Rav Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
In our previous article, we presented the opinion of Tosafot who limit the possibility of leaving Eretz Yisrael to only a minimal set of central mitzvot such as marriage and the study of Torah. They further limit the acceptability of leaving to temporary trips with the clear intention to return. Amongst the Rishonim there are other views that differ on one level or another with Tosafot.
One such opinion is that of the Rambam. In his Mishneh Torah Hilchot Melachim (ch 5 hl 9), the Rambam opens in similar fashion to the Tosafot stating: “It is prohibited to exit Eretz Yisrael to the diaspora except for the purpose of studying Torah or marrying a woman or to redeem from the hands of the gentiles and then return to the land”. However, the Rambam proceeds and opens the possibilities by stating: “One may also exit for commerce”. This expansion offered by the Rambam stems from one of several sources.
One possible source is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi. In the final words of the tenth chapter of the Yerushalmi, in reference to the prohibition to return to Egypt, it states: “Leyeshiva ein at chozer, chozer at le’prakmatya”- “you may not return to reside but you may return for commerce”. Since the pasuk prohibiting the return to Egypt speaks about a person residing in Eretz Yisrael, it is understood that not only can one return to Egypt for commerce but he may also leave Israel for the purpose of commerce in Egypt.
Another possible source for the Rambam’s ruling, permitting one to leave Eretz Yisrael for the purpose of commerce, is a Gemarah in Moed Katan (14a) that relates to a dispute between Rabi Yehuda and other “Chachamim”. The dispute pertains to who may shave on Chol Hamoed when he did not shave before Yom Tov. The agreed principle is that only if one could not shave before Yom Tov, due to circumstances out of his control, he may shave on Chol Hamoed. Rabi Yehuda and Chachamim agree that a person who traveled for the purpose of sightseeing and was unable to shave is perceived to be at fault and may not shave on Chol Hamoed. If, on the other hand, he traveled for basic needs of nourishment, he is certainly permitted to shave. If the trip was for commercial purposes, Rabi Yehuda equates it to sightseeing and, therefore, prohibits shaving on Chol Hamoed while Chachamim equate it to the needs of nourishment and, therefore, allow for shaving during Chol Hamoed. The Raavad suggests that they differ on whether leaving Eretz Yisrael for commerce is viewed as a prohibition like leaving for sightseeing or is it an acceptable reason to go abroad. If we are to assume that the Rambam understood the Gemarah in Moed Katan as the Raavad did, then we can conclude that the Rambam rules like Chachamim that it is permissible to exit Eretz Yisrael for commerce.
A third understanding can be found in Rav Shaul Yisraeli’s Eretz Chemdah (pp. 47-48). Rav Yisraeli suggests that the Rambam may have understood from the Gemarah in Ketubot (see last week’s article for details) that whenever one does not emigrate permanently, he does not undermine the fulfillment of the Mitzvah to settle Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, he may leave on the condition that there is a need for his travels. This understanding requires expanding the approval to exit Eretz Yisrael beyond the purpose of commerce.
Whether this is the Rambam’s position is unclear and debated amongst his commentaries. On the one hand, the Rambam in Hilchot Melachim only mentions leaving for the purpose of commerce. On the other hand in Hilchot Avel (ch.3 hl. 14)when speaking of a Kohen going to the diaspora, the Rambam uses a broader term, “lidvar mitzvah”, for the purpose of a mitzvah.
Even if the Rambam does not broaden the right to leave Eretz Yisrael beyond the special mitzvot and commerce such an opinion can be found in Rav Achay Gaon’s Sheiltot (sheilta 103). It should be noted that Rav Achay does not state this explicitly. What Rav Achay says is: that contrary to what has been presented previously, the mitzvot of Torah study and marriage are not preferred mitzvot but rather limited mitzvot. Rav Achay’s rationale is that if for these mitzvot, which can be fulfilled without the Kohen exiting Eretz Yisrael, we allow the kohen to leave, in order to fulfill the mitzvah in a personally preferred way. So too, all the more so with mitzvot that could not be performed otherwise.