Is Aliyah a Mitzvah?

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Rabbi Shalom Rosner will be speaking on January 15, 2017 at the OU’s Torah in the City event, indoors at Citifield, on ‘Living in Diaspora vs. Eretz Yisroel: What is a Good Jew to Do?‘ Start studying this contentious subject with Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky’s analysis below:

We are all aware of the terrible sin of the Meraglim (spies) and the devastating affect it had on Klal Yisroel. If ever one questions the importance and beauty of Eretz Yisroel one need not look any further then the story of the Meraglim. It is therefore necessary to analyze whether there is a mitzvah to “make aliyah”, to move to Israel, and why many great gedolim lived all of their lives outside of the Land of our fathers.

The opinion of the Ramban

The Rambam omits the obligation to move to Eretz Yisroel in his list of the 613 mitzvos. The Ramban disagrees, however, and he feels that the obligation to live in Israel is biblical in nature and applies nowadays as well. A similar view can be found in the Shu’t Rashash (1-2) and he testifies that his father, the Tashbetz, concurs that there is a biblical mitzvah to make aliyah. The Sefer Charedim (Mitzvos Aseh chapter 57 note 15) writes the following: “There is positive commandment to live in Israel…Chazal tell us that this mitzvah is as great as all the other mitzvos combined.”

The opinion of the Rambam

As we previously explained, the Rambam omitted the mitzvah of making aliyah in his list of the 613 mitzvos. Rav Yitzchak Di Lion, in his pirush Megilas Esther, explains that the reason for the omission is that the Rambam feels that the obligation to live in Israel only applied during the times of Moshe, Yehoshua and Dovid Hamelech, when the Bais Hamikdash was built and the Jews had command of the land. Once the Jews were exiled from the land the mitzvah no longer applies. Since this mitzvah does not apply nowadays it does not belong in the Rambam’s list of the 613 mitzvos. As the Rambam in shoresh 3 writes, any mitzvah that applied at some point but does not apply anymore does not get counted. It would seem that according to the understanding of the Megilas Esther, the Rambam feels that there is no obligation to live in Israel nowadays, even on a rabbinic level. A similar understanding was expressed in the sefer Mili D’Avos (vol. 5 page 498).

The Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 454) disagrees with the Megilas Esther. He feels that according to the Rambam the biblical mitzvah is applicable even in current day Israel, and he offers a different explanation (for reasons beyond the scope of this article) as to why it was not counted by the Rambam amongst the other 248 positive commandments.

The seforim offer one final alternative explanation regarding the Rambam’s view of this mitzvah. The Rashbash writes that according to the Rambam, while there does not exists a biblical mitzvah nowadays, however, there does exist a rabbinic mitzvah. A similar view was expressed by the Sefer Nishmas Kol Chai (Y.D. 48) and the Sefer Paas Hashulchan (1:14).

The opinion of Rav Chaim Kohen

Tosafos (Kesubos 110b) writes the following: “Rav Chaim Kohen was want to say that the mitzvah to live in Israel does not apply nowadays, for there are many mitzvos and prohibitions that exist only in Eretz Yisroel and it is truly difficult to diligently fulfill all those obligations.” This opinion of Rav Chaim Kohen was codified by the Knesses Hagedola (Klallei Haposkim 16). The son of the Node Biyehuda (Y.D. M.T. 206) explains that the reason that all the Baalei Tosafos lived in the Diaspora was based upon the ruling of Rav Chaim Kohen.

The Mabit unequivocally disagrees with the permissive view of Rav Chaim Kohen, he explains that the reason to live in Israel has nothing to do with the mitzvos that apply only in Eretz Yisroel. The reason to make aliyah is due to the fact that the land is holy and therefore one is required to live there. In which case there is no reason to assume that the mitzvah does not apply nowadays. Indeed many achronim felt that the ruling of Rav Chaim Kohen should not be cited for hallachic purposes (see ruling of Shelah Hakadosh cited in sefer Paas Hashulchan and Yosef Ometz 52).

The opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe E.H. 102) discusses whether there is a mitzvah to make aliyah and why many rabbanim have lived in the Diaspora. He writes that even according to the opinion of the Ramban, that there exists a biblical obligation, the nature of this obligation is different than many other mitzvos. He feels that this mitzvah is “kiyumis” not “chiyuvis”.

To fully appreciate this distinction, it is necessary to offer an introduction regarding different types of mitzvos. There exist two types of mitzvos: 1) “kiyumis”- A mitzvah that is not obligatory, rather if one fulfills this mitzvah one receives reward (ex. Eating in the Succah following the first night. For the following meals one does not need to eat in the Succah, if one were to choose, one can refrain from eating bread and the like and would not be in violation of any prohibition. However, if one chooses to eat bread then one must eat it in the succah. Thus this mitzvah is “optional”.) 2) “Chiyuvis”- A mitzvah that one must fulfill and is obligatory in nature. (ex. Wearing Tefillin. One must wear tefillin every day and if one neglects this mitzvah and does not wear tefillin has done something wrong. Thus this mitzvah is “obligatory”.)

Now we can understand the ruling of Rav Moshe. He explains that although there is a mitzvah to live in Israel, however, this mitzvah is “optional”. Meaning that one is not obligated to move to Israel, rather, if one lives in Israel he fulfills a mitzvah. Rav Moshe continues, that because there is no prohibition of living outside of Israel it might be preferable to do so for the reasons given by Rav Chaim Kohen (namely that there are many mitzvos and prohibitions that apply specifically to the Land of Israel and it is difficult to fulfill all of those obligations.)

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l agreed with the premise of Rav Moshe Feinstein. He also felt that the mitzvah to live in Israel is a mitzvah “kiyumis” and not “chiyuvis” (oral ruling cited by Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a sefer Peninei Harav).

Come learn more on this fascinating topic with Rabbi Shalom Rosner in person, on January 15 at the OU’s Torah in the City event. Check out the full programme at .