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the three oaths or vows and not making aliya


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Adar 25, 5775
Shalom dear Rabbi, my question is about the three vows in Ketubot 111a and whether they are actually about the exile that was effected through Rome, rather than apply to the exile to Bavel. (I have to say that I don’t quite understand the meaning and the larger context of the verses quoted from the Shir Hashirim,) but even if those verses mean exactly what Rav Yehuda understood them to mean, how is Rav Yehuda certain,how does he know that these verses do not apply only to the Babylonian exile where the Jews were told by the prophet Jeremiah that that exile would last 70 years and that they should live and settle down for that time period in Bavel and not listen to false prophets. I also wonder why, in contrast to the exile to Babylon, there seem to be no explicit prophecies that the Jews should remain in the exile effected through Rome, rather than actively endeavouring Aliyah, especially if this is indeed an important issue. Secondly, if the preceeding Mishna and Gemara say "Anyone can force (his household) to move to Eretz Yisrael" and that one may demand of his/her spouse to come with him/her to Eretz Israel and that a ketuba would not have to be paid if the wife refuses to come, and this Misha and Gemara is true for all time, also in the time of Rav Yehuda and Rav Zeira, then this would support the view that making Aliyah is a positive endeavor and not a negative one. Can it be that the three vows were in fact binding in the time of the Babylonian exile and in the time of the exile effected through Rome, the ideas of the vows were ’implanted’ (instead of a better word) in the minds of the Jewish people, so they would withstand the exile, meaning that in both cases there would be vows, but with different meanings, the vows in Bavel being conscious and reluctant and halachically binding, and the vows in the time of the exile effected though Rome not halachically binding, but as a nation we didn’t have free choice because they were ’implanted’. (the idea of ’implanted’ vows is indeed strange, but so is in my mind that Jews would have stayed so long in the diaspora) Thank you very much in advance. I highly appreciate it.
Firstly, the rule is, that one doesn’t ask questions regarding aggadita (Rambam, Moreh N’vuchim end of intro.; Nodeh B’Yehuda, Y.D. 161), simply because it’s not meant to be taken literally. How much more so, regarding an aggadita which is rejected by the poskim, and not cited in any of the accepted halachic works. Nevertheless, once you ask, apparently, Rav Yehuda holds that the “idea” of staying in galut until we are called back is relevant for all exiles. In general, the aggadita there is a story with a moral, and it is an extrapolation of the Satmar and Neturei Karta to say that it contrdicts Zionism. 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. 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, 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. 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. 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 18 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, and Torah center and 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 1038), 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. 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 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, sho supported the building of the 2nd Beit haMikdash. That’s what the Balfour Declaration and the United Nations decision were all about. 8. Whenever I’m asked about the Satmar Rebbe and Neturei Karta’s opinion on the issue, I ask the questioner: On what other issues do you hold like their opinion? Do you also only daven in a shul where the mechitza is up to the ceiling, as the Satmar holds on that issue? In fact, I ask, do you even know, or care, about the Satmar’s opinion on any other issue? The answer is always “no”, which proves that the questioner isn’t really interested in the Satmar’s opinion, but is just looking for an excuse not making aliya. As we have seen, anyone who learns the issue in depth, will see that he must “search” elsewhere for a different excuse. With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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