Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson
Part I

“Economic Difficulty”- the Most Common Excuse for Not Making Aliya

In many cases, Aliya to Israel involves lowering the standard of living. How much does one need to lower their standard of living in order to fulfill the commandment of living in Israel?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Shvat 5773
"Economic Difficulty"- A Halachic Examination and Definition of the Most Common Excuse for Not Making Aliya

After conclusively seeing that living in Israel is so central to Judaism, 1 even "equated with the rest of the mitzvot combined", 2 what is the rationalization for the many religious Jews who still live in chutz la'Aretz? 3 From my experience, the most popular justification is a financial one – because for most, aliya to Israel involves lowering their standard of living. Rabbi Yehuda HeLevi already mentions, regarding the aliya in the days of Ezra, "most of them, including the most important, stayed in Babylon, agreeing to exile and servitude just to avoid leaving their homes and professions." 4 The question is, "how far does the obligation to live in Israel go"? 5 How much does one need to lower their standard of living in order to fulfill the commandment of living in Israel?

The Decree of Usha
Three rabbis of our generation 6 related to this question in the context of "The Decree of Usha". 7 "In Usha they decreed that one who gives should not lavish more than a fifth (of his money)". The reason given in the b'raita is: "lest he become dependant on others (for their support)". The amoraim base this law on the words of Yaakov, "and all that You will give me, I will surely tithe to you". 8 From Rashi's commentary here, 9 it seems that this decree is only regarding the mitzvah of tzedaka, but from the phrasing of the Talmud Yerushalmi, it seems that this applies to all mitzvot: "In Usha they decided that a person should tithe a fifth of his possessions for a mitzva (or, in some versions "for mitzvot")". 10
This is inferred as well, from the cited source where Yaakov says "and all that You will give me I will surely tithe it to You", where there is no mention of charity whatsoever. Similarly, the reason for the decree, "lest he become dependant on others," applies equally to all mitzvot. Indeed, we find also in the Talmud Bavli, that the Decree of Usha is mentioned in relation to other mitzvot, as well. 11
Some of the rishonim, in fact, rule according to this broader (and more lenient) understanding of the Decree of Usha, among them, the Rambam, 12 Tosafot 13 and the Rosh. 14 Rabbeinu Yerucham 15 says that all positive mitzvot are like tzedaka regarding the minimal obligation of giving at least a tenth, as he says: "and the commentators learnt that a person is not obligated (to spend) a lot of money on a mitzvah like lulav, as it says ‘one who gives (money) should not lavish more than a fifth’. Nevertheless, in any case he is obligated to use a tenth of his money". However, according to the other aforementioned rishonim, the maximum that can be spent is indeed, a fifth of his possessions, but the minimum is whatever is necessary, to fulfill the mitzvah, up to 20%.
Many achronim mention the Decree of Usha in the context of buying an etrog – as mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, 16 and also regarding prayer 17 (even though prayer, as opposed to charity, is considered by many to be a rabbinical commandment). 18 In addition, there are those who hold like Rabbeinu Yerucham, that one is obligated to spend at least a tenth of his possessions to fulfill every positive mitzvah. 19 Rav Moshe Dov Volner, former chief rabbi of Ashkelon, opines that the difference between the mitzvah of tzedaka and other mitzvot, is that the amount of 10% is only mentioned regarding tzedaka, whereas for all other mitzvot, it is permissible to spend up to a fifth. 20
The question is, if the maximum expenditure is specified for any individual mitzvah, accordingly, if one has the opportunity to do five mitzvot (according to the opinion that the maximum is 20%) or 10 (according to Rabbeinu Yerucham), he would have to spend every penny he owns in order to fulfill them! Rav Volner learns from the wording of the Talmud Yerushalmi which the Rambam cites as definitive, 21 "one who spends money on mitzvot (plural!) shouldn’t lavish more than a fifth" that this amount applies to the total sum of his expenditures for mitzvot. Accordingly, he rules in our discussion that it is permissible for one to spend all of that one fifth of his possessions (alloted to fulfill all the positive mitzvot), on one mitzvah – settling the Land of Israel. However, in his opinion, one is not obligated to spend even 10% of his money on any specific mitzvah apart from charity.
In contrast, Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Rosh Yeshiva at Merkaz HaRav and former veteran dayan on the Beit Din Gavoha in Y’rushalayim, rules like Rabbeinu Yerucham regarding the Decree of Usha, that one is obligated to spend up to a tenth of his assets, or enough to cover expenses of food and clothing for one person for five years, in order to make aliya. 22 However, in the opinion of Rav Moshe Shternbuch, sgan av Beit Din of the Eidah haCharedit in Yerushalim, due to the limitation of 20%, there cannot be an obligation forcing one to leave his home for any regular positive mitzvah, even if "he will fulfill a positive mitzvah every minute that he is in Israel". In other words, the physical and psychological effort involved in moving to Israel is worth more than a fifth of his possessions and he is therefore, according to R. Shternbuch, not obligated to do so. 23
The difficulty with this last opinion is evident. For according to R. Shternbuch, the mitzvah of moving to Israel is essentially cancelled, because every aliya to Israel involves great effort, not to mention self-sacrifice, usually equivelant in worth to more than a fifth of his possessions. Accordingly, the vast majority will not only always be exempt but even forbidden (!) to make aliya, chalila (see chapter E).
Curiously, the three aforementioned modern poskim all deal with the issue of the extent of monetary loss which need be incurred to make aliya, based on their respective understanding of the Decree of Usha, without mentioning the many poskim who explicitly discussed this topic in previous generations. Furthermore, and even more difficult, there is conspicuously no mention whatsoever in any of those many preceding sources of the Decree of Usha, regarding the mitzva of living in Israel? To the contrary, some thirty (!) previous poskim (including rishonim) hold that one is obligated to live in Israel, unless he must beg for a living (a significantly greater sacrifice than 20% of his possessions)! Why did all of those rishonim and achronim see this mitzva as dissimilar, having a unique and substantially different halachic definition regarding the obligation of monetary loss for a particular mitzva?

Calculation of the One Fifth – From Past Savings or Future Income?
Today, with modern transportation and "lifts", there is comparatively less direct exertion involved in the act of moving to Israel than there was before the invention of airplanes. Even financial expenses have been greatly reduced, due to significannot aid offered to new olim by the Ministry of Absorption, including the free flight to Israel. Yet, even in previous generations, and how much more so today, the major loss incurred when making aliya is leaving one's job and lowering his future wages and standard of living. These are losses of potential future income, and it is questionable, if we apply the guidelines of Usha, whether the amounts of 10 or 20% apply to this type of loss.
Rav Moshe Feinstein opines in several responsa, regarding the issue of Usha, that the loss of future income is included in the calculation of the one fifth in order to exempt one from the mitzvah at hand. 24 His reasoning is based upon a kal vachomer from the Decree of Usha, because the sum of one's future wages, are usually worth significantly more than 20% of his possessions.
However, Rav Moshe's assumption is not as simple as it seems, for the question may be asked, how can a "kal v'chomer" be learnt from a decree of the sages, for perhaps they decreed specifically regarding possessions and not on a loss of revenue?
In addition, apparently, Rav Moshe defines "something that has come into the world", 25 even from the time one joins the "job market" or local workforce. 26 This definition is not simple at all.
Even more difficult, how does Rav Moshe learn a "kal v'chomer" regarding a loss of income, if we find that in other cases, the minimizing of future income is considered kal , in comparison with the loss of past income or effort, which is considered chamur ?
For example, the Rama holds like the Ran that in a case of monetary loss, a son is permitted to prevent his father from wasting the son’s money, but he is not allowed to stop him from wasting his future wages. This is the reason for the explicit prohibition (!) of waking one's father when a precious stone or the keys to his shop are under his head, even at the cost of a business deal worth 60,000 golden dinars. 27 From this precedent, Rav Shlomo Natan Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva in Slabodka, learns that that the limitation of spending 20% regarding positive commandments is only regarding the loss to his past savings. On the other hand, one is obligated to forego all of his future income in order not to miss any positive commandment. Even though the obligation of honoring parents is only "from the father's (money)", and not the son’s, 28 nevertheless, the son is obligated to forego his future profit or income. If this is the case, how much more so regarding most other mitzvot where monetary loss is mandatory, that foregoing future profit or income is obligatory , as well. 29
Indeed, we find proof to Rav Kotler's opinion in many other cases as well (such as: mourning; 30 chol ha'moed; 31 erev Pesach; 32 prayer with a minyan 33 ) where a clear differentiation is made between monetary loss (considered significant-"chamur") as opposed to loss of future income (considered more negligible- "kal"). All of the above disprove the kal vachomer of R. Moshe Feinstein, showing that the loss of future income is less important than present losses. It isn’t a "kal vachomer" if the "given" heter may be only regarding something considered more important, not less important!
In addition to the aforementioned difficulties with the opinion of R. Moshe Feinstein, it is worthy to note Rav Moshe's own response elsewhere, allowing the exemption of a person with financial difficulties from having more children (through passively withholding from marital relations on the days that she is likely to conceive), but nevertheless, explicitly instructing them "to trust in Hashem that He will bring him income with ease… because there is obviously income prepared in Heaven for everyone who is born". Apparently this should hold in our case, as well: a person who makes aliya should trust in Hashem, just as Hashem takes care of the income of 5,200,000 Jews in Israel, it is unthinkable that He cannot provide income for one more family. 34
Until now, our discussion has been based upon the opinions that one is not obligated to spend more than a fifth (or a tenth) of his assets in order to fulfill a positive commandment. However, in the opinion of the Chafetz Chaim, one is obligated to spend more than a fifth to fulfill a positive commandment. He believes that the limit of 20% is only regarding his savings. However, "if he is a person who works regularly at a trade or business in order to make enough money for his food and a bit more, and his livelihood won’t be affecteded by an expenditure on a mitzvah, nor will his situation improve if he does not spend on that mitzvah, according to all opinions he is obligated to spend more than a fifth." 35 The logic of the Chafetz Chaim is clear. For if the reason of the limitation of Usha is to prevent his becoming dependant on others, accordingly, if someone has a regular income, we needn’t worry, even if he spends more that 20% of his money.
As opposed to the Rambam, Tosafot and Rosh, the Chafetz Chaim apparently complies with (and helps explain) the view of the R’ma (R. Meir HaLevy), the Ra'aved and the Nimukei Yosef, that one has to spend all that he has (even more than a fifth) in order to fulfill a mitzvah. In their opinion, the obligation applies unless by doing so he will need to beg for a living. 36
Baruch Hashem, it is clear that today, noone who makes aliya needs to go begging, as he can surely find a minimum income. Even one hundred years ago, the Avnei Nezer, 37 Y’shu’ot Malko 38 and R. Chaim Falaggi (one of the most profilic sepharadic poskim from Izmir) 39 all note that the financial situation in Israel has changed for the better, and consequently certainly today, according to the Chafetz Chaim, one is obligated to compel himself to make aliya. 40

Is a lowering of standard of life considered a loss of a fifth?
To the same extent that it seems that the loss of future profit may not be taken into account in the calculation of the 10-20%, similarly, it is problematic to include in that figure the lowering of one’s standard of living, which is one of the main problems encountered by people who make aliya from developed countries.
True, we find that if someone is accustomed to a high standard of living and loses his money, the laws of tzedaka obligate us to provide him with all that he is used to, "even if he was accustomed to riding on a horse with a servant running before him". 41 However, this instruction is addressed to the benefactor – that he is obligated to have pity on his unfortunate brother, even regarding commodities that are not vital. On the other hand, when addressing the recipient of charity, the rabbis alter their instructions: "even make your Shabbat like a weekday, but don’t be dependant on others". 42
Similarly, in our discussion regarding one who’s standard of living has been lowered. Just as it’s not proper for the recipient not to compromise his previous stature at the expense of the benefactor, so too, he shouldn’t do so at the expense of fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Israel.
Of course there is no need to live a life of affliction and abstinence in Israel, something which in of itself is not seen positively by chazal. Nevertheless, we are warned in all of the mussar works against a life of luxury beyond basic needs, 43 which are definitely available to most of the residents of Israel today. The fear of lowering the standard of living cannot be used as an excuse for not making aliya. 44 It is inconceivable that a mitzva equated with all of the mitzvot combined, 45 the only mitzva which allows requesting a gentile to do labor that is forbidden from the Torah for a Jew on Shabbat, 46 supersedes domestic harmony, 47 and sometimes even obligates us to sacrifice our life, does not supersede the luxuries of life, which in of themselves, aren’t even desirable! Subsequently, we understand why no posek in any generation mentioned this deliberation, despite the fact that usually fulfilling the mitzvah of living in Israel involves lowering one’s standard of living.

^ 1.See my article, "The Centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism".
^ 2.Sifre, Dvarim 12.
^ 3.Rav Moshe Feinstein’s surprising, yet oft-quoted opinion, that it is a mitzva mid’oraita (see Resp. Igrot Moshe Y. D. 3, 122) yet not mandatory (ibid, E. H. 1, 102), is based upon one possible understanding of one rishon (the Rambam), but contradicts more than 30 rishonim and achronim who explicitly use the word "obligation", "mandatory", or "sin" regarding the mitzva of aliya to live in Israel and the subsequent prohibition to live in chutz laAretz. This formidable list includes Rashi, Ramban, Ra'avad, Rivash, R. Yosef Karo, Vilna Gaon, Nodah BiYehuda, Chatam Sofer, R. Ya’akov Emdin (see footnote 51), Avnei Nezer (now that we have a State, see footnote 158), Chazon Ish (see footnote 151), and many more, as summarized in the Sdeh Chemed, vol. 5, p.11 in the 5727 edition, Pitchei Tshuva E. H. 75, 6 and Z. Glatt HY"D, MeAfar Kumi, pp. 71-90 for a very efficient summary of the issue. See especially R. Ovadiah Yosef, Torah SheBa'al Peh 11 (5729), pp. 35-42; R. E. Waldenberg, Resp. Tzitz Eliezer 7, p. 223; R. Avraham Shapira, Me’afar Kumi p. 108, who all convincingly disprove R.Moshe’s surprising leniancy regarding such an important mitzvah, which contradicts so many preceding sources. The central points of disagreement are as follows:
1. The Sifre (Midrash Halacha) Dvarim 11, 10, writes explicitly, "Coming to Eretz Yisrael is an obligation". How can R. Moshe contradict chazal?
2. If the mitzva was optional, why is it the only one, according to most rishonim, that allows one to ask a gentile to transgress a Torah prohibition on Shabbat (Gitin 8b)? Why should we break up a happy marriage for an optional mitzva (Ktuvot 110b)? If it is merely optional, why is it not only allowed, but even obligatory to risk one’s life to conquer? In all of the above cases, why don’t we simply say, "stay home and don’t ‘opt’ for that mitzvah", thus saving marriages, lives and Shabbat?!
3. It seems difficult to imagine that the Torah would leave such a basic and central, all-encompassing mitzva for us to decide.
4. Even if there is such an opinion, regarding safek m’d’oraita, we accept the stricter opinion.
5. No commentary on the Rambam ever understood his opinion that way before, including those who explicitly use the term "obligation" regarding aliya.
6. Many say there is no such thing as an optional mitzvat aseh, see MIchilta on Shmot 23, 13, and Rashba, Rosh HaShana 16a.
7. Many ask why the rishonim did not make aliya? They suggest various reasons, but omit the most obvious, if it were, in fact, optional.
8. If it is just an option, why does the Yerushalmi Ktuvot 12, 3, refer to those who don’t make aliya as "they despised my inheritance"?
9. Why were the spies and their generation, called "rebels" if it is not mandatory?
10. The Rambam himself (Hil. M’lachim 5, 9) explains that Machlon and Chilyon, the sons of Naomi, who were allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael at the time of famine, nonetheless, were killed as punishment for leaving. He clearly does not see it merely as a preferable option!
^ 4.Kuzari 2, 23-24. See Rashi Kidushin 69b, "The 'kosher' ones could not be found because they stayed in Bavel in tranquility…".
^ 5.The title of ch. 9 of Artzot Ha'Chaim by R. Chaim Falaggi.
^ 6.Rav Sh. Yisraeli, Eretz Chemda, 1, 7, 8; R. M. D. Volner, Resp. Chemdat Tzvi 1,30 and Tzomet Ha'Torah Ve'haMedina 3, pp.131-136; R. Moshe Shternbuch, Mo'adim Ve'Z'manim, 5, end of 346.
^ 7.Ketuvot 50a.
^ 8.The Vilna Gaon, Sh'not Eliyahu, Peah 1,1, opines that "this prohibition is from the Torah. Regarding the (term used in the) g'mara, 'in Usha they decreed' , he explains that at first, it was halacha l'Moshe miSinai, but it was forgotten, and afterwards they once again established it as the original halacha." On the other hand, it is difficult to understand this from the literal inference of the words, see Torah T'mima, Breishit 28,23, who says that this verse is used as an asmachta, a "hint", but is not meant as a mitzvah mid'oraita. So it seems also from the the Rama (O.Ch. 656,1): "and like they said: one who lavishes should not lavish more than a fifth".
^ 9.81 See footnote
^ 10.Pe'ah 1, 1.
^ 11.Erchin 28a. According to R. Elazar ben Azarya, Takanat Usha applies to hekdesh (hallowing), and the g'mara does not disregard his opinion by saying that it applies only regarding charity. So it seems from the Yerushalmi, K'tuvot 4,8, as well. In the P'sikta Rabati 25 (p.126 in the Ish-Shalom edition) it says only "that one should tithe a fifth of his possessions", and it seems that this refers to all of the mitzvot. This is also inferred from the context: "you were given silver and gold, do a mitzvah with them." On the other hand, see Rashi, Shabbat 156a: "charity to the poor- is called "a mitzvah" in every wording of the agadah". From here it can be deduced that when it says simply "a mitzvah", it may be particularly referring to charity.

^ 12.Rambam, Hil. Erchin, 8, 13, "one who spends his money for mitzvot, shouldn’t lavish more than a fifth".
^ 13.Tosafot, Baba Kama 9b, regarding the question how much money should one spend on an etrog.
^ 14.Rosh, Baba Kama 1, 7.
^ 15.Rabbenu Yerucham, Netiv 13, 3, p. 107.
^ 16.On Shulchan Aruch O. Ch. 656, 1.
^ 17.Pri Migadim, M.Z. O. Ch. 108, 7.
^ 18.The famous machloket between the Rambam, Hil. Tfila 1, 1, and Sefer HaMitzvot Aseh, 5, who believes prayer to be from the Torah, as opposed to the Ramban, on the Sefer HaMitzvot, ibid; Rashi, Brachot 17b; Tosafot ibid, 20b; Me’iri, ibid, who hold tfila to be midrabanan.
^ 19.See Mishna B'rurah 656,8 and Be'ur Halacha, ibid, "yoter me'chomesh" and "afilu mitzvah overet"; Rav Kook, Resp.Mishpat Kohen, 143, "u'be'inyan".
^ 20.See above footnote 6.
^ 21.See above, footnote 12.
^ 22.See above footnote 6.
^ 23.See above footnote 6. Elsewhere in his work, Moadim Uz'manim1,3, R. Shternbuch proves from the g'mara in Brachot 20a that embarrassment supersedes a positive mitzvah. This is likewise true for great distress, as R. Meir Simcha Cohen of Dvinsk, Or Same'ach, Hil. Sanhedrin 15, 1, proves that distress is more severe than disgrace. Also R. Menashe Klein, Resp. Mishne Halachot 10,74, writes that one does not need to leave his place of residence in order to fulfill a positive mitzvah.

^ 24.Igrot Moshe, O. Ch. 1,10, regarding one who must choose between a job involving an entire day of work at the expense of laying t'filin , and ibid, E. H. 1,57, regarding a widow who will not be hired in America unless she yields her hair-covering , when the questioner has no possibility of finding alternative employment. But in Ch. M. 1,93 he discusses the importance of wearing a kippa in the workplace, yet he does not mention whether the questioner does not have any other opportunity to find employment. Similarly, ibid, E. H. 3,28, he discusses (and does not dismiss the possibility) of obligating one who has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation, to change his profession, enabling him to be more with his wife, see footnote 150. Perhaps he differentiates between changing professions and losing a position he already holds.
^ 25. See Rambam, Hil. M'chira 22; Shulchan Aruch Ch. M. 212, 7 regarding דבר שלא בא לעולם"".
^ 26.See footnote 24.
^ 27.Rama Y.D. 240, 8, based upon the Ran from the precedent in Kiddushin 31a, regarding Dama ben Netina, cited as halacha also in the Taz, Y.D.240,10; the Vilna Gaon, ibid, 21; Chayei Adam 67, 11.
^ 28.Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 240, 5.
^ 29.Resp. Kerem Shlomo, 1, O.Ch. 21.
^ 30. Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 380, 5.
^ 31. Ibid, O.Ch. 537.
^ 32. Ibid, 468.
^ 33. Mishna Brura, 90, 29.
^ 34.Indeed we will see below (chapter H) that R. M. Feinstein himself discusses changing professions in order to fulfill a positive mitzvah, and so (below F3) he differentiates between regular mitzvot and those whose essence requires large expenditure and physical effort.
^ 35.Be’ur Halacha, 5256, "Afilu".
^ 36.This topic will be discussed more at length in chapter E.
^ 37.Resp. Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 455.
^ 38.Resp. Y'shuot Malko, Y.D. 66.
^ 39.Artzot HaChaim, 8, 11.
^ 40.Even though the Chafetz Chaim writes from the supposition that the person has a regular salary, while the case in question is about leaving his present income in chutz la'aretz, nevertheless, in the current situation, when everyone in Israel is guaranteed a basic income "enough for his food and a bit more", and even non-Jews come from abroad in order to earn money in Israel, the Chafetz Chaim would definitely obligate a person to make aliya. He himself tried, at an advanced age (84!), to make aliya and only his wife's illness prevented him (Sefer Ma'amarim u'Michtavim from the Chafetz Chaim, ch. 64 and 116). It is documented that he spent significantly more than a fifth of his possessions for his aliya, needing even to borrow money (Eshel Natan, in honor of Rav Natan Dessberg, pp.110-115). See also Igrot haChazon Ish, 175, "The mitzvah of settling in Israel has already been decided by the Rambam, Ramban and the other authorities, and it is well-known how much the Chafetz Chaim zt"l strived to make aliya". See R. M.Z. Neria, Likutei HaRei'ya, p. 166, that they even purchased a house in Petach Tikva for the Chafetz Chaim's planned aliya.
^ 41.Shulchan Aruch, Y. D. 250,1.
^ 42. ibid.
^ 43. See for example: Chovot HaLevavot Sha'ar HaPrishut; Mesilat Yesharim ch. 13-15.
^ 44. See the article of R. Herschel Shechter, "Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael", Journal of Halacha, 39-40, p. 19.
^ 45.Sifre, Dvarim 12; Tosefta Avoda Zarah 5, 2.
^ 46.Gittin 8b and Tosafot, Ramban and Ran, ibid; Rambam, Hil. Shabbat 6, 11; Shulchan Aruch O.Ch. 306, 11.
^ 47.K'tuvot 110b; Shulchan Aruch E. H. 75, 3.

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