Visiting Israel

Dear Torah Jews,

Why don’t you visit Israel like so many other Jews I know?

Among non-Zionist Jews, you will find that some visit Eretz Yisroel, some don’t, some more often and some less often. That should be enough to make it clear that this is not a difference among us of ideology or of opinion on Jewish law; rather, it is dependent on many practical considerations.

The Old Yishuv is a non-Zionist community of Jews living in Eretz Yisroel, dating back to the 1800s. The community numbered around 50,000 at the time of the Balfour Declaration, and increased gradually over the years. Many famous Chassidic Rebbes, as well as Lithuanian and Polish yeshiva students, settled in Eretz Yisroel both before and after World War II. Some use the term Haredim for all these people, and they now number over a million.

Jews in the United States will weigh many factors when deciding whether to visit Eretz Yisroel: they may have relatives there, they may be attending a wedding, they may be a rabbis or a followers of a rabbi visiting other followers living there. Furthermore, a whole class of yeshivas and seminaries has arisen in which boys and girls from around the world come to pursue their studies under famous rabbis. Think of these yeshivas as the equivalent of one stage of the college system. A person preparing for a career in medicine will typically study for a 4 years in one college, followed by years of medical school at another college. Similarly, some American boys training in Talmudic study will typically spend 3 years in an American yeshiva followed by 2 years in a Jerusalem yeshiva. Girls will typically spend one year in Jerusalem. Family members of these boys and girls often come to visit them.

These considerations have to be weighed against a safety concerns. By all accounts, the State of Israel is not as safe as America, with constant terror attacks and wars. Even if one evaluates the danger and considers it tolerable, one is relying on the army for protection. A non-Zionist Jew must ask himself honestly whether he would not walk around feeling, “I’m glad there is a Jewish state here, because if it were an Arab or binational state, I would never be able to visit.”

Those of us who don’t have good reason to be there will often decide that visiting and relying on the Israeli army would be hypocritical and inconsistent with our beliefs. 

Religious Zionists, on the other hand, visit because it’s their ideal. Many of them wish they could make aliyah and live there, so visiting is for them the next best thing. They send children to study in yeshivas there, not just because those might happen to be the best yeshivas for them (as is usually the case with non-Zionists), but because the religious Zionist yeshivas teach Zionism. Students in those yeshivas who are Israeli citizens alternate between army service and study, and American students often choose to serve too. Many of the students go on to make aliyah and live permanently in Israel, speaking Hebrew and raising their families there. They often choose to live in West Bank settlements because they feel they are on the frontier of Zionism. It doesn’t bother them that they are exposed to danger, because that is their religion.

Jews who oppose Zionism, such as us, would never do that. In the words of the Jewish prayers, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” Although Eretz Yisroel is a holy place, there is no obligation to go and live there. True, according to some authorities there is a mitzvah to live there, but even they agree that it’s not an obligatory mitzvah today. One has to weigh many factors, such as making sure that he is on the appropriate spiritual level to live in such a holy land. Any sin committed in Eretz Yisroel is much more serious than if it were committed in another place. Being subject to the state of Israel with all its anti-religious laws and atmosphere is certainly a consideration. 

The Jewish exile lasts until the messiah comes, so the attitude of many anti-Zionist Jews is that we should stay put, serve G-d here in exile and not attempt to settle or even visit the holy land. If one has an important reason to go, one would have to weigh the pros and cons, but people with this attitude try to arrange their lives so that they don’t have reason to go. Most of the time, their children study and settle near them in America. Instead of going to graves of famous rabbis in Eretz Yisroel, they visit other famous graves in Eastern Europe.

Also, when we talk about ending the State of Israel and replacing it with a single state for Jews and Palestinians, many people are afraid for the safety of Jews living there. Clearly, this problem needs to be solved somehow. But to bring more Jews to Israel would only compound the problem to be solved.  

I hope this answers your question.