The Mitzvah of Settling in the Land of Israel – Part I
The recent dramatic increase in anti-Semitism and violent attacks on Jewish communities in North America and abroad has stirred much discussion and debate regarding Aliyah. But is there a mitzvah to settle in the Land of Israel? And does that Mitzvah apply today? Over the next several weeks we will explore this important topic together in these pages.
The mitzvah of settling in the Land of Israel finds expression in several areas of Jewish Law, among them: Divorce, Avadim, Shabbat, Kibbud Av Va’Em, and Mezuzah.
The Mishnah (Ketubot 13:11) teaches that one may compel his or her spouse to ascend to the Land of Israel, but no one may compel a spouse to leave the Land. The Talmud explains that refusal to comply is grounds for divorce and, in such a case, the compensation stipulated in the Ketubah is forfeited by the offending party (Ketubot 110b). This is also extended to moving to a lesser-quality domicile in the Land of Israel. In this case, the Halacha sides with the party who wants to move to Israel, or remain there, because of the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling the Land of Israel.
This concept applies to Avadim (indentured servants) as well (See Ketubot 110b). A servant too can compel his master to move to Israel, since he “is obligated to keep all of the Mitzvot that women must keep, and they too are commanded to dwell in the Land” (Ran quoting Ra’avad in his commentary to the Rif, Ketubbot 65b, s.v. la’atuyei avadim). Alternatively, should the master want to leave Israel, the servant is not required to leave with him. The servant is freed rather than being sold into servitude outside of the Land. And should he flee from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel, the servant is not returned to his master. The Rambam adds that these laws are in effect at all times, even when the Land is in not under Jewish sovereignty (Hil. Avadim 8:9).
According to Rabbinic Law, a Jew may not ask for, nor directly benefit from, work done by a non-Jew on Shabbat. The Talmud teaches, however, that one may ask a non-Jew to write a contract on his behalf in order to purchase land in Israel (Gittin 8b; Cf. Bava Kamma 80b). Tosafot emphasizes that this leniency is limited to the mitzvah of settling the Land, due to the great significance of this mitzvah (Gittin 8b, s.v. af al gav; Bava Kamma 80b, s.v. omer l’nochri). The Talmud Yerushalmi even compares the acquisition of land in Israel to the conquest of Jericho, which took place on Shabbat (Mo’ed Katan 2:4).
The Sages prohibited travel on Friday, lest one desecrate the Sabbath (Shabbat 19a). The Shulhan Aruch rules however that if one is ascending to the Land of Israel and his caravan is leaving on Friday, he may join together with them because of the Mitzvah of dwelling in the Land (OC 248:4). While this leniency would apply to other mitzvot as well, the Magen Avraham (ad Loc.) extends this even to one who ascends “with intent to return, as walking even four cubits in the Land of Israel is a Mitzvah.”
Kibbud Av Va’Em
So central is the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents in our tradition, it is one of the Ten Commandments. Yet a child must not listen to a parent if he or she asks the child to violate the Torah (Yevamot 6a; Bava Metzia 32a). This applies to Rabbinic Mitzvot as well (Rambam, Hil. Mamrim 6:12). There is discussion in the Responsa Literature as to whether one may make Aliyah against his/her parents’ wishes. Maharam of Rothenburg writes that the Mitzvah of ascending to the Land of Israel takes precedence: “You have asked whether a father may prevent his son from ascending to the Land of Israel. Since we maintain that it is a Mitzvah to ascend, and it is written, ‘I am the Lord,’ [this teaches] one may not listen [to a parent, if commanded to violate] any mitzvah, for Hashem’s honor takes precedence” (Teshuvot Maharam Bar Baruch, Berlin edition, no. 79).
Similar rulings are found in the Teshuvot of Rav Moshe di Trani and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. While Rav Shimon ben Tzemach Duran writes that one may indeed leave the Land of Israel for Kibbud Av Va’Em, some explain this exemption is only temporary, and on condition that he return.
While one who rents a home in the Diaspora has thirty days to affix a mezuzah, in Israel the mezuzah must be affixed immediately “because of [the mitzvah] settling the Land of Israel” (Menachot 44a). Some conclude that this too serves as proof that the mitzvah of settling in the Land of Israel applies at all times (See, for example, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, “Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael B’zman Ha-Zeh,” Torah She-Ba’al Peh 11, 5729, p. 38).
Next week we will explore the view of the Rambam on the mitzvah to settle in the Land of Israel.