Rav Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
As we approach Yom Ha’atzmaut (the Israeli day of independence) it would appear only natural to revisit the halacha of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael. As this framework does not allow for a lengthy discussion on the topic we will suffice with noting some of the more central views and in the words of Chazal “ve’idach zil Gmor” and the other (remainder) go and study to completion.
In his comments to the Rambam’s Sefer Ha’mitzvot, the Ramban lists Mitzvot, that in his opinion, the Rambam omitted. The fourth of the positive Mitzvot, which the Rambam did not include, is the commandment to settle the land of Israel. According to the Ramban, the Mitzvah entails capturing the land from foreign hands and then settling it, preventing others from recapturing these lands. In the opinion of the Ramban, this Mitzvah which is Mi’deorita applies at all times to all Jews as individuals. This last point means that even at times when a national control of the land is not possible, the individual must still strive to settle the land as best he can.
Since the Ramban includes this mitzvah as one of the mitzvot the Rambam omitted, it would appear that the Rambam did not see settling in the land of Israel as a mitzvah incumbent upon a Jew. Yet, it is clear from many other sources in the Rambam’s writings that living in the Land of Israel is of halachic significance. Two such halachot can be found at the end of the thirteenth chapter of the Rambam’s Hilchot Ishut.
In halachot sixteen through eighteen the Rambam teaches that when a woman agrees to wed she must follow her husband to his hometown unless such a move would require her to readjust to either a finer or simpler way of life. A second exception is if her town has a majority of Jews and his does not. Yet, in halachah nineteen, the Rambam states that this applies only when migrating from one place in the Diaspora to another. If the groom’s hometown is in Israel she must join him regardless of changes in life style. The same ruling applies if it means leaving a place predominantly Jewish in the Diaspora to a town predominantly non-Jewish in Eretz Yisrael.
The second such example is found in halacha twenty. Based on the Mishna (Ketuvot 110b), the Rambam rules that husband or wife may coerce their partner to immigrate to Israel. Should the wife refuse, the husband may divorce her with no obligations to pay the Ketuvah. Should it be the husband who refuses he must divorce her and pay the entire Ketuvah. In both these examples we see that the Rambam is of the opinion that living in Israel is of halachic significance. It is clear that though the Rambam saw halachic importance to living in Israel, he did not feel it should be included as one of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. Much has been said and written on this issue and we will try to note the central point of some of the suggested answers.
The Megilat Esther (a composition of Rabbi Yitzchak De Leon to defend the Rambam’s opinions in Sefer Hamitzvot) suggests that according to the Rambam, there is a mitzvah to conquer and settle the land. This mitzvah applied during the period of the Mikdash, and applies again at the time of redemption. In counting the 613 mitzvot the Rambam includes only mitzvot that are relevant at all times.
The Avnei Nezer suggests that the Rambam understood that the Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is included in the Mitzvah of removing the “Seven Nations” who dwelled in the land before the Jews entered at the time of Yehoshua. To prevent the return of those nations the land must be settled by Jews, therefore settling the land is part of the mitzvah to remove the Seven Nations.
Some commentaries, such as the Pe-at Ha’shulchan, are of the opinion that the Rambam felt that there is no biblical commandment to settle the land. The above mentioned Halachic significance of living in Israel is on the level of Rabbinic decrees based on a Rabbinic requirement to settle in Israel.
In Igrot Moshe, Rav Moshe Feinstein suggested that while according to the Ramban there is a requirement to pursue living in Israel, according to the Rambam there is a fulfillment of a mitzvah while living in Israel. Therefore, one may coerce a spouse to live there in order to fulfil the mitzvah but is not required to pursue such a life style.
Though Rav Feinstein seems to relate no significance to the establishment of the State of Israel in dealing with the question of the mitzvah to settle in Israel, other prominent Poskim gave weight to this historic event. Rabbi Eliezer Woldenberg, in his Tzitz Eliezer, writes at length on the importance of settling in Israel particularly after the establishment of the state. Rav Shaul Yisraeli in Eretz Chemda shows that even according to views that there is no requirement to settle in Israel after the destruction of the Mikdash, with the establishment of the state of Israel all the requirements apply once again.In conclusion: Though one could justify not living in Israel today it is clear that at the very least it is virtuous to live in Israel and according to many opinions today it is a halachic requirement.