandishes a version of religious Zionism they find narrowly fanatic and excessively aggressive.


            For many, more specifically personal elements play a key role. Ringing out the old and ringing in the new may be abstractly appealing. In practice, however, it may also be jarring. At one terminus, the prospect of being known as a greenhorn is perturbing. Grappling with the language, coping with a fresh culture, popular and high, finding oneself out of sync with icons and villains alike, bereft of instinctive linkage with the sports arena or with the concert hall, the fear of seeming a stranger in one's own presumed chosen bailiwick – all can be daunting. Worse yet, many are concerned about a cultural gap piggy-backed on a generational gap, opening a chasm between themselves and their children.


            At the other terminus, some anticipate parting as not sweet sorrow but just plain sorrow. The problem is most acute vis-à-vis family – especially, of course, parents. Even if they are well, and, only middle-aged, still functioning vigorously, awareness of our prospective oleh that he will be depriving both his children and his parents of the bliss that he enjoys through contact and linkage with both, can induce both moral and psychological reservations. And of course, the matter is complicated even further if one entertains the possibility that declining parental health may necessitate direct assistance, so that one's planned emigration may deprive his elders not only of much deserved and cherished nahas but of much appreciated shimush as well. To be sure, technology and telecommunication will help bridge the gap, but an e-mail or a computer photo is still no substitute for fondling a baby or enriching the mind of a teen-ager.


            Many of these factors carry little normative weight, and, to the committed religious Zionist, should presumably be no match for Rav Simlai or the Ramban. Nevertheless, these are issues which touch upon quintessential and existential concerns, and, collectively, they serve as a phalanx which can formidably inhibit the readiness for aliyah. Moreover, many are dissatisfied with certain aspects of the quality of current Israeli social and religious life; and not everyone responds favorably to Elie Schweid's mantra, that if you find fault with Israeli life, rather than maintaining a self-serving distance, you should feel bound to enter the lists in order to improve it. Add to this the normal quotient of inertia plus the instinctive fear of an unknown future, and the current limited scope of aliyah becomes fully intelligible.


For many prospective olim, the upshot of attempted assessment and decision may be ambivalence, frustration, embattlement, or, simply, dilemma. I am inclined to believe that, at some level, the factors we have noted as militating for aliyah are familiar to most religious Zionists. They sense that the quality of their avodat Hashem can be enhanced by the move, and they perceive that their relation to the pulse of Jewish history can be likewise deepened. They may refrain from making the leap, but not without anguish – some possibly troubled by the thought that they may be rationalizing, while others may be content that they have sound reason for staying put but are nettled by the need to justify themselves at all.


            Perhaps the most ambivalent about aliyah, however, are spiritual protagonists who, externally and adversarially, are not embattled at all but are, rather, torn, and possibly tormented; in no way impelled to choose between conscience and convenience, only between contrasting and, at the practical plane, often conflicting, claims of conscience proper. On the one hand, they are truly desirous and even anxious to live and work in Erez Israel – and for all the right reasons. On the other hand, they are concerned by a sense of responsibility to their native community and to the need to minister to its spiritual and educational concerns. Upon completion of his book on Hegel, Franz Rozenzweig is reputed to have said that he had now paid his debt to the German landlord, and could move on to more critical matters. In the cases under consideration, however, at issue is often not so much a specific remission as the determination of lifelong venue and often of career as well. With how many young men have I discussed the alternatives of programming computers in Israel as opposed to hinukh or rabbanut in the Diaspora? And with how many the respective merit of hinukh at different locales? Many of course seek ways to have their cake and eat it, and these have, collectively, contributed much to the Torah milieu in Israel – particularly, via institutions which cater to foreign constituencies. But there is only so much confection available.


            The issues are, in part, general and theoretical: public vs. personal priorities, the value of yishuvo shel olam as opposed to talmud Torah, etc.; and, in part, obviously entail many private variables. In some instances, spiritual counselors take very sharp positions. I heard of a case in which a Sephardi educator who had done valuable work in France and, contemplating aliyah, came to Israel in mid-summer to examine opportunities.  Whereupon, despite the fact that he was planning to continue teaching here, Rav Ovadia Yosef sent him a message informing him that wherever he would apply for a position, Rav Ovadia would personally see to it that he should be turned down. Most mentors are, however, far more reserved, and their followers far less obeisant. With an eye to Yeats' comment that one writes rhetoric about his battles with others but poetry about his battles with himself, it may be suggested that this group's collected writings could constitute an impressive volume of verse.


Factually, in any event, the history of aliyah since shivat Zion bears out the wisdom of Hazal's remark concerning earlier epochs. With reference to the events related to the danger posed by Haman's ascendancy and the process of teshuvah engendered by it, the gemara notes that the threat of extinction, symbolized by the transfer of the royal signet from Ahaseurus to Haman was a more effective purgative agent than much hortatory prophecy and reproach. Moreover, the gemara extrapolates and generalizes:


אמר רב אבא בר כהנא גדולה הסרת טבעת יותר מארבעים ושמנה נביאים ושבע נביאות שנתנבאו להן לישראל שכולן לא החזירום למוטב ואילו הסרת טבעת החזירתן למוטב (מגילה יד.)


That, in a nutshell, is the summary of twentieth-century aliyah.


            Significant and central as aliyah is to religious Zionism, what are the implications of its track record in this critical area? To some, they are, and should be, far-reaching indeed. From their perspective, the phrase, "Diaspora religious Zionism," borders on the oxymoron. On this view, the raison d'etre of a Zionist movement being conceived as geared, primarily, to the encouragement and implementation of aliyah, once that goal is palpably beyond reach, it is time to fold the tent. Its proponents might acknowledge that in earlier days, before the floodgates had been opened, this was too rigorous a standard, but contend that in the era of hok hashevut it is by no means too exacting. And, as to the waiver postulated by Rabbenu Haym, it might be asserted that it is no longer meaningful inasmuch as the alleged obstacles upon which it had been grounded had long since been neutralized by the growth of the yishuv and the rise in its level of organization and sophistication. Worse still, these critics contend that the profession of Zionist ideology in the context of continued residence in Hendon or in Woodmere is not only innocuous but hypocritical.


            I confess that, in making judgments or drawing conclusions, I myself adhere to a less rigorous standard. For one thing, surprising as it may sound to some, I do not reject all strains of hypocrisy categorically, as I recall an adage Douglas Bush used to cite: "Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue." In a more conventional vein, however, there is much to commend the contribution of Diaspora religious Zionism to varied sectors and different levels – national, communal, and personal – of Jewish life. Even if we focus narrowly on the parameters of aliyah, it is self-evident that the many who are bent on remaining abroad assist, in many diverse and meaningful ways, those who elect to emigrate. But why should we feel bound to such a narrow standard? Is the contribution to the spiritual and educational realm of any less moment? There are, to be sure, many communities, flushed with manpower, resources, and commitment drawn from diverse sources, that feel self-sufficient, spiritually, even in the absence of input from religious Zionism; still others, who feel, rightly or wrongly, that, by acknowledging the spiritual worth of competing national and historical values, the Zionist component dilutes Torah education rather than enriching it. In a great many, however, the positive thrust is palpable, and in some, religious Zionism is its very lifeblood. This situation is particularly in evidence in an area which straddles the social and intellectual, that of the youth movements. Relatively speaking, the impact of Bnei Akiva is less powerful in North America than elsewhere. But even in the States, it has gained momentum in recent years, and on other continents, it has long been a lighthouse.


            Probably the most meaningful contribution of religious Zionism, at the sociopolitical plane as well as at the level of personal commitment, relates to maintaining and stimulating bonds to Erez Israel – and that, in religious categories, and from a Torah perspective. This may entail no more than an emotional link. Yet, that, too, is not to be dismissed lightly. I believe it was from the Rav z.t.l. that I heard the story of a couple from Minsk who were sharply divided over the issue of aliyah. Unable to arrive at an understanding, they agreed to turn to the Minsker Gadol for guidance and resolution. To the surprise and dismay of Zionist circles, he ruled against the proposed initiative. When asked how this counsel could be reconciled with his consistent advocacy of the Zionist cause, he responded that "it is better to dwell in Minsk and yearn for Jerusalem than to dwell in Jerusalem and yearn for Minsk." This may raise certain questions regarding the balance of practice and aspiration as well as Halakhic issues concerning the prerogative of determining where a couple should live. For our purposes, however, it serves to exemplify the significance of pure attitude.


            Or, to cite a more contemporary voice, a similar message underlies Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky's reported admonition to some talmidim. He is said to have urged them that, upon walking down Saddle River Road in Monsey, when returning from shul on Shabbat morning, they should not wear their taleisim over their coats, in full sight of local residents, lest they forget the nature of galut life as opposed to indigenous residence in Erez Hakodesh. To the best of my knowledge – based, in part, upon direct personal observation – Monsey bnei Torah heed the counsel more in its breach than in its observance; but its substantive thrust is amply clear.


            Broadly speaking, one may note three distinct components. The first is the concern that excessive acculturation may impair the religious Jew's ability to serve in the capacity of the outsider, so cherished by Colin Wilson and designated by Leslie Fiedler as the destiny of Reb Israel and klal Israel – to serve, that is, as the voice of conscience, harnessed to social criticism. It is a role for which an identity of ger vetoshav – the dual status suggested in Avraham's proposal to the Hittites, "I am a stranger and a sojourner among you"[23] - may be requisite, and it is incommensurate with the domestication reflected in wearing one's talis on a main street of a non-Jewish town.


            I am not certain of the validity of this point, but I am reasonably certain that this was not Reb Yaakov's intent. Of greater relevance is the concern, here previously noted, of the jading of existential bonds to our own land, should we nestle too comfortably and too profoundly in a country which, to a committed Jew must, at some level, be perceived and experienced as foreign soil; at ease, not, as in Carlyle's celebrated phrase, "in Zion," but beyond its pale. Some may dismiss such discourse as romantic rumination, bereft of practical impact. I am inclined to assume that, in time, pragmatic ramifications may indeed issue. Even, however, if they don't, to a spiritual sensibility, attitude itself is crucial.


            This point has been effectively expounded by a comment regarding Hazal's inference, most familiar to us from the Haggadah, from the term ויגר שם, denoting temporary sojourn, rather than permanent residence, in the recitation of mikra bikkurim: מלמד שלא ירד יעקב אבינו להשתקע במצרים אלא לגור בה. It has been suggested[24] that the text should not be read as description of Yaakov Avinu's conscious intent at the time. It seems hardly conceivable that a sickly old man, half-blind, almost totally dependent upon familial support, and saturated with a self-image of impending death, should fantasize that he is only going into temporary exile, in quest of immediate respite, and that he would return presently to set up house once more. Hazal's view of the descent and its presumed aim, rather refer to the quality of the sojourn. Yaakov knew full well that Egypt would be his final destination but wished to emphasize that he was going in the capacity of an outsider, precluded from meshing into an alien culture by an existential and axiological chasm rather than by force of circumstances alone.


            A third facet, linked to the foregoing and yet distinct, concerns appreciation of the uniqueness of Erez Israel more than relations to ambient Gentile culture. This, too, may be elucidated anecdotally – only this time by means of an incident drawn from my own experience.


            In the course of my initial visit to Israel, during the summer of 1962, I went to visit mori verabbi, Rav Y. Hutner z.t.l., who, prior to his aliyah, often spent the summer at Pension Reich in Jerusalem. After reproaching me gently for having left my wife in the States (אזא כתובה האסטו געשריבען?), he began to question me regarding my impressions – particularly, about what had struck my notice especially. As, at that stage, I had focused upon the Torah world in Israel, I noted a number of phenomena which had struck me favorably, as compared to the American scene; widespread popular talmud Torah, the interaction of the Torah and general communities in the implementation of Hoshen Mishpat etc. Every reply was rebutted with the comment that its subject could have been found in Eastern Europe as well, and so was neither endemic nor unique to Erez Israel. When he sensed that I had exhausted my material, he pressed on, inquiring as to what indeed was special about my visit, and, when it became clear that I could, at best, only respond feebly, the Rosh Yeshiva opened with a volley of sources and dicta – the description of Erez Israel as ארץ אשר ה' א-להיך דרש אתה, or as that to which Mosheh and Aharon had been barred access, which was now open to us – דוכתא דמשה ואהרן לא זכו לה (כתובות קיב.), all trumpeting forth the sacral, metaphysical, and historical uniqueness of the land and all causing me to realize, in a flash, that I had missed the boat entirely. As he railed on, as perhaps only he could, against tourists he had met on the plane, acting and talking as if they were en route to vacation in California, the sense of failure cut deeper and deeper. I walked out into the Beit Hakerem evening air like a beaten dog. But I knew I had been beaten justly; and today, almost forty-five years later, I remain deeply grateful to the Rosh Yeshiva for opening my eyes and for opening my heart.


            In truth, the subject of bonding with Erez Israel is not merely anecdotal at all. It is rooted in Hazal, in a context which is, at once, both Halakhic and hashkafic – namely, the concept of creating and sustaining zekher lemikdash, "a memento of the Temple." The memorialization of mikdash bears a dual aspect. It may refer to its destruction, as, for instance, according to the Ba'al Hamaor, with respect to sefirat ha'omer after the hurban.[25] More commonly, however, it relates to remembering mikdash in all its majesty and glory, and entails replicating its practice and aura. Thus, the mishnah states that Rav Yohanan ben Zakkai instituted an innovation with respect to the mizvah of lulav, and that its rationale was the quest for zekher lemikdash:


"בראשונה היה הלולב ניטל במקדש שבעה ובמדינה יום אחד משחרב בית המקדש התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי שיהא לולב ניטל במדינה שבעה זכר למקדש"[26]


The gemara goes on to query whence do we derive the principle of creating such memorials, and it cites a pasuk in Yirmeyahu:


מנא לן דעבדינן זכר למקדש א"ר יוחנן דאמר קרא כי אעלה ארוכה לך וממכותיך ארפאך נאם ה' כי נדחה קראו לך ציון היא דורש אין לה דורש אין לה מכלל דבעיא דרישה  (ל:יז).


The source is cited here with respect to a very specific Halakhic ordinance, and it presumably serves as the raison d'etre for similar ordinances. Unquestionably, however, it serves equally to enunciate a principle whose scope extends beyond the explicitly normative to embrace the realm of consciousness and sensibility. To sustain the memory of mikdash, that whose locus is in Jerusalem and that which coincides with the boundaries of the concentric country, is to vivify it, to rejuvenate it via mental image and soul's yearning.


            Derishat Zion, zekher lemikdash – this has, traditionally and historically, been the central charge of Diaspora religious Zionism. Of course, it was not denominated as such; but sans nomenclature, with nary a notion about political structure and activity, with no meaningful prospect of implementing its agenda, for millennia, dispersed Jewry persisted in keeping the dream and its underlying and overarching faith alive. Those abiding elements remain a vital aspect of our collective and personal spiritual existence. We have neither the right nor the inclination to waver in our commitment to them, and this sustenance and transmission continue to constitute a sacred charge. Beyond politics and internecine rivalry, its beck and call challenges us continually; and even were there no other, derishat Zion is sufficient cause for the perpetuation of Diaspora religious Zionism. To those who dismiss it as anachronistic, to those who denigrate it as anomalous, we can simply respond that, while they are not wholly wrong, they surely are not wholly right. So long as derishat Zion is not comprehensively realized, and quite apart from any political activity, religious Zionists, wherever located, and within the context of their broader identity as members of knesset Israel, are charged and challenged.


            Response to the challenge is complicated by its character and context. In effect, my perception has focused upon the spiritual aspect of religious Zionisim, as opposed to the pragmatic implementation of its vision. I have no doubt that this emphasis is warranted, in light of both fundamental and permanent priority, and with an eye to current need. By dint of its very nature, however, this factor potentially pits religious Zionism against competing distinctive Torah values. Such internecine confrontation tends to be perturbing in any event, but in our case perhaps doubly so. For, in certain respects, depth and scope of palpably and narrowly religious commitment is the Achilles' heel of religious Zionism – particularly, in the Diaspora. To be sure, the portrait, often delineated by detractors, and bordering frequently on caricature, of the average mizrahnik as ever cutting Halakhic corners in the quest for facile compromise and accommodation, is grossly unjust. There is much genuine and profound Torah, avodah, and gemilut hasadim in the current dati-leumi community, and in many respects, the situation has improved measurably during the past generation. And yet, as with Tennyson's Ulysses, "Tho' much is taken, much abides." There is no gain saying that the level of engagement in these critical areas, "by which the world is sustained," needs to be broadened and deepened in much of the religious Zionist community. Hence the pressure to intensify derishat Zion, at the possible expense of other essential values, may be fraught with axiological difficulty.


            Nevertheless, while priority and balance cannot be ignored, our commitment to derishat Zion should be neither abandoned nor diminished. And this, for two reasons. First, it should be obvious that apart from attending to dividing the existing cake, the prospect for enlarging it is ought to be very real. We are far from exhausting reservoirs of time, energy, and passion to be harnessed in the pursuit of spiritual goals. Much can be garnered from hefker, in Melville's terms, "loose fish"; from resources wasted upon the spectrum ranging from frivolity through pettiness to ennui; and, in this respect, we have a great deal to learn from the haredi world its standards. The second factor relates to the character and substance of derishat Zion. Beyond flag-waving and beyond merely exuding emotion, it is all about search and relation; about bonding and linkage; about developing a thirst for Zion and all that it represents and about seeking avenues to quench that thirst – by remembrance and reenactment of things past in conjunction with anticipation of things future.


            Consequently, properly understood and experienced, derishat Zion does not compete with other Torah values, but rather reciprocally reinforces and is reinforced by them. To seek Zion is to engage in the ultimate quest described and prescribed by Yeshayahu:


ואותי יום יום ידרשון ודעת דרכי יחפצון כגוי אשר צדקה עשה ומשפט א-לקי לא עזב ישאלוני משפטי צדק קרבת א-לקים יחפצון (נח:ב).


Or, in a normative vein: דרשו ה' בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב (נה:ו).




            Whilst in no way privy to the process, I presume this year's Forum organizers deliberated more than usual before deciding on the assignation of this topic. The argument for giving the nod to a current ben huz la'arez, appears, in certain respects, compelling. The choice of a person in whose mind the issues are fresh and vibrant, in whom the admixture of resolve and resignation – at times, even of pride and guilt – mesh, intersect, and interact within the matrix of a charged emotional present, would have infused the discussion with a vividness not readily attained in a partially retrospective, albeit empathetic, piece.


            If I was nonetheless selected, I would like to think the decision was not grounded upon possibly questionable personal qualities, but rather – even if, perhaps unwittingly – as a vehicle for establishing a point. The choice of a person who, while residing in the United States, grappled together with his wife, with the option of aliyah, who went on subsequently, to carve a niche in Israel, while retaining ties with his former bailiwick, but who never looked back in regret or reconsideration, possibly signifies the bonding power of derishat Zion. Bonding Jew and land, bonding Jew and Jew, it is the charge and prerogative of neither the Diaspora religious community, nor of the indigenous Israeli community. It is part of what links us, vertically and horizontally, with knesset Israel.


            And, I ask myself, in conclusion: Is it too presumptuous to suppose and suggest that an appreciation of the value of varied perception and perspective, is, in part, the import of a relevant gemara in Ketubot:


אמר אביי וחד מינייהו עדיף כתרי מינן אמר רבא וחד מינן כי סליק להתם עדיף כתרי מינייהו


"Abbaye," among the preeminent Babylonian amoraim, "stated: 'One of them [i.e. from Erez Israel] is superior to two of us.' Rava stated: 'And if one of us goes there, he is then superior to two of them (Ketubot 75a).'"


            I hope and trust that I am neither so vain nor so foolish as to fantasize, personally, presumed superiority to peers who have chosen to serve the Ribbono Shel Olam and to service knesset Israel within the context of continued residence in the Diaspora. And yet, without harboring illusions, I also trust that I am fully appreciative of the spiritual benefits harvested by my family and myself due to pitching our own tent on the soil of erez hakodesh.




















[1] In The Portable Matthew Arnold, ed. Lionel Trilling (New York, 1949), p. 331; widely reprinted.

[2] This is, in part, an obvious clash of pragmatic priorities. However, among the priorities concerning the recipient of zedakah, the halakhah has assigned weight to both 1) affinity to the donor, including a common local base, and 2) inherent significance and worth, including residence in Erez Israel. See Devarim 15:7 and the Sifre thereon:

באחד שעריך. יושבי עירך קודמים ליושבי עיר אחרת: בארצך. יושבי הארץ קודמין ליושבי חוץ לארץ.

This invites the obvious question of which, if any, has the upper hand in the event of a clash. To the best of my knowledge, the point is not raised in primary sources, but was discussed by later poskim. The Bah, in his comment on Tur Yoreh Deah, 251, held that aniyyei irkha should clearly be preferred, and this view was accepted by the Shakh, Yoreh Deah, 251:6, and by the Netziv in his commentary on the Sifre, ad locum. However, the Pe'at Hashulhan argues vigorously that anniyei Erez Israel should be prioritized as שבנתינתו ליושבי ארץ ישראל מקיים שתי מצוות, להחיות עניים ולקיים ישיבת ארץ ישראל (הלכות ארץ ישראל ב:כט). This position was also adopted by many nineteenth-century European poskim. See M. M. Rothschild, Ha-halukkah, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 66-85. It should be noted, however, first, that, in such a case, possibly no normative position exists and the donor may do as he wishes, as in the clash of tadir and mekudash (see Zevahim 91a and Menahot 49a and Rambam, Temidin U'musafim, 8:20 and 9:2). Secondly, these relatively extraneous factors obviously do not exist in a vacuum and other elements – particularly, the nature, character, and level of the need – must be considered as well; see Hatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, 233. Cf. also my remarks in שערי שמואל (תל אביב, תש"ס), "בענייני צדקה בארץ ישראל ובחוץ לארץ", 22-29.

[3] In this connection, it is worth noting David Shatz's observation regarding the paucity of interest in the area of mahshavah, within the Torah world, in America, as compared to Israel. See his perceptive analysis in "Remembering Marvin Fox: One Man's Legacy to Jewish Thought," Tradition, 36 (2002), 59-88.

[4] מצוה ד', ברשימת מצות העשה ששכח הרמב"ם לדעת הרמב"ן, בשולי חלק מצות העשה שבספר המצות להרמב"ם.

[5] The Ramban's position is most familiarly associated with his discussion in this locus classicus of the Sefer Hamizvot, in which it is fully elaborated, and with reference to many pesukim. However, the gist of his view is also expounded in his commentary on the most central text,

והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה כי לכם נתתי את הארץ לרשת אתה: על דעתי זו מצות עשה הוא יצוה אותם שישבו בארץ וירשו אותה כי היא נתנה להם ולא ימאסו בנחלת ה' ואלו יעלה על דעתם ללכת ולכבוש את ארץ שנער או ארץ אשור וזולתן ולהתישב שם יעברו על מצות ה'. (במדבר לג:נג)

In the course of this comment, the Ramban later evidently acknowledges that Rashi interpreted the pasuk differently. However, inasmuch as he goes on to state that his view is buttressed by many parallel pesukim, he may have intended that Rashi only disagreed with his interpretation of this particular text, but not that he rejected the Ramban's Halakhic position.

[6] See Melakhim 5:9-12

[7] This distinction is clear in the Sefer Hamizvot. However, in the passage in Bamidbar, only one goal is defined: residence, collective and/or personal, in Erez Israel.

[8] See, e.g. Tosafot Rosh, Niddah 61b

[9] See Kiddushin 36b ff., with respect to the criteria for defining which mizvot are confined to Erez Israel.

[10] Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Devarim 11:18

[11] See Keilim 1:6. The sacral character of Erez Israel bears a dual aspect. 1) Its soil and the produce thereof is subject to certain halakhot which do not apply elsewhere. 2) It is regarded as the locus of shekinah – in a sense, as an extension of mikdash – beyond the level of presence which obtains universally. This mishnah only relates to the second element.

[12] Shemot 25:8. The concept of geographic significance with respect to divine presence raises obvious questions. Just as obviously, however, it is rooted in the mainstream of Jewish tradition. Proper analysis of this problem lies, however, beyond the scope of this paper.

[13] Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 5:2. The qualifying term, kevayokhol, is included in some texts but not in all. The implications are self-evident, but, even if it is included, the formulation is far-reaching. Evaluation of this point would require extensive analysis of the substantive weight of this slippery term in various texts and contexts.

[14] Ibid. The qualification, bish'at shalom, clearly implies that the pressure of circumstance can legitimize emigration. Elsewhere, this principle is explicitly stated, with respect to dire economic straits; see Baba Bathra 90a. However, the Rambam, Melakhim 5:9, held that middat hasidut required that this dispensation not be invoked. In a similar vein, the Ramban, Bereshit 12:10, states that Avraham Avinu was judged by a higher standard and punished for moving to Egypt in time of famine. See, however, Nedarim 32a, where, by implication, this assertion appears to be rejected.

[15] Rashi, Devarim 4:28

[16] Ketubot 110b, s.v. hu.

[17] The salient issues and many of the most relevant sources are discussed in a brief, clearly biased, and nevertheless highly useful, monograph, Zvi Glatt's posthumously published מעפר קומי: ברור חובת העליה לארץ ישראל בזמן הזה (ירושלים, ללא תאריך).

[18] עיין האלף לך שלמה: שו"ת על אהע"ז, סי' קיח.

[19] עיין שו"ת אגרות משה, חלק אבן העזר, סי' קב.

[20] Megillat Esther, in the response to the Ramban's animadversion, cited above, ad locum. As noted by Glatt, pp. 57-8, there is some ambiguity and, possibly, some internal contradiction regarding the precise historical situation upon which the mizvah of aliyah is contingent.

[21] See e.g. Avnei Ezer, Yoreh Deah, 554:56. It might be noted that the attempt to neutralize Rabbenu Haym's position was taken to an extreme by the sixteenth-century posek, Rav Yosef Trani (although, obviously, for reasons very different from Avnei Nezer's). Evidently, in part, because he was scandalized by the position, and in part, on the basis of comparison with texts of other rishonim, he contended that the text of the Tosafot was not genuinely Rabbenu Haym's but, rather, a later interpolation. See Sh'eylot U'teshuvot Maharit, Yoreh Deah, 2:28. It has, however, been noted that his father, Rav Mosheh Trani, in his Sh'eylot U'teshuvot Mabit, 1:245, had clearly assumed the text was genuine.

[22] Pesakim, 88

[23] Bereshit 23:4. For an exposition of this phrase, see the Rav's Hamesh Derashot (Jerusalem, 1974), pp. 48-52.

[24] I have a clear recollection of the content of this comment, but, regrettably, am presently unable to recall or trace its source.

[25] See his comment at the end of Pesahim, in the Rif, to explain why the brachah of sheheheyanu  is not recited in conjunction with sefirat ha'omer.

[26] Rosh Hashanah 30a. The mishnah's assertion is predicated on the assumption that, mi'd'oraitha, the mizvah of lulav obtains for all seven days of Sukkot in mikdash, as it is to this that the "rejoicing before Hashem," cited in Vayikra 23:20, refers, and not, as interpreted by a contrary view in the Yerushalmi, Sukkah 3:11, to additional karbanot shelamim.

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