Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayishlach
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Choosing a Hometown – Insights of our Sages

Yaakov searching for a new residence


Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Kislev 14 5777
How does one choose where to live? Although there is a popular adage that the three most important factors in the value of a house are "location, location, and location," this is not usually the only factor used to determine where one chooses to live. Numerous other factors go into the equation, including availability of parnassah, proximity to parents and siblings, good chinuch for the children, neighbors, cost of living, etc. All of these points are certainly important considerations. However, did one ever stop and consider what Chazal and the Rishonim have to say about this matter? There are many statements and suggestions scattered throughout Shas, Midrashim and the Rishonim that include advice concerning where one should live. Let us spend some time examining their advice concerning this topic.
It must be noted that Chazal’s suggestions on this topic are just that – suggestions. They should not be taken as absolutely required halachah. If one has certain practical reasons to choose a particular place to live, one should realize that this advice does not necessarily apply in his situation. These suggestions were meant primarily for scenarios in which a person must choose between two locations which, otherwise, are fairly similar.
In all situations, it is always preferable to discuss these matters with a rov to determine the best solution.

Place of One’s Predecessors
At the end of Sefer Maharil, there is a section entitled "Likutei Maharash", in which the Maharil cites numerous minhagim, practices and teachings of his teacher, Rabbeinu Shalom of Neustadt, the Maharash. One of the instructions that the Maharash stated was: "A person should reside in the place of his predecessors, as Chazal have instructed. If it were not for this, there are many times when I would have considered relocating from Neustadt."
Although the Maharash did not refer to a specific statement of Chazal, it is possible that he had in mind the following. When Yaakov Avinu finally returned home after living with Lavan for twenty years, the pasuk states: "And Yaakov came to Yitzchok, his father, at Mamre of Kiryat Arba; that is Chevron where Avraham and Yitzchok sojourned" (Bereishis 35:27). In order to explain the seemingly superfluous information that this was the place where "Avraham and Yitzchok sojourned," Chazal state: "A person should stand only in the place of his predecessors, so that their merit will assist him" (Bereishis Rabbah, Vayishlach 35:27).
Additionally, the Acharonim point out that if one’s parents are still alive, there is another reason to live in their proximity. This is because in the merit of kibbud av ve’eim, as well as the fact that the children will refrain from performing sins due to the fear of their parents, they will be protected from mishap. There are Acharonim, however, who caution that if living near one’s parents will cause strife, it is preferable to distance oneself from them (see Yaffeh Lalev, volume III, Kuntres Acharon, Yoreh Deah 240:4; Zechirah Lachaim, volume II, Parshas Vayeitzei, page 13a, s.v. uvechein).

Near One’s Rebbi
The Gemara (Brachos 8a) cites two contradictory Beraisos. One states that a person should always live near his rebbi, while the other maintains the opposite. The Gemara resolves this by explaining that one who is compliant with his rebbi’s opinions should live near him. However, one who is not compliant should preferably live elsewhere. Rashi explains that being compliant means that he accepts his teacher’s rebuke and follows his instructions. Such a person should indeed live near his teacher, so that the rebbi will rebuke him and guide him. However, if the disciple does not listen to his rebbi, he should not live near him. This is because of the concept of mutav sheyiheyu shogegim ve’al yiheyu meizidim -- it is preferable to sin unknowingly rather than intentionally.

A Place of Torah
In the last perek of Pirkei Avos, we find the following: Said Rebbi Yosi ben Kismah: "One time, I was traveling and I met a person. We exchanged greetings, and he said to me, ‘Rebbi, where are you from?’ I answered him, ‘I am from a great city of sages and scholars.’ He said, ‘Rebbi, would you care to live with us in our place, and I will give you a million gold coins and precious stones?’ I answered, ‘My son, even if you gave me all the gold, silver and precious gems in the world, I would reside only in a place of Torah! This is because when a person passes away, silver, gold and precious stones do not accompany him. Only Torah and good deeds do.’"
From this famous exchange, we learn of the importance of residing in a place where there are yeshivos and talmidei chochomim. This concept appears also in the Gemara (Kesubos 111a): "Just as it is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisroel to Bavel, so, too, it is forbidden to leave Bavel for other countries." Rashi explains that it was prohibited to leave Bavel, which then was a place of yeshivos that were constantly disseminating Torah.
May one leave a location where there is a yeshivah in order to live in a place where there isn’t one? This question was addressed by Rav Shlomo Kluger, one of the great poskim and authors of the nineteenth century. He explains (Shu"t Kin’as Sofrim, Hashmatos to #19) that during the time of the Gemara, the entire transmission of Torah was verbal and one needed to have a rebbi and companions in order to learn. Nowadays, when seforim are readily available, it is possible to learn Torah without a rebbi or yeshivah. Thus, although it might be advisable to remain in a place where there is a yeshivah, it is not required.
Within Proximity of Talmidei Chochomim
The Gemara (Shabbos 63a) states that one should cling to talmidei chochomim. Rashi explains that by doing so one benefits from the talmid chochom’s Torah knowledge. On the other hand, the Gemara warns against living in the proximity of an ignoramus, even if he is a "chasid," a righteous individual. According to Rashi, this is out of concern that one will come to learn practices and habits from his unlearned neighbor that are not correct according to halacha and Torah.
It is interesting to note that, although one should live in the proximity of talmidei chochomim, the Gemara (Pesachim 112a) discourages living in a city whose mayor is a talmid chochom. Rashi explains that since talmidei chochomim are busy learning, they will not have sufficient time to tend to the physical needs of the city and its residents. And while we are on the topic of undesirable mayors, the Gemara (ibid. 113a) also states that one should not live in a city whose mayor is a doctor. The Rashbam explains this is because he will be too busy with his patients to run the city’s affairs properly. Obviously, if he gives up his medical practice in order to run the town’s affairs, this concern will no longer be valid. However, bear in mind that physicians do not always make good politicians, and they do not have the best track record as dictators. (Check Syria.)

Men of Good Deeds
The Zohar (Parshas Bo, page 38a) states: "A person should live only in a place where people of good deeds reside. What is the reason? This is because, woe to the one who lives among those who are guilty, for he will be caught in their guilt, and if he lives among those who have merit, good will be done to him in their wake." The Zohar relates that Rav Chisda changed his location of residence to one in proximity of talmidei chochomim and he became wealthy, in addition to being a talmid chochom. Rav Chisda said that the reason why he merited this is because he chose to live among those that Hashem looks after.

Living near the Wicked
The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:1) writes that since it is human nature for a person to be influenced by his companions, he should always live among chochomim and tzadikim, so that he can learn from their ways, and he should distance himself from the wicked. He continues -- if it is impossible to avoid the companionship of the wicked, it is preferable that he live by himself in caves and deserts.
The Rambam also writes (ibid. 7:6) that it is forbidden to live in the neighborhood of people that speak lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim cites this Rambam in his Hilchos Lashon Hara (9:4) and notes (Be’eir Mayim Chayim 9:10) that this is also Chazal’s intent when they state: "Woe is to the wicked, woe to his neighbor" (Avos d’Rebbi Noson 9:1).
The Gemara (Pesachim 112b) cites several instructions that Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi gave to his children. One of them was not to live in the city of Shachnetziv, as the people there were scoffers, and he was concerned that his children would be influenced by their evil ways.

Living in Eretz Yisroel
The Gemara (Kesubos 110b) states: "A person should live in Eretz Yisroel, even in a city where the majority of the people are idol worshippers, and he should not live in chutz la’aretz, even in a city whose majority is Jews. This is because one who lives in Eretz Yisroel is considered to be one who has a G-d, and one who lives in chutz la’aretz is considered to be one who does not have a G-d, as it says, ‘To give you the land of Canaan to be a G-d unto you’ (Vayikra 25:38)." The Gemara then asks: "And one who does not live in Eretz Yisroel is G-d-less?" Hashem is the G-d of the entire world! The Gemara explains: "Rather, it comes to tell you that whoever dwells outside of Eretz Yisroel, it is as if he worships idols."
Before proceeding with the halachic view concerning living in Eretz Yisroel, this Gemara begs an explanation. What does it mean, "that whoever dwells outside of Eretz Yisroel is as if he worships idols?" The Torah warns that if the Jewish People forsake the Torah, "Hashem will scatter you among all the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth and there you will serve the gods of others whom you did not know – you or your forefathers – of wood and stone" (Devorim 28:64). Rashi there explains that this does not mean that the Jews will actually worship idols. Rather, it means that the Jews living in chutz la’aretz will have to pay taxes to pagan religions.
Whether living in Eretz Yisroel nowadays is a mitzvah is disputed by the Rishonim. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu"t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer volume I, #102 and Yoreh Deah, volume III, #122) writes that although most Rishonim maintain that there is a mitzvah, it is a not a mitzvah chiyuvis, but a mitzvah kiyumis. This means that if one lives in Eretz Yisroel, he fulfills a mitzvah, but there is no chiyuv, or obligation, to do so.
Additionally, the Chasam Sofer (Koveitz Teshuvos #46) maintains if one has a livelihood in chutz la’aretz, but in Eretz Yisroel he would have to live off charity, he should not move to Eretz Yisroel.
It is interesting to note that the Divrei Chaim of Sanz was quoted as saying that if one sanctifies himself in the "four ammos of halachah," meaning that he dedicates himself to learning Torah, then even if he lives in chutz la’aretz, he attains a certain degree of living in Eretz Yisroel (Sefer Shefa Chaim, Michtevei Torah #409). There is far more on this topic, but we will need to leave it for a different time.

A City with Vegetables
The Gemara (Eiruvin 55b) states: A talmid chochom is not allowed to live in a city without vegetables." Rashi explains this is because vegetables are a healthy food that can be purchased cheaply. This will enable the talmid chochom to focus on his learning.

The Ten Requirements
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 17b) provides us with a list of ten items that a city must have in order that a talmid chochom may live there. This list appears also in the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 4:23), with one or two slight changes.
A city must have: 1) a beis din that administers punishments, 2) a tzedakah fund, 3) a shul, 4) a bathhouse, 5) an outhouse, 6) a physician, 7) a blood-letter, 8) a shochet, 9) a sofer to write tefillin and mezuzos, 10) and a schoolteacher. [The Rambam omits "shochet" and instead requires a water source.]
Obviously, this Gemara must be taken in context with the realities of the era. For example, during the time of the Gemara, bloodletting was a common cure for various ailments. Hence, a bloodletter would be the equivalent of a physician in our society. To clarify this, Rashi tells us that the physician Chazal refer to in this list is a mohel.
Bathhouses were necessary during the time of the Gemara since there was no indoor plumbing. On the other hand, if a person required a mikvah, he or she would often use the local river. In our society, however, while bathing is easy, no one would dream of using a river for tevilah purposes. Therefore, the Gemara’s bathhouse would be the equivalent of our mikvah.
Although one might think that the Gemara’s requirement to have an outhouse is no longer relevant, it is interesting to note the explanation of Rav Yaakov Emden in his glosses to the Gemara. He writes that even though people have bathroom facilities next to or in close proximity to their homes, this Gemara teaches us that it is necessary to have a public bathroom for those people who find themselves too far from home.
As an aside, it is related that when Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky became rov of a town in Russia, there was no doctor. Out of concern for the Gemara’s requirement of a town doctor, Rav Yaakov took it upon himself to study medicine to the extent that he was satisfied that he could qualify halachically as the town doctor. Indeed, he became so proficient that a physician with whom he had a conversation assumed that Rav Yaakov was a certified practitioner!

Alarm Systems
According to Chazal, one should not live in a city that does not have a warning system that danger is present. The source of this statement is the following Gemara (Pesachim 113a): "Do not live in a city in which a horse does not neigh and a dog does not bark." Rashi explains that these animal noises provide protection against enemies and thieves.

Watch Out for the Hills
The Gemara (Eruvin 56a) maintains that it is unhealthy to live in a city that has inclines and slopes, as the difficulty in climbing leads to premature aging (see Rashi ad loc.).

Ground Floor or Upper Floor?
Where is it preferable to live – on the ground floor or on an upper one? Avos d’Rebbi Noson (25:5) lists several individuals "shechayeihem einom chayim," which literally translates as "their lives are not lives," meaning that their lives are very difficult. One of those listed is "someone who lives on an upper floor." Avos d’Rebbi Noson gives no indication whether this refers to anything above ground level or whether it is only applicable to a floor that is difficult to get to. Additionally, it would seem to be less of an issue in a building that has an elevator (see Sefer Habayis, chapter #1, footnote #11).
It should be noted that according to some Acharonim, if a person has an opportunity to live on the top floor of a building, he should do so, as this gives him the chance to perform the mitzvah de’Oraisa of building a ma’akeh, a fence on the roof (ibid, quoting Kuntres Chikrei Halachos Vehalichos Shecheinim, #27).

Owning One’s Home
The Yerushalmi (Mo’eid Katan 2:4) maintains that it is forbidden to move from one residence to another during chol hamo’eid, as it detracts from simchas Yom Tov. However, the Yerushalmi states that if one is moving into his own home, then it is permissible, "as it is a simcha for a person to live in what he owns." We see from this Gemara the importance of owning a home.
On the other hand, some maintain that this applies only in Eretz Yisroel. In chutz la’aretz however, it is preferable for a person to live in a rented home and not build homes at all, so as not to establish one’s residence in an impure land. This underscores the emunah in the future redemption and looking forward to Hashem’s salvation on a constant basis (Pele Yo’eitz, Binyan).

Eitzos versus Obligations
As we mentioned at the outset of this article, the points that we discussed are non-binding suggestions made by Chazal and the Rishonim. However, it is important to point out that every Jew, no matter where he lives, has a constant obligation: to make a kiddush Hashem. The Gemara (Yuma 86a) cites the pasuk, "And you shall love Hashem, your G-d" (Devorim 6:5) and comments: "The Name of Heaven should become beloved through you. One should learn Tanach, study Mishnah and serve talmidei chochomim. His dealings with people should be with pleasantness. What do people say about him? ‘Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe is to those who did not learn Torah! So-and-so, whom they taught Torah, see how pleasant are his ways, how perfected are his deeds.’ Concerning him the pasuk states: ‘And He said to me, you are My servant, Yisroel, through you, I am glorified’ (Yeshayahu 49:3)."

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site

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