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Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah: Holy? Or Wholly Inappropriate?

Written by Rabbi Nadel, 15/9/2019

 Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah: Holy? Or Wholly Inappropriate?

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims travel from the State of Israel and flock to the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov for Rosh Hashanah. Just last year, an estimated 30,000+ Jews gathered together in Uman, Ukraine, making it the largest event involving Israelis abroad, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

But is it permissible for one to leave Eretz Yisrael to pray at the graves of Tzadikim in Chutz La'aretz?

According to the Rambam, it is prohibited for one to leave the Land of Israel. He writes: "It is forbidden for one to leave the Land of Israel for the Diaspora at all times, except to study Torah, to marry, or to save [one's property] from the gentiles, and then he must return to the Land. Similarly, [one may leave] to do business..." (Hilchot Melachim 5:9).

However, the Rambam's source is unclear. Upon further inspection, it would appear that the Talmud limits this prohibition to Kohanim. 

The Talmud (Shabbat 14b), teaches that Yose ben Yoezer and Yose ben Yochanan decreed impurity on the ‘Lands of the Nations,’ i.e. all the land outside of the Land of Israel.   In his commentary to Ohalot (2:3), Rambam explains that the reason for this decree was that the gentiles were not careful to mark their graves. All of Chutz La'aretz therefore has a status of Tumah De'rabanan, rabbinic impurity, just like a Beit HaPras, a field of graves that was plowed under and is suspected to contain human remains. A Kohen is rabbinically prohibited from leaving the Land of Israel and entering the Diaspora, as it is impure. But the Talmud (Avoda Zara 13a) states that a Kohen can go to Chutz La'aretz for a court case, and pass through a Beit HaPras in order to fulfill a mitzvah, like marrying a woman or studying Torah. These conditions override the rabbinic prohibition.

While it is questionable whether the prohibition applies only to Kohanim or to all Jews as the Rambam rules, other passages in the Talmud suggest that leaving the Land of Israel is not permitted (See Gittin 76b; Kiddushin 31b; Ketuvot 111a; Bava Batra 91a-91b; Mo'ed Katan 13b-14a and Rosh, ad Loc, based on the Raavad and the Yerushalmi). 

The Rashbam (Bava Batra 91b) explains that is is prohibited to leave Eretz Yisrael, when one leaves he exempts himself from the many mitzvot tied to the Land. The Lechem Mishnah (Hilchot Melachim 5:12) explains that the prohibition stems from the inherent holiness of the Land. According to the Ramban (Bamidbar 33:53), the prohibition is based on the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel.

But the Maharit (Kiddushin 31b) rules that the prohibition in leaving the Land of Israel is only if the intent is to settle permanently in the Diaspora. Based on this, many authorities are lenient regarding visits abroad (See Shevet Halevi 5:173; Yechave Da'at 5:57; Tzitz Eliezer 11:94, 14:72; Magen Avrohom 531:7; Tashbetz 3:288;). 

However, all authorities - even those who are stringent like the Rambam - agree that it is permissible to leave the Land of Israel for the sake of a mitzvah.

The Sde Chemed (Ma'arechet Eretz Yisrael, 1) and Sha'arei Teshuvah (Orach Chayim 568:20) consider praying at the graves of Tzadikim to be a mitzvah that justifies leaving the Land of Israel.

But the Pitchei Teshuvah (Yoreh De'ah 372:2) rules that praying at the graves of Tzadikim is not considered a mitzvah. Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook too questioned if indeed it is a mitzvah, and   ruled that it is not proper to leave the Land of Israel to visit the graves of Tzadikim. He asked, "Are not the Tzadikim of the Land of Israel the greatest, without comparison? How can one even suggest that it is a mitzvah to leave to Chutz La'aretz for this purpose?" (Mishpat Kohen, 147). 

For those with families, family life is another consideration. Part of the mitzvah of Simchat Yom Tov is to make one's wife and the members of his family happy (Pesachim 109a). And the mitzvah of Simchat Yom Tov applies on Rosh Hashanah as well (See Shulchan Orach, Orach Chayim 597:1, and Mishnah Berurah, ad Loc.). One considering traveling to Uman for his own personal spiritual experience should consider how it will affect his family. 

In addition, recent years have seen anti-Semitic incidents and even violent attacks from the locals. In 2010, Shmuel Menachem Tubol, a 19 year old from Jerusalem, was stabbed to death following an altercation with locals. 

And while hard to imagine, it has also been reported that some of the revelers - a small minority - engage in drunkenness, drug-use, and other unsavory behavior, resulting in serious Torah prohibitions and tremendous Chilul Hashem.

Today, the State of Israel sends members of its own police force to protect - and police - the pilgrims.

It is well known that   Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encouraged his followers to visit his grave on Rosh Hashanah. He is also reported to have said that any individual who visits his grave, gives a Perutah to Tzedakah in his merit, and recites the 10 Chapers of Tehillim that make up the Tikkun Klali, Rebbe Nachman will personally intervene on the individual's behalf, even pulling them out of Gehennom by his peyot!  

But it is also well known that Rebbe Nachman was a great lover of the Land of Israel. He   famously said, "Everywhere I go - I am on my way to Eretz Yisrael!" He visited Israel in 1798 at great personal expense and self-sacrifice. According to his primary student, Rebbe Nosson of Nemirov, this short-trip had a profound impact on Rebbe Nachman, and afterwards his very teachings took on new depth.

His followers say that the grave-site of Rebbe Nachman has the same spiritual status of the Land of Israel (See Likutei Etzot, Inyan Eretz Yisrael 20), but now that the Jewish People have returned to their borders and ancestral homeland, perhaps even Rebbi Nachman would instruct his followers to stay in Israel for Rosh Hashanah rather than travel to the Ukraine.

Among the contemporary authorities who oppose traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah are Rav Shalom Yosef Elyashiv zt"l, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt"l, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l, Rav Yaakov Ariel, Rav Dov Lior, Rav Moshe Zuriel, Rav Eliyahu Zini, and Rav Shlomo Aviner.

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