Toward the end of a phone conversation with a dear friend of mine in the States about making aliyah (moving to Israel), about our having made aliyah, she opined that even though we are now living in Israel we are still living in galut (exile). Her comment bothered me. I never thought about it before. Is it true that we are still exiled even while living in Israel? I wondered, and, if yes, does it diminish our (and every other oleh‘s) aliyah and commitment to living in Israel? Was she implying that it is unnecessary, maybe even pointless?
The implication rankled me but didn’t affect my conviction. After we made the easy/hard decision to pack up and leave the United States, the North American continent, place of our birth (Andy is Canadian), and our friends and family to move halfway across the globe, I started reading about the mitzvah, the imperative, to live today in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Previously unopened books as well as various pamphlets that I found while sorting out my father’s, z”l, library exhorting diaspora Jews to make aliyah, suddenly became not only interesting but personally relevant. Often quoted were the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, (whose grandnephew, Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, is the Chief Rabbi of Rehovot (where we live) and now the rabbi of the recently rebuilt Churva synagogue in the Old City in Jerusalem). Mind you, there was never a question in my mind of the propriety, even necessity, of settling and living in Israel, but I was heartened by the confirmation nonetheless. Throughout the ages, in fact, many great sages have settled in Israel or spent numerous years repeatedly trying to make their way to the Promised Land — they would have jumped at the opportunity we now have.
As far as the definition of exile is concerned, I think most of us consider galut as living in the diaspora (rather than Israel) until the time of Mashiach (Messiah), until the ingathering of the exiles, kibbutz galuyot, (which is what I believe is slowly happening now), and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). But the question remained: are we still considered to be exiled even when living in Israel during this period, and does it matter? Googling the question, I came upon a couple of threads by the members of the Avodah/Areivim forum of the AishDas website, made up of scholars and knowledgeable lay people, who have discussed this topic at various times and, although it’s rather difficult to come up with a definitive answer, I would like to give you a sampling of their thoughts.
Michael Makovi suggested:
…Galut means exile, lack of eretz yisrael [sic], lack of statehood. Obviously, we lack a Temple and the like, so there is still an element of galut. But all the same, there is an element of geula [redemption – C.L.]. To say that we are in galut without a “but”, is just as wrong as to say we are in geula without a “but”.
From Micha Berger:
Galus is defined first and foremost as the absence of the Shechinah [G-d’s presence – C.L.], not the absence of Jews from Israel.
Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, NJ weighed in with his thoughts:
While we now control, to some extent, Eretz Yisrael, I would argue that so long as the Bais HaMikdash is not built, and we do not have a monarchy with Mashiach as the first king in the line, we are ALL in galut. Those in Israel might not be in the GOLAH [lands of exile – C.L.], but we are all [in] GALUT. I see galut as an existential state of being, not a physical state of residence. I offer this without any proofs, it is MHO.
I would also postulate that from a practical/spiritual standpoint it doesn’t matter what the answer is to the question of whether or not one is living in exile even as a resident of Israel today. It’s immaterial if you believe, like many rabbis do, that for those who are able, there is always a mitzvah to live in the land, and there are certainly those mitzvot hat’luyot ba’aretz, mitzvahs that are dependent upon living in the land of Israel, which we observe in Israel today but were not relevant to us while living in New Jersey. There is also a qualitative difference between living in Israel and living in the United States (or any other country).
In a March 2010 article entitled “The New Olim: North American Rabbis”, Y. Reiss writes at www.wherewhatwhen.com about the new(!) phenomenon of congregational rabbis who are now making aliyah. Traditionally, it has predominantly been the synagogue members who pick themselves up and move to Israel. [Rabbi Riskin, who many years ago established the city of Efrat with some of his congregants is one notable exception. – C.L.] Now it seems that more congregational rabbis, with Nefesh B’Nefesh assistance, are beginning to lead the way. Reiss interviewed some of these new olim about their decision to make aliyah and on the benefits of living in Israel even without Mashiach:
Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, Rav of the Woodside community in Silver Spring … “The world feels more dangerous,” he said, “and the securities, both physical and financial, that American Jewry have relied on in galus no longer seem to be a foregone conclusion. In addition, although no one can accurately say what point of the geula we are currently in, there is a feeling that we are approaching the time of geula and it is time to come back to Israel.”
Rabbi Shandalov, formerly of Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel in Chicago, and currently living in Maalei Adumim… simply said that being in Israel is “like being at home,… as part of a majority.” He specifically appreciated that December 25th was just another workday. Rabbi [Elan] Adler [of Baltimore’s Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation] pointed out that even the chagim are richer in Eretz Yisrael: “In chutz la’aretz, you observe Sukkot, in Eretz Yisrael, it is Sukkot.”… He stresses that inspiration can be found everywhere in Israel, even among secular cab drivers, who might give a 20 minute shmooze on how Hakadosh Baruch Hu [the Holy One Blessed Be He -C.L.] runs the world…”
In a related article entitled “Aliyah in Halacha” [Aliyah in Jewish Law], Y. Reiss discusses the writings of Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, Hy”d, who wrote “Eim Habanim Semeicha” from his hiding place during the Holocaust. “
…based on extensive scholarship [Rabbi Teichtel] concluded that human action ought to be the vehicle for bringing the Jewish people back to Israel as a precursor to the geula (Redemption)!…
Rabbi Teichtal’s main premise is that faith without action is ineffective. At the Red Sea, with Egyptians quickly overtaking Bnai Yisrael, Moshe Rabeinu stopped to daven. Hashem harshly responded, “Why do you cry out to me?” exhorting Moshe to instead “speak to the Children of Israel that they should travel.” In other words, it was time for Bnai Yisrael to put their faith into action by crossing the sea, even before Hashem had begun to split it. Similarly, says Rabbi Teichtal, it is not enough for Jews to simply believe that Mashiach will come to redeem the Jews. Instead, they must act like Bnai Yisrael at the Red Sea, and demonstrate their faith that Mashiach is coming by ascending to Eretz Yisrael.
I asked a friend of ours who made aliyah from the U.K. over thirty years ago if she felt like she was in galut. Her answer was an unequivocal “no.” Despite the fact that only about 30–40% of the country is observant, she said, the entire country revolves around Judaism and the Jewish calendar… the holidays are Jewish holidays, and because her children were all born here the feeling is intensified.
Of course we don’t have the Beit Hamikdash, but that feeling of “otherness” doesn’t exist here. The Israeli government is not perfect, it’s not always properly predisposed to Jewish law, but it is still runs on basic Jewish precepts. Israeli citizens may be arguing about whether or not the state/courts have a right to determine which school or yeshiva to send one’s children as in the recent case in the city of Emanuel, or the validity of IDF and other conversions (which is affecting the rabbinical courts in the United States as well) but we are not battling moves to outlaw circumcision in Israel as has surfaced most recently in California, nor about shechita — ritual slaughter — which is “brought up for review” occasionally (most notably by PETA) in the U.S. and has actually been outlawed in several countries.
Additionally, there are some who don’t believe that a Jewish government should exist in Israel until the advent of Moshiach, but this is not deterring them from living and building in the Holy Land. Our local daily newspaper, HaMivaser, just featured the visit of the Squerer Rebbe to Beit Shemesh to lay the cornerstone for another one of their buildings.
Perhaps one of the most interesting comments I’ve seen and which corresponds with an analogy of mine, is from Areivim member Danny Schoemann of Jerusalem. He says:
Picture this: Moshiach comes this afternoon – you get on a booking to Israel no problem (as you are now a privileged person who does not need a valid passport to travel – one gain of no shibud malchios). Then you become practical: by the time you’ve thought about it, all the houses on your block are already for sale – how will you pay for the trip, the moving, the new business? So, do you opt for arriving as a pauper to greet Moshiach or to stay in chutz lo’oretz as the president of the shul?
Food for thought…
The analogy that occurred to me is that of a king and his palace: if the palace were to burn down and the king’s children flee, wouldn’t he want them to come back and settle in the city awaiting the rebuilding and even assisting in it? Even if he had originally chased them away, even if it was difficult, if it took a long time, their commitment to him and belief in his rebuilding would endear them to him. And the children who resettled elsewhere? He would still love them, after all they’re still his kids, but the ones who stayed close or came back will be at a special advantage when the building is completed because of their proximity. I think that analogy would work for G-d and the Jewish people, especially now that He’s made it so much easier for us to return.
While there are legitimate reasons why someone may not be able to make aliyah now: family obligations, illness, work-related issues… the contention (fact?) that we are yet in exile, awaiting redemption, even while living in Israel shouldn’t be one of them.
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