For most of us who were raised as orthodox Jews in America, Eretz Yisrael was far from being a central topic on the agenda or list of priorities in our Jewish education.
Indeed, there is plenty of room to give the benefit of the doubt and say that Aliyah was not mentioned because it, by definition, weakens American Orthodoxy in quantity and quality by removing many of the most idealistic and altruistic members from each community. If "American Orthodoxy" is the goal of Judaism than, it is true, Aliyah is not the solution but rather a self-defeating part of the problem.
On the other hand, as orthodox Jews, undoubtably all agree that the Jewish community in America is temporary and that they not only yearn for, but actually believe, that all Jews will return to Israel in their own lifetime. As such, they cannot see the ultimate goal as vitalizing "American" Orthodoxy but rather strengthening the entire Nation (State) of Israel (where we all will inevitably be).
In fact, our sages tell us that practicing mitzvot in the galut is not the goal of Judaism (even while in exile) but just a preparation
so that we don’t forget how to observe them when we return home,
to Israel. 1
As is often the case, the rabbis here are not innovating but rather embellishing explicit psukim: "øàä ìîãúé àúëí çå÷éí åîùôèéí... ìòùåú ëï á÷øá äàøõ àùø àúí áàéí ùîä ìøùúä", "Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances...to do in the Land where you are going to possess". 2
Clearly all mitzvot are meant to be observed in Israel. Being in America is a temporary punishment and surely not a goal, "îôðé çèàðå âìéðå îàøöðå", "Because we sinned we were exiled from our Land", 3
as a naughty child is sent from his father’s table. 4
Nevertheless, our eyes and our hearts (and as soon as possible, ourselves) were always meant to be in Israel.
For believing Jews, the very planning of an agenda for the next century, implies a feeling of continuance in America which infers a lack of belief in Hashem (as a swift redeemer), in the Torah (which states that "Among these nations (in exile) you shall find no ease neither shall the your foot find a place to rest"), 5
in the speedily coming of Mashiach, in Am Yisrael (implying that we do not and will not do t’shuva to merit redemption, 6
nor will we fulfill the mitzva of Aliya in our days),chas v’chalila.
I am not so naive as to think that "in the meantime" as long as there are Jews in America we don’t need a strategic assessment and plan of action for the future. What I am suggesting is that priority number one in that plan of action should be the pragmatic, religious, historical, and inevitable solution to most of the problems facing the orthodox in the galut, namely: Aliyah.
a. First and foremost, to be orthodox means to observe the mitzvot, one of which is living in Eretz Yisrael. "åäåøùúí àú äàøõ åéùáúí áä", "You shall possess the Land and dwell there". 7
Not only is it a mitzva but our sages laud it as one of the most important and basic of all commandments: "Residing in Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to the rest of the mitzvot combined" 8
. It is "the peg upon which the entire Torah hangs", 9
a mitzva which "encompasses the entire Torah". 10
All this in addition to the mind-boggling fact that this is the only mitzva which one can fulfill whether at work or in the Beit Midrash, whether standing,sitting or jogging, every second of his life he accumulates another mitzva. 11
If "whoever lives outside of Eretz Yisrael is as if he has no G-d", 12
and "is as if he worships idols", 13
as opposed to "whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is promised a share in the World to Come", 14
"is without sin", 15
and Hashem tells us that " Eretz Yisrael is more beloved to Me than anything", 16
I should think that this spiritual void should top the religious agenda
b. How much more is it crucial to emphasize this all-important mitzva if many, even orthodox Jews, are not aware of its centrality to Judaism. When any particular mitzva is being neglected, it is the obligation of that generation and its leaders to "save" the forgotten mitzva. 17
For 2,000 years, while our deserted Homeland was lacking in water, food and economy, this mitzva was obviously removed from the practical agenda and placed in the forgotten warehouse for all intents and purposes (despite the many prayers instituted for that very reason, to prevent forgetting Zion). Nevertheless, just as the day school movement "saved" mitzvat Talmud Torah, and individuals like the Chafetz Chaim and Max Schreiber single-handedly "revived" the respective mitzvot of Shmirat HaLashon and Mikveh, so too today, when 6,000,000 citizens prove that Israel is once again inhabitable, the time has come to return this mitzva to the practical agenda of the Torah observant.
c. Aside from the fundamental and constant mitzva of living in Israel in unto itself, Aliyah enables us to observe hosts of other mitzvot,
as well. The 58 agricultural mitzvot hatluyot baAretz, speaking Hebrew, 18
counting the days of the week around Shabbat (éåí øàùåï, éåí ùðé åëå') and not by the names of pagan gods, 19
milchemet mitzva (serving in the Israeli army 20
), not to mention the fact that the many (and fundamentally important) obligations áéï àãí ìçáøå(between fellow Jews) can and must be applied to each and every person in the street, any operator on the phone, and every person waiting on those never-ending lines in the bank. 21
Even my all-too-high income and sales tax in Israel fulfill the mitzva of tzedakah, 22
paying for the medical, educational, health, security, religious, social and economic needs of our fellow Jews in a much more direct and beneficial way than any donation to the UJA , JNF, or Israeli Bonds.
Even though many Jews like to justify their residence in chutz laAretz, claiming they can donate more from there (even though that is not an halachic factor, nevertheless) the average Israeli tax-payer donates a much higher percentage of his income and his time to the Jewish people than his brother in the exile. When I spend three weeks a year away from home in miluim (army reserve duty), not to mention several years regular service in the army, I can honestly and proudly say that I have chosen for myself a most altruistic (or should I say: "Jewish") place to live. If one of the problem of today’s "Me Generation" is self-centerdness, may I suggest Aliyah as the practical solution. When my children discuss their future plans, the question is not whether to dedicate a week or a month or a year of their lives to Am Yisrael but whether to spend one, two or three years(!) in the army or Sherut LeUmi (national service for religious girls). As I write these words, I cannot but think of the greatness of the soldier who gave his life this morning to save a school-bus of children from a suicide bomber in Gush Katif.
I revel in the altruistic framework of life in a Jewish State
where çñã ùì àîú (selfless giving) is an essential part of every (whether religious or not) Jew’s life as is mandated by the Torah. Some may see this aspect of Aliyah as a frightful deterrent. All I can answer is that if altruism and giving to Am Yisrael is not a top priority on your agenda than you’re in the wrong religion! For the orthodox Jew, altruism (which also includes lowering one’s standard of living, if necessary, in order to make Aliyah 23
) and serving in the army is a reason to live in Israel, and surely not a deterrent. 24
Ours is not just a religion of ritual but also, and no less important, is our attempt to emulate the midot (traits) of Hashem
, of which altruism is a central theme, and the very reason of creation. 25
d. In addition to this essential, as well as quantitative advantage to living in Israel (many more mitzvot), we mentioned above that even the mitzvot that can
be observed abroad (such as T’filin, M’zuza, Shabbat) have a qualitative difference
when done in the Holy Land. The Chafetz Chaim says that the very same mitzva when done outside of Israel, brings only 5% of the reward one receives for its observance in Israel, where it is meant to be done. 26
e. How much more so is Aliyah important in our particular generation
which is witnessing the prophetic fulfillment of kibbutz galuyot
. At a time when Yishayahu, Yirmeyahu, Yechezkel, Rachel and all of our forefathers in heaven delight in every traffic jam and those ever so long lines at Ben-Gurion airport, what observant Jew can stand by passively and not wish to be part of the national redemption?
Our rabbis sress that every historical period has one particular mitzva
which takes upon special importance and through which that generation’s Torah and spirituality must be focused and expressed. 27
At different stages in history, the evil decrees of the gentiles, for example: forbidding the study of Torah, circumcision, mikveh, kiddush haChodesh (the Jewish calendar)- although often motivated more by political or imperialistic aspirations rather than religious zeal- 28
forced us to focus upon that specific issue, even granting it the status of "ééäøâ åàì éòáåø" (obligating death rather than transgression) for that particular period. 29 "In the advent of (this, our) messianic age, this central point is Eretz Yisrael."
Accordingly, it is no surprise that in today’s age of world-wide religious freedom, the only mitzva which any nation wishes to deny us is the Moslem "Jihad" (Holy War") against the return of the nation of Israel to Eretz Yisrael. The famed rabbi of Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Chessed neighborhood, Rav Ya’akov Moshe Charlap zt’l, wrote more than 50 years ago, that the international efforts to prevent our return to the entire Eretz Yisrael are meant to focus world Jewry upon Israel as the top priority of our generation
This obligates us, if necessary, even to give our lives
for the sake of her defense. 31
How much more so must we be willing to make Aliyah, which calls for a much smaller degree of self-sacrifice, mainly, just lowering one’s standard of living.
The mitzva of living in Israel in all its aforementioned importance, would be even if there was, G-d forbid, a lacking in religious life. 32
How much more so today, where, for the first time in 1800 years, the Torah center of the world
has clearly returned to the Holy Land. The estimated 1,000,000 orthodox Jews in Israel 33
number almost three times (!) the size of the estimated 370,000 (and shrinking) observant Jews in America, 34
and considerably surpasses the total of all religious Jews in all of the exiles combined! From all around the world and all streams of orthodoxy, those who wish to learn in yeshiva, be close to g’dolei hador, and live in a Torah environment today, come to Israel. The high standards and great variety and diversity of thousands of yeshivot and ulpanot for boys and girls, men and women, (over 600 in Jerusalem alone), booming religious youth movements, and the quantity and quality of religious communities is not found anywhere else. The all-encompassing atmosphere of Torah and chesed found in Kiryat Moshe, Kiryat Sefer, Har Nof, Bnei Brak, Emmanuel, Mattersdorf , Ge’ula and scores of other religious neighborhoods is seldom found, if at all, in the Diaspora. Not to mention the multitude of religious-Zionist kehilot such as Beit El, Elon Moreh, Alon Shvut, Kochav HaShachar, Nof Ayalon and Ramat Sharret, as well as religious kibbutzim and moshavim all of which have no parallel whatsoever in America nor elsewhere.
Yeshivot, g’dolei Torah, and anshei midot (righteous) abound today in Ramat Gan, Petach Tikva and Tel Aviv and there are kollelim sprouting even in Eilat, Haifa and places thought in the past to be bastions of the non-religious. If some rabbis in America have suggested "importing" g’dolim from Israel because the atmosphere in Israel is more conducive for producing Torah giants, 35
may I suggest alternatively that a more successful and far-reaching option would be to utilize that positive atmosphere by residing and raising all of our children in Israel!
The Rambam writes about the obligation to live in a Jewish State
and not in a non-Jewish State. 36
Indeed, everyone is influenced by his environment, and therefore must decide by whom he is to be influenced- by Jews and Judaism or by gentiles and their religions. Orthodox Jews in America will always be a "minority among a minority." As such, they will inevitably be influenced more than they influence, will be like the goyim instead of being an Or La Goyim. I think it tragic that the orthodox minority among a minority (comprising a pitiful 7% of American Jewry which itself is just 2% of the national population!) 37
could be living as a significant segment among the Jewish majority in a Jewish State where the average person (i.e. most people)
sits in a sukkah (76%), 38
fasts on Yom Kippur (67%), always light Chanukah candles (71%) and Shabbat candles with a bracha (51%), 39
intermarriage is nil, and the Ba’al T’shuva movement is a national phenomena.
515,000 Israelis, comprising 17% of the adult population, report having come significantly closer to religion during the past six years, of which 212,000 have become totally observant and 280,000 have become more traditional, 77% consider themselves as religious or more so compared their parents. 40
In contrast, the overwhelming majority of Jews in America not only are less
observant than their parents, but 64% even intermarry!). 41
The ba’alei tshuva one occasionally sees in America are an optical illusion due to their "high visability", while statistically their numbers are unfortunately insignificant and have no influence on the overall picture. 42
There is a common condescending stereotype prevalent among Jews in America (and so I admittedly thought as a child), that Israelis are less religious. This slanderous generalization (probably carried over from the days when Mapai ruled the country, or based upon negative association with yordim- Israelis who left the country, usually in pursuit of economic prosperity- who are by no means whatsoever representative of Israeli society, or simply as a result of a disappointing comparison with a wishful, utopian Holy Land) is sometimes mentioned as a deterrent from making Aliyah. This misrepresentation is nothing short of laughably outdated (if it was ever true at all) in today’s Israel where 40% of the army’s front-line soldiers and 45% of the officer’s wear kipot. 43
Aside from the many communities in Israel which are 100% orthodox (as compared to Monsey, Williamsburg, and Boro Park which have many non-religious and even many non-Jews!), America or even New York will never come close to 1/4 of the citizens, or even the Jews being observant- much less have Judaism as the official religion! Whichever way you look, whether comparing religious leaders, communities, or on a state or surely a national level, whether measuring quantity, quality, or percentage, it is clear to all that religious life in Israel today is on all counts stronger and growing faster than anywhere else in the world. Thank G-d we have seen that from Zion already comes Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem, and "àéï úåøä ëúåøú àøõ éùøàì", "There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel". 44
f. Even if there are individual fairly orthodox communities in America, there is a significant difference if one’s Jewish environment is national
or merely communal
. It is clear from the Torah that the natural status
of Am Yisrael is when we all live together in a Jewish State in Israel, as it was in the past (as is clear from the Tanach, the Second Commonwealth, and the Maccabean and Bar Kochva revolts) and as we are told will be fron now on and forever. Not only your neighbors, but your language (Lashon Hakodesh), army (Tziv’ot Hashem 45
), coin (Shekel HaKodesh), and even mud and rocks 46
should be holy, as well. Only in Israel is the issue of when to begin and end the national daylight savings time dependent on leil haseder and slichot (Rosh Chodesh Elul for the sfaradim). Only here is it illegal
to sell chametz on Pesach and on that week the government subsidizes potatoes instead of bread. Only in a Jewish State will a cook be sentenced to 28 days in jail for baking pizza in an army oven which is designated for meat! When it is not our state, who would even dream of asking the Jews for our opinion on such issues?
Another point to consider: Just as the entire Jewish community in America unites in action if, G-d forbid, a Jewish child is missing or orphaned, if a chasid is stabbed, or if a fire consumes a Jewish home, in our natural status in a Jewish State, every kidnapping or stabbing, every fire, or personal tragedy one hears or reads about, is meant to unite us all in constant, non-stop chessed. It is a difficult challenge but that is the framework the Torah clearly has in mind!
g. Kiddush Hashem, Or LaGoyim, Tikun Olam are all some of the goals of the Jewish people. Even a brief glance at these terms in the context of their sources, 47
will reveal that our main influence upon mankind is meant to be implemented not as individuals but as a national example in the framework of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel. There are plenty of righteous individuals found in every nation, but our role is to show that an entire nation, which includes the lower class as well as the affluent, the more educated and the less, the white collar and blue collar, can all live according to the G-dly ideals as the law of the land. 48
Even the public domain, the army, politics, and economy are meant to be kodesh, 49
as our sages teach: "ìéú àúø ôðåé îéðéä", no domain can be without Him. 50
Our ideal heroes throughout the Tanach, Moshe, Yehoshua, the Judges, Shaul, David, Shlomo, et al, were not only great scholars and righteous individuals but they also brought G-dliness into the government, army, economy and all national life. Israel was created to show G-d to the world through our national history 51
(the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Sinai, prophecy, the conquering of the Land and subsequent victories over invaders, our eternal survival despite difficult exiles, and in modern times: the miraculous War of Independence, Six Day War, the turn-around of the Yom Kippur War, the Entebbe operation, the ingathering of the exiles, the blooming of our deserted Homeland and other prophecies which have been fulfilled) and national example: "îîìëú ëäðéí åâåé ÷ãåù", "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation". 52
To relate only to the individual "influencer" and to forget our national role and destiny would be a tragic neglect and misunderstanding of Judaism.
Consequently, in response to the question, how the orthodox can influence without the danger of being influenced, and to what extent should we mix or separate from the gentiles and the modern world, as we have seen, the Torah provides the answer. By living together in a Jewish State, we can have the gentiles come here
where we have the"home-court" advantage
,("Gentiles will come to Z’vulun’s land to do business...and they will say, once we have traveled so far, let us go visit Jerusalem and learn about the Jewish religion...after which they will declare: There is no nation as great as Israel." 53
Alternatively, we can visit briefly abroad. In such a setup, we are separate enough to be atmospherically, socially, and religiously concentrated, and strong enough to be respected and recognized as a separate and unique national entity which will, in turn, bestow our special message to mankind. As such, assimilation and intermarriage will be just about eliminated, as it is in Israel today. On the contrary, "assimilation" in the Israeli context means the returning of Russian, Albanian, Romanian, American, Etheopian, and Uzbekistanian Jews to give up their alien lands, languages, names, and non-Jewish customs and holidays in exchange for those of their fathers’. 54 HISTORICALLY:
Hundreds of leading rabbis, poskim, and roshei yeshivot over the past century have unequivocally and confidently proclaimed our current State of Israel to be part of the final redemption (especially significant in light of the obvious historical dangers of such a daring statement). 55
Consequently, most congregations declare weekly in their Prayer for the Welfare of Israel: "Bless the State of Israel, reishit tz’michat ge’ulatenu" ( the dawn of our redemption). After seeing the desert of Israel bloom, the miraculous turnaround within three years from Holocaust victim to valorous victor, the rise and meteoric development of the State, the gathering of over 5,000,000 Jews from literally all corners of the world, from ….. countries and speaking …. languages, and much more, the aforementioned statement is an irreversible historic fact, 56
seen not only by current religious leaders but by historians, demographers and political analysts as well.
Among the Jews in America, the high rate of intermarriage (64%) and assimilation (statistically, only 7% are orthodox, numbering just 370,000, out of which -unless things change-58% will not remain so and 10% will even intermarry), and the low Jewish birthrate (1.6 children per family far lower than even the replacement rate of 2.1) mean that in just two generations (not a long time by any standard), 7 out of every 10 Jews in America will vanish (from 5.5 million to less than 2 million). 57
Just as nothing can revive the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and the Arabic countries, nothing can stop the rapid evaporation through assimilation of western Jewry. Within several years (if not already), 58 Israel will pass the U.S. to become the largest Jewish community in the world
for the first time since the exile of the Ten Tribes 2,700 years ago. Within our lifetime, the majority of world Jewry will be living in Israel, 59 and as for the orthodox, most are already here
. The "snowball effect", may hasten the historical and religious inevitable even more, forcing Diaspora’s remaining Jews to decide within the near future whether they wish to be with the Jewish people (by making Aliyah) or not (by staying in exile).
From a historic and statistic (I stress, not religious, messianic or wishful) point of view, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer writes: "Today, 80% of world Jewry lives either in the U.S. or in Israel. Today we have a bipolar Jewish universe with two centers of gravity of approximately equal size. It is a transitional stage, however. One star is gradually dimming, the other brightening
. Soon and inevitably the cosmology of the Jewish people will have transformed again, turning into a single-star system with a dwindling Diaspora orbiting around. It will be a return to the ancient norm: The Jewish people will be
centered- not just spiritually but physically- in their ancient homeland." 60
In light of the religious, historical, logical and may I add, inevitable, importance of Aliyah, most other topics on the possible agenda for the "Next One Hundred Years of American Orthodoxy" seem secondary if not academic. With all due respect to building yeshivot and strengthening orthodoxy in America, it is still, in the words of the Torah giant HaRav Ovadiah Yosef, like building a palace on ice. 61
Although one may argue, that in a world of nuclear weapons, the concentration of all Jews in Israel may seem risky, the religious mitzva of Aliyah, the historical visions and promises of our Biblical prophets and sages (that tell us that once 600,000 Jews return, there will not be another exile), 62
and l’havdil, the harsh reality of assimilation (yes, even among the orthodox), do not leave us much choice. The time of decision has arrived for the final time in Jewish history, "îé ìä' àìé," Those who are for G-d will come Home, to Israel.