Your recent response regarding vacations to Israel was very interesting. However, my situation is the very opposite. I live in Israel and would like to take my kids this summer to Disney World. Is there any problem with this?
I am glad you are asking a rabbi in regards to your question about traveling outside of Israel; a matter that many people seem to feel is unrelated to Jewish law. On several occasions, I have discussed this question with many of Jerusalem’s leading rabbis, including HaRav Avraham Shapiro, Israel’s former Chief Rabbi. We previously mentioned that a Jew should always live in the land of Israel . The Rambam states that a person is permitted to temporarily leave the land in order to marry, learn Torah, for business, or to rescue Jewish property from the gentiles. With a smile, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would often tell his students that since there are an abundance of fine Jewish women in Israel, and since Israel is now the Torah center of the world, those two reasons for temporarily leaving the land are no longer relevant. I once asked Rabbi Kook if I could return to America to visit my parents in Maryland, in accord with the ruling in the Mishna Berurah that one is permitted to leave Israel, “for business purposes and to visit a friend, which is considered a mitzvah, in contrast to just touring which is forbidden.” Rabbi Kook answered that this ruling in the Mishna Berurah was very difficult to understand, since in his understanding of the Rambam, only those life-depending mitzvot like finding a wife, Torah study, saving Jews and making a livelihood are strong enough reasons for leaving the land. The Shulchan Orach emphasizes the prohibition of traveling for pleasure outside the land in no uncertain terms by saying, “One is not allowed to leave the Land of Israel in order to go touring.” Some of the reasons behind this prohibition can be learned from the Talmud, which states, “It is not permitted to leave the land of Israel for the Diaspora.” The Rashbam explains that by leaving the land, a Jew cuts himself from the many commandments that can only be performed in Israel. The Ramban explains that the main fulfillment of all of the commandments (not only those which are dependent on the land) occurs when they are performed in the land of Israel. Thus in leaving the land, a Jew is falling in the level of his mitzvah observance. Our Sages teach that outside of the Land, the commandments are imposed as a way of reminder, so that they we will know how to keep them when we return to Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook heard from the Chofetz Chaim himself that a commandment performed in Israel is twenty times greater than the same commandment performed outside of the land. He taught that the intrinsic holiness of the land itself uplifted a Jew’s observance of Torah to sublime levels unattainable anywhere else. Often Rabbi Kook would recall the Sifre that states: “It is related that Rabbi Eliezar, the son of Shamua, was walking together with Rabbi Yochanan, the shoemaker, on their way (out from the Land of Israel) to the city of Nitzivim, the city of Rabbi Yehuda ben Batara, in order to learn Torah from him. When they reached Sidon, they remembered the land of Israel. They lifted their eyes toward heaven, wept profusely, and tore their garments proclaiming the verse, `And you shall inherit them and dwell in their land.’ They immediately stopped their journey and returned to their homes, saying ‘The dwelling in Israel is equivalent to all of the commandments of the Torah.’” Interestingly, when I asked Rabbi Shapiro if I could lead a group of students on a tour of the Sinai Peninsula to Mount Sinai, he answered, “Of course. After all it is a part of the land of Israel.” So too, in the years when traveling to Jordan was safe, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Bet-El, encouraged his students to take field trips there, since Jordan is also a part of Biblical Israel. In light of the above, leaving the land of Israel should not be seen as a vacation, but rather as a punishment for those who disobey the will of G-d. The exile (having to leave the land of Israel) was the ultimate punishment decreed on the Jews, superseding even the destruction of the temple, may it be rebuilt soon in our time. These comments should be the basis of an Israeli’s decision where to plan his summer vacation. Certainly, a person’s natural orientation should be a great love and longing for the land, like the love of our ancestors, “The greatest of all rabbis would kiss the borders of the land of Israel, and kiss its boulders and roll upon its dust, as it says, ‘For your servants sought after its stones, and its dust they shall love.’” Nonetheless, if there are extenuating health or psychological reasons for a visit outside of the land, a rabbi should be consulted. ------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. Rambam, Laws of Kings, 5:12. 2. Ibid, 5:9. 3. Mishna Berurah, 531:14 4. Shulchan Orach, 531:4. 5. Baba Batra 81A. 6. Rashbam, there. 7. Ramban, Supplement to Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Mitzvah 4. 8. Sifre, Ekev, 11:18. Also Rashi, Deut. 11:18. Also, Ramban, there. 9. Torat Eretz Yisrael, The Teachings of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, 10. Lights on Orot, Eretz Yisrael, Chapters 1 and 2. 11. Sifre, Reah, 28. 12. Rambam, Laws of Kings 5:10.