Shalom. I first must admire your objectivity and search for truth even when it's uncomfortable and opposed to peer pressure. The legend (aggadita) there (Ktuvot 111b) is not halachic, but a story with a moral, and the anti-Zionist explanation is one possible extrapolation of the Satmar Rebbe and not necessarily the pshat. It says that upon going to exile we promised not to rebel against the gentile nations, and not to “rise up on the wall”, and the gentiles swore that they won’t oppress us too much. Rashi explains that not to “rise up on the wall” means that we promised not to rise up as one and take the Land of Israel by force “before it’s time”. The Satmar rebbe considers this an anti-Zionist source, but there are many reasons why almost all rabbis disagree with him on this. R. Shlomo Aviner compiled a very comprehensive booklet on the topic (I believe it’s reprinted in his Sha’elat Shlomo), including some 13 answers why all (!) mainstream poskim, from the rishonim through the Shulchan Aruch and until today, disagree with the Satmar. For example:
1. Not only is it not cited by the halachic authorities (Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Brura, etc. etc.), but to the contrary, they bring that it’s a mitzvah to make aliya and to conquer the Land of Israel in all generations, and so says the famed Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 453, 456). The Rambam (Hil. Mlachim 11, 2) who brings the Bar Kochba rebellion supported by R. Akiva and his many students as the prototype for the way of the rise of mashiach, clearly feels that the oaths are not halachic, for they rebelled against the Romans and tried taking the Land by force. Another proof is that the gmara in Yoma 9b, contradicts that agadita and says that we davka must (!) “rise up as a wall”, and that we were even punished for not doing so in the time of Ezra, to build the 2nd Temple. If that’s not enough, see Shir HaShirim Rabba 8, 9 (3), where R. Zeira, the author of the aforementioned “three oaths” in Ktuvot, changes his mind explicitly, and adopts the contradicting opinion mentioned in Yoma!
2. Many cite Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (the famed Meshech Chochma and author of the Or Same’ach), in his letter to the Keren Hayesod where he simply dismisses the oaths as aggada, and stresses, especially after the Balfour Decleration in 1917, ratified internationally in San Remo, where the nations of the world officially recognized the right of the Jews to establish a national homeland in Palestine, “it removes all ‘fear’ (!) of those oaths”. Rashi explained not to take the land by force, but once the nations gave us permission, it’s no problem.
3. Rashi, the source of the Satmar’s understanding, stresses that it’s only a problem if the Jews come all at once, but in actuality, we have been coming gradually over the last century, and the process is still underway.
4. The famed R. Shlomo Kluger explains that if the gentiles don’t observe their oath, we are exempt from ours. Nobody who learned about the Holocaust can take the gentile’s oath seriously, as if they didn’t “oppress us too much”, so we clearly are no longer obligated by our oath, and it is no longer “before its time”.
5. The Vilna Gaon explains that not to “rise up on the wall” means we swore not to rebuild the walls of Yrushalayim and the Beit haMikdash, and it has nothing to do with declaring a state (Vilna Gaon, Commentary on Shir HaShirim 2, 7, in his Siddur). Regarding aliya, the Vilna Gaon’s torah on it’aruta dilitata (man’s initiating the ge’ula through natural ways and not waiting passively for mashiach) is detailed extensively in Kol HaTor, written by his talmid Rav Hillel MiShklov and the mass aliya of hundreds of the students of the Gaon (1808-1816/תקס"ח-תקע"ו) speaks for itself! The Gaon’s opinion about aliya is also explicit in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 75, 17, “the mitzvah is upon him to ‘toil/work’ (לטרוח) to fulfill”. I truly don’t even understand the question regarding the Gra’s attitude.
6. Rav Soloveichik in his article Kol Dodi Dofek explains that G-d is clearly calling us back to the Land of Israel, and that’s how we know that it’s no longer “before its time”. The Holocaust and assimilation forced us back to Israel, including even many anti-zionists, whether they liked it or not, had no choice but to make aliya, and then fight in self-defense from the invading Arab armies in the subsequent wars. We clearly are not allowed to let them kill us, as pikuach nefesh overrides everything. Statistically, within 16 years, with the rate of aliya and assimilation, most Jews in the world will once again be living in Israel, for the first time in almost 3,000 years, since the exile of the 10 tribes. Already, about 70% of orthodox Jews live here, it’s clearly the Torah center and the Gedolei hador all live here. It’s already clear, the Jewish future is in Israel. In addition, Midrash Tanchuma (Shoftim 10) tells us that once we return for the third time, with 600,000 Jews (Yalkut Shimoni, Hoshea 518), there will not be another exile. Being that there are about 10 times (!) that amount today in Israel, we are clearly back to stay, and this is the third and final return. The Talmud doesn’t say anything about waiting for mashiach, but to wait until “its time”. G-d’s running of history has clearly taught us, that it’s time to come home. Anyone who doesn’t want to participate is voluntarily missing out!
7. Rav Ya’akov Moshe Charlap (Memaynai HaYshua, p. 245), former rav of Sha’arei Chessed and a major student of Rav Kook, explains that the idea of the aggada about the oaths was to stress that the national revival of Israel is actually an international event and of universal, not just national, importance. We therefore prefer for the return to Israel to be in cooperation and supported by the other nations, as it was in the time of Koresh of Persia, who supported the building of the 2nd Beit haMikdash. That’s what the Balfour Declaration and the United Nations decision were all about.
8. In short, if your friends are looking for an excuse not to make aliya they should “search” elsewhere for a different excuse. If they are looking for truth, they must ask themselves why all (!) of the rishonim and achronim understand differently from the Satmar? As the mishna in Bava Metzia 76a says, whoever changes from the accepted norm, his opinion is difficult and the burden of proof is upon him.
With Love of Israel,
Rav Ari Shvat