Not Even on the Radar

In Part 2 of our series on Aliyah, we will hear from a few more former American Rabbis now living in Israel. But first, it is interesting always edifying to hear what Gedolim have said about the mitzvah of living in Israel. It is told that Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, hosted the sixth Admore of Lubavitch, Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, in his home during the Admore’s visit to the Holy Land. Since it was Parshat Matot, Rabbi Kook said a Dvar Torah about the events in the Parsha, asking why Moshe Rabenu didn’t receive Divine punishment for speaking harshly to the tribes of Reuven and Gad for wanting to remain on the eastern bank of the Jordan River and not journey on to the Promised Land proper. After all, when Moshe called the Jews rebels when he smote the rock to bring forth water, Hashem punished him by not allowing him to enter the Land. Here, Moshe calls them “a brood of sinful men,” yet he is not punished. Rabbi Kook explained that because Moshe Rabenu rebuked them for weakening the Nation by not wanting to make Aliyah, as in the case of the Spies, it was correct to address them harshly, and Hashem agreed. “Even more so today,” Rabbi Kook told his distinguished guest. “We see the way of Torah in this matter. When these Tribes balked in performing the mitzvah of making Aliyah and conquering the Land of Israel, even though they presented tangible excuses, in possessing much cattle, it is not appropriate to answer them politely – rather yelling at them is the proper response. And if this is the case with the Tribes of Israel, how truer today, in a generation so poor in deeds, even if we find the most justified excuses, if that were possible, in failing to perform the mitzvah of Aliyah to the Land – what are we, what Torah do we have, what is our righteousness, what is our strength when compared to the Tribes in the days of Moshe?” Rabbi Kook added, “Our knowledge is limited, and the ways of Hashem are hidden, but there is absolutely nothing in the world which can absolve a person from making Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. We must strengthen our faith and belief that only in the Aliyah to Israel and its settlement will the Torah be fulfilled, as it says: “Her king and her princes are among the nations – there is no Torah,” (Lamentations, 2:9).

Lest the reader think that we are only bringing the opinion of so-called Zionist Rabbis, recently, a young Torah student from Lakewood who made Aliyah told the revered Torah authority of the Haredi community, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky in Bnei Brak, that in America, many people maintain that a Jew should not move to Israel until the Mashiach arrives. The reply of the elderly Sage was filmed. “G-d forbid,” HaRav Kanievski answered. “It is a mitzvah of the Torah to make Aliyah,” (See,…/)

The elder posek, Rabbi Shalom Eisen, a longtime hevruta of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, served on the Beit Din of the Eida HaHaredis in Jerusalem. Ever since his early youth, he davened the early morning vatikin prayer at the Kotel during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Tshuva. My first year in Israel, I had the honor of escorting him home after Kol Nidre prayers in his Mea Shaarim shtiebel. The kedusha filling the dark neighborhood was so tangible you could almost reach out and feel it. “It is so holy here, why don’t all the religious Jews in America come to live here?” I asked him, expecting to receive a long lecture on the halachic points of view of the Rambam and the Ramban. Instead, the wizened sage held out two fingers and rubbed them together. “Dollarim,” was all he said.

Before making aliyah in 1982, Rabbi Shalom Gold headed the Young Israel Synagogue of West Hempstead. He is the founder of the large Kehillat Zichron Yosef Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. “The window of a great opportunity in America is closing,” he told the Jewish Press. “To my way of thinking, the ruling of HaRav Moshe Feinstein and HaRav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, of blessed memories, that the mitzvah of settling in Israel is an optional mitzvah, rather than an obligation, is a wondrous concept which give Jews in the Diaspora the chance to serve Hashem, not under the coercion and obligation of a commandment, but out of the idealistic desire to carry out Hashem’s will that the Children of Israel live in the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, the opportunity to reach this exalted, free-will level of serving G-d is closing because of sinister changes that are taking place in America, where more and more synagogues have been forced to hired armed guards. America is no longer the great haven of hospitality and kindness that it was in the past. I don’t know how much longer the Jews of America will have the luxury of coming to live in Israel out of their own free choice, the greatest step a person can take in his life, rather than being compelled to flee. This would be a great tragedy. They will be boarding Nefesh B’Nefesh flights because they have to – not because they want to.”

Personally, three decades before this recent wave of anti-Semitism began, why did you, a successful Rabbi on Long Island, decide to come on Aliyah?

“I suppose I was crazy. Sometimes a little craziness can be a positive thing. Thank G-d, I inherited from my father a fervent Zionism and deep love for Eretz Yisrael. I felt that if I didn’t make Aliyah, my life would be an absolute failure.”

Rabbi Reuven Grodner studied under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and received his smeicha and M.A. from Yeshiva University in 1965. After serving in the rabbinate in the United States for a period of 18 years, he made Aliyah. For the past 30 years, he has served as Director of the Beit Midrash Program at the Hebrew University.

“Rabbis and Jewish community leaders are definitely needed in the Diaspora in order to preserve the remnants of our people, who are survivors of an ongoing spiritual Holocaust,” he replied. “Not all who serve in positions of leadership, however, are doing an adequate job in inspiring and educating. These people would do well in making Aliya and, at the same time, serve as an example to others. Dynamic leaders and teachers have a license to remain in galut, albeit at the great sacrifice of spiritual fulfillment which a person can attain in Eretz Yisrael.”

Raised in Riverdale, Rabbi Ari Shvat teaches Jewish Studies in the Orot College for Women in Elkana, and is Director of the Archives Department at Beit HaRav Kook in Jerusalem.  “Jewish educators outside of Israel don’t teach enough about Aliya,” he told the Jewish Press. “Our Sages explicitly teach that: ‘Settling in the Land of Israel is equal to the rest of the mitzvot combined,” (Sifre, Re’eh 12), and that, “A Jew who lives outside of Israel is as if he is worships idols,” (Ketuvot 111). For obvious reasons, Rabbis in America understandably have a problem teaching these dictums. As Torah scholars, they are clearly aware of the ideal to make Aliya, but as one Rabbi in New York explained to me when I was nineteen, “How can I talk about a mitzvah that I myself don’t observe?! People would accuse me of hypocrisy, and to a certain extent, they’re correct!”

To be fair, there are halachic opinions that coming on Aliyah is not a Torah obligation today.

 I don’t think you could find one leading Torah authority in Israel who would agree with that. The Gemara (Yoma 9b) gives two reasons why the Second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed: because of needless hatred, and because the majority of Jews in Bavel refused to make Aliya. My Rabbis in New York only taught the former reason, and skipped the second. This selective picking and choosing could be excused for 1900 years, when Aliya was nearly impossible, but now, the time has come to return to teach and live the original Judaism, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, without omitting any of Hashem’s important and fundamental ideals. To live, as our fore-fathers, the complete Torah in the State of Israel, in the Land of Israel, speaking the language of the Nation of Israel, doing all we can, materially and spiritually, to prepare the way for the Temple’s rebuilding, may it be soon!”

Before making Aliyah, Rabbi Kenny Cohen led the Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles. He teaches in the English-Speaking Division of the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

“Back in 1983, I served as a pulpit rabbi in Los Angeles in a young Orthodox synagogue in a good Jewish neighborhood. My future was bright and it looked like a promising career awaited me. However, as time went on, I began to be tormented by a verse in Ezekiel 36 that gave me no peace of mind. The verse read, ‘These are G-d’s People, but they are outside of His Land.’ The interpretation was that the presence of a Jew in the Exile was a desecration of the name of G-d. It made G-d look weak. In essence, the verse was saying, ‘If you’re G-d’s Chosen People, what are you doing outside of His Chosen Land.’ I knew that I needed to be true to my ideals and it was obvious that I needed to move to Israel with my family. Thank G-d, in the summer of 1983, I made the most important decision of my life by making Aliya. Never in the past thirty-two years did I ever regret that decision because it was the right thing to do. I constantly feel blessed and fortunate to be able to live in Israel. I am home.

“It’s time that other rabbis and Jewish leaders shout out this simple message. Israel is the only home for the Jewish people and is the only place in the world where Jews are truly welcome. The doors are open for our people to come home and nothing is preventing this except for Jewish weakness. Jewish leaders have lost the courage to lead and encourage their communities to do what is right. And more importantly, they must lead by example by moving to Israel.”

Rabbi Dov Lipman served as a Knesset Member in the Yesh Atid Party. He received smeicha from the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, and a Master’s Degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University. Before moving to Israel, he taught Jewish Studies in Cincinnati and Silver Springs. On a speaking tour in America, he says he met with Yeshiva University students and told them:

“I feel the need to be very blunt with you: I don’t understand how Aliyah is not part of the standard education in our day schools. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeats over and over: ‘In the Land that God has given to you,’ and, ‘When you enter the Land that God has given to you as an inheritance.’ And here we are, living in a generation where God has made that gift available to us. The Land of Israel is our inheritance from God. How are we rejecting that Divine gift by not even talking about Aliyah? It’s not even on the radar screen. Isn’t this a rejection of the gift from God? Can you imagine if an Orthodox school did not teach about the biblical commandment of tzitzit? They would be outside the fold and considered not religious. Yet somehow we do not teach the biblical commandment of living in the Land of Israel – which some commentaries like Nachmanides (the Ramban) view as an obligation. How can this be?

“I asked educators at Jewish day schools in different cities to explain why they don’t teach the mitzvah of moving to Israel. How can schools claim to be religious if they completely ignore a fundamental mitzvah in the Torah? The answers I received ranged from ‘it’s complicated,’ to ‘we haven’t really thought about it,’ to the very honest “our parent body wouldn’t allow it.’ Educators in several Jewish schools told me how a very high number of students walk away from any form of active Judaism, and that Jewish leaders are trying to figure out how to stem that tide. I believe that education about Israel – including teaching about aliyah and encouraging IDF or national service – should be considered as one of the methods to ensure that Jewish students remain active, interested and passionate Jews.

“During the time of the construction of the Second Temple, the overwhelming majority of Jews living in Babylon did not seize the opportunity to return to Israel. We cannot afford to repeat that tragedy. For both religious and practical reasons, I strongly urge schools and synagogues throughout North America to begin putting Aliyah education at the center of their educational mandate, with the explicit goal of inspiring tens of thousands of Jews to proudly choose to make Israel their home.”


Before making Aliyah in 1984, Tzvi Fishman taught Creative Writing at the NYU School of the Arts. In Israel, he studied Torah at Yeshivas Machon Meir, Beit-El, Ateret Cohanim, amd Mercaz HaRav. He has published nearly twenty novels and books on a wide range of Jewish themes, available at Amazon Books and the website, including Free Downloads. He is the recipient of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. Recently, he produced and directed the feature film, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman” starring Israel’s popular actor, Yehuda Barkan. Presently, he is working on Volume Four of the “Tevye in the Promised Land” Series.

To see more of Rabbi Fishman’s blogs, Click on tzvi fishman at the top of the page.