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The Chalutzim and life-threatening danger


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Sivan 10, 5781
In the 1900s many pioneers came to Israel to settle the land. Many went to previously inhospitable areas to make them hospitable and dealt with a plethora of unsafe conditions. Halachically would it be ok to put oneself in a life-threatening situation to settle Israel (such as getting malaria, something that can dramatically reduce how long someone lives)?
If it was definite danger, say in a location where the rate of malaria was close to 100%, in the midst of an epidemic, then it would be prohibited and in that situation, one should live, at least temporarily, in a locale in Israel where it would be safer. On the other hand, that's really rare, and in most cases, one could and should take a small risk in order to do a mitzvah, and it's not considered the prohibition of endangering one's self, see R. Tarfon and the Tiferet Yisrael (Brachot 1, 3), who cites R. Akiva (Eruvin 21b) who used the water he had for netilat yada'im, and relied on the guards in jail who would bring him more water. The Pitchei Tshuva (Y.D. 157, 3) cites this as halacha, as long as it's not a high risk. That's even for regular mitzvot, but for the mitzva of settling the Land of Israel, one is obligated to take even higher risks, e.g. for conquering and protecting Israel, we must even give our lives, if necessary. Obviously, the individual isn't allowed to "commit suicide" by living in Ramallah, and in truth, that usually wouldn't even be beneficial to the goal of settling the Land, but if it's just a suspicion of danger ("mi'ut matzui") it's allowed even for making a living! We find in the Talmud people climbing trees and working in jobs with certain risks (Bava Metzia 112). R. Yehuda HaLevi summarizes his Sefer Hakuzari, that if people take risks for money (in those days, boat travel for business was dangerous and that much more in the time of the Talmud), how much more so you should for mitzvot, and how much more so for settling the Land of Israel (Sefer HaKuzari 5, 23), which is equated with the rest of the mitzvot combined (Sifre Dvarim, 12). When Avraham Avinu came to Israel it was surely a risk, as it was for the 300 Ba'alei Tosafot who braved the dangerous boat journey 700 years ago to make aliya. Our sages teach that the Land of Israel is one of the three great gifts that God granted us but we must acquire through hardship, more than other mitzvot (Brachot 5a). Similarly, for most positive mitzvot one must only expend 10% to observe, but for learning Torah and living in Israel, we must expend much more (in both time and effort), and lower our life-standard (as long as one won't actually become a beggar, see: We know for example that R. Y.Ch. Zonnenfeld would davka walk to the Kotel through the Shchem Gate, which was relatively dangerous, in the name of the mitzva to conquer Eretz Yisrael. In short, what the chalutzim/pioneers did was very highly commendable and a great mitzva, except perhaps if there was a rare extreme cases, where danger was definite.
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