Opportunities arise, and opportunities vanish: We must seize the opportunity immediately when it presents itself to us. Often, the chance will not present itself again in the future. No matter how unrealistic the scenario seems at that time, and that maybe, a better situation will present itself soon, one must grab the opportunity before it disappears. If one has the chance to make Aliya to Eretz Yisroel, one must jump on the wings of the eagle and fly. There is a commandment to live in Eretz Yisroel and one should cherish a chance to fulfill this mitzvah. Therefore, It is definitely better for one to live in a completely irreligious and secular city in Eretz Yisroel than to dwell among the religious in a comfortable environment in the exile.
Foremost, it is a commandment to live in Eretz Yisroel even in a city where the rest of the residents’ religion differs. The Rambam in Hilchot Milachim states that, “A person should always dwell in Eretz Yisroel, even in a city that is mostly non-Jews than reside in Chutz La’aretz, even in a city that is full of Jews” (6:12). If such is the case when most of the city’s population are non-Jews, how much more so would the commandment be to live there if the majority are secular and irreligious. Why not dwell among your own, even with some religious differences? Put those issues aside and be there for each other in a time of need. In the end, we will only have each other.
However, there are those that will understandably argue there is a clear difference between the irreligious individual and those of a completely different religion. It is easier to protect oneself from a different religion’s influences than guard oneself and their family from the irreligious camps in their own religion. When a completely different religion is in question, one may be better able to separate those foreign ways and the opposite lifestyles from their own. There is definite line and distinguishable culture that parts the two from each other. One will guard their sacred devoutness from all outside influences and will remember that they are clearly different. However, when the irreligious, secular, and anti-Torah and mitzvot individuals are in question, one may contemplate to if there really are any lifestyle differences that divides them. If they are initially both from the same religion, what will bar an over-intersection with the other party. Those, even the devoutly religious, will have a difficult challenge to overcome and in turn may succumb to a non-Torah path and lifestyle.
Similarly, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner asks a question in his explanation to Rabbi A.Y. Kook’s Orot, “Is it better to be a religious individual living in Chutz La’aretz or to be an irreligious person residing in Israel?” (Eretz Yisroel Ch.1 note 38) He answers that both scenarios are undesirable and that there does not have to be a direct answer to this question. As a direct result of living in an irreligious area, one’s children may shed their religious upbringing. They may view their secular neighbors’ lifestyle more enticing than their own and will fall prey to those influences. However, this article’s question of if there is a requirement to live in a secular are somewhat different. The question is not if one should be religious or not. Yes, one will be leaving their family susceptible to irreligious assimilation in this situation. However, a devoutly religious individual still has the choice of how to approach this situation with a clear conscience. Though, one will have to make tough decisions on how to educate his or her children through the challenging environment—and it will be difficult. However, one still has that chance to steer those children and mold them into a religious lifestyle. Being religious is a choice the children will ultimately make on their own. These trials and tribulations do not negate the requirement of living in Eretz Yisroel.
Moreover, one’s children may learn the opposite from such a situation as well. They can learn much from the great sacrifice their parents made to live in Eretz Yisroel, even with the challenging environment surrounding them. They could have decided to live anywhere in the world, yet, even with a non-religious-friendly atmosphere, they abandoned their comfort zone just to reside in the Holy Land. These children have the opportunity to learn a great lesson form all of this about the importance Eretz Yisroel and about giving of everything for one’s beliefs. In the end, it will be the children’s choice to how they understand and appreciate this self-sacrifice and to which direction they will take with their own religious lifestyle and practice.
Additionally, regarding importance of the mitzvot, living in Eretz Yisroel is on a plateau of its own. As the Yalkut Shemoni states, “Living in Eretz Yisroel is equal to all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Re’eh 247:885). There is no commandment to settle in any other land in the world except Eretz Yisroel. Also, regarding settling the land, the Torah does not differentiate one area of Eretz Yisroel from another: It is of equal importance to settle everywhere in the land. One must therefore settle in a city where the religious observance differs in such a situation where there is no other option.
Nonetheless, it would be of a great virtue and a benefit to other religious people to establish a religious population in an irreligious and secular city. The only way to change the current population’s diversity is by counteracting it with more religious individuals. One cannot begin to complain about such-and-such a city being completely secular if no one attempts to introduce a religious population into the vicinity. Increasing the religious sector will result in a more religiously run municipality, and in turn, it will require the other residents, (whether they like it or not,) to adhere to religious practices and prohibitions in public. Moreover, the whole land is sacred, and we have the obligation to remove all non-Torah practices from Eretz Yisroel. The best way to accomplish so in today’s society is for us to increase of our own religious presence in that city. Then we will be fulfilling the commandment of “you shall remove the evil from your midst” (Devarim 17:7), and “your camp should be holy” (ibid 23:15), concurrently.
In addition, by putting one’s own personal wants for an ideal religious living environment aside, it will aid the joint effort of the Jewish nation’s survival, which one accomplishes best by living in Eretz Yisroel. The Gemara says, “Any man that does not own land is not considered a person” (Yevamot 63A). In his explanation to Rabbi A.Y. Kook’s Orot, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner states that, “surely, a nation without a land is not a nation” (Eretz Yisroel intro to Ch. 3). Certainly, living in Eretz Yisroel, even in a secular city, is essential to the existence of the Jewish nation. Being a part of a complete nation not only means practicing the same religion, it also means fighting for the same causes of survival—defending the same homeland. It is impossible for one to completely devote all his or her efforts to the survival and existence of a nation if the individual does not live in that country. Not only does an individual’s monetary support and physical defense help, one needs to help the population grow larger as well. Numbers really do matter.
Moreover, if the religious sector makes it their business to help the city grow in human quantity and religious quality, the irreligious may begin to learn some of the virtues of a religious-centered life. If the religious community behaves properly and displays the crown of religion, others may come to be more tolerant of it, understand more about religious life, and even start to practice the proper lifestyle in their private lives as well. One has the opportunity to make a profound statement. However, one must initiate such a campaign immediately upon moving into the city and execute the move in a positive and discreet fashion. Even one minor mistake can backfire, as the negative effect will leave a scar for generations to come. Though, it is an opportunity that can change the outlook of a city’s population.
In conclusion, if one has no other choice but to live in a secular and irreligious city in Eretz Yisroel, it is unquestionably better to reside in the Holy Land than to remain in the exile. Yes, there will be many trials and tribulations, especially with the upbringing of one’s children in such an environment. However, the children will ultimately make religious piety a choice of their own. Additionally, there are commandments and benefits to residing in Eretz Yisroel in general (which is beyond the scope of this paper). Also, one has a unique opportunity to aid to the religious influence of the city in question, which will help restore the land to its former glory with a Torah-abiding life for all its inhabitants. Moreover, being part of a unified nation with a homeland is essential to its survival. Therefore, we must embrace the opportunity of Aliya La’aretz whenever it comes our way.