The synagogue if filled from end to end. Every seat is reserved, every inch of space taken up. The Yom Kippur Neila service is drawing to an end. A day of repentance, prayer and charity fades to a close. A congregation, elevated for a day at least, watches as the Shofar is raised and a long clear, vibrant blast fills the hall. Five hundred voices cry out spontaneously –
L’Shana Ha’Ba’ah B’ Yerusalayim! “Next year in Jerusalem!”
The crowd files out to begin yet another year of bitter exile amidst television and Miami Beach.
The synagogue is dark and hushed. A few candles flutter in the corners, their flickering flames lighting the pained and saddened faces of the congregation sitting on low benches waiting for the Tisha B’Av services to begin and the mournful tune of the Eycha – Lamentations – rises softly, punctuated by the sobs of the mourners for Zion. Every mind is shattered as the picture of the beloved homeland, bereft of its children, comes to mind. Every pious Jew sitting in the room sighs and dreams of the day – may it soon come – when G-d will allow him to, once again, kiss the soil of the homeland – courtesy of a three-weeks American Jewish Congress guided tour, and then back home again to the painful fleshpots.
The dream of settling in Israel is a basic part of the Jewish faith. It is an obligation but it is more than that: “It is a dream. How many seas would the tears of our ancestors have filled as they wept for the privilege of returning to Zion? How piercing would have been the totality of their cries as they prayed to the yoke of nations and bring us upright to our land!”
Who can begin to fully quote the letter of the obligatory law to settle in the Land of Israel as expounded by our rabbis and who can adequately describe the acceptance of the spirit of that obligation by our ancestors, the dreamers of Zion? What would they not have given for the opportunity of returning and walking four cubits on its soil? How they would have flocked to the airports and harbors as the great vision approached fulfillment!
I write this as a traditional, observant Jew. For myself I have written and spoken and pleaded a thousand times over to all Jews of America to leave and return to Israel – not for religious reasons – but for the elementary need to save their lives. I believe in the marrow of my bones that the days of the Jew in the Untied States are numbered and that there is coming a storm of physical brutality that portends a holocaust. What 48 prophets could not convince Jews to do, says the Talmud, Haman’s ring accomplished. There is a Haman’s ring in the American Jewish future and for the sake of our children and grandchildren the time to evacuate is now. I have said this and will continue to say this to all Jews. But, for the observant ones there is another, an added; perhaps, an even more important reason.
Every traditional Jew must take a long and deep look at himself. He must ask difficult and painful questions. How is it possible to honestly pray three times a day to the Almighty to restore us to Zion when that restoration is ours at a cost of a few hundred dollars, courtesy of El Al? What rationalizations can we invent to answer those who question our lamentations for Zion when the Jewish Agency is prepared to grant long-term loans for housing and transportation for those who wish to settle in Israel? What can hide our shame as we fervently proclaim “Next Year in the Land of Israel” when next year has already come, when the gates of the Holy Land stand open, when the obligation to return can and demands to be fulfilled?
All this has nothing to do with the particular religious Jew’s attitude toward the government or State of Israel. We speak here, not of political Zionism, but of the original and permanent obligation to go up and settle the Holy Land – an obligation that is clear and binding upon all – from the Mizrachi through the Agudat Israel to Amram Blau and the Neturei Karta.
What kind of Jews are we who profess a Judaism that builds up a dream in ritual and prayer – until it is at the very center of our aspirations – and then make a mockery of it in practice? Those who are able to return and do not must cease to weep salted tears and put an end to insincere lamentations. Let us rather admit that we have eaten too long at the fleshpots of galut – exile – and that the bribery of the good life has compromised and blinded us. When a famous Rosh Yeshiva chided Ben Gurion on the secularism of Israel, the then Prime Minister cunningly replied: “Let the American religious Jews come here and put me out of office.”
He could well afford to be clever for he knew that most would not come. The Catskills have overshadowed the hills of Jerusalem and the Rockaways conquered the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Electric appliances have replaced the flame of sacrifice and the television set the Book of Lamentations. In a sense it is symbolic of a general loss of ability to sacrifice on the part of the American Jew – and the religious one is little different. It is a sad and dangerous thing.
From the religious point of view there is a double tragedy here. What power lies in the hands of a dynamic religious immigration! What a noble impression and Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of the Name – it would create in the young Israeli mind if religious Jews showed the courage of their convictions! What a Jewish State could be shaped out of a State of Israel!
Certainly it is difficult; to be sure there would have to be sacrifices in the economic standard of one’s life. Yes, there is a language barrier and no doubt employment would be a problem for a time and life would not be quite as materially sweet as back home with the good life and the American Nazi Party. But, since when has a religious Jew assumed that life was made to be sweet and that the Almighty placed him here so as to be comfortable? Is the excuse of economic difficulty enough to justify, in the religious Jew’s mind, the rationale given him by the non-observant for violating even the rabbinical laws of Sabbath? Is the Jew who tells us that economic need makes it imperative that his store remain open on the Sabbath since that is by far his busiest day, given dispensation? Do we calmly accept the decision of people not to send their children to yeshivot because of the economic difficulty involved or do we call upon them to make that sacrifice that is needed for the great commandment of Torah study?
Yet, here, on a question that every authority in the past has conceded is a religious obligation we find the religious Jew ready to join behind the Hadassahs , the ZOA’s and the Bnai Births in their shabby attempts to transform the galut – the exile – of America into such tortured sophistry as “chutz l’aretz” (outside the land). The very one who girds his loins for battle against all who seek to lighten some other halachic burden now suddenly descends into the intricacies of pilpul to explain that in reality Maimonides believes that the settlement of the land is only a rabbinical injunction (thus “merely” putting it on the same level as eating chicken with milk or doing business on the Sabbath); that one is free of the obligation if there is danger; that there are economic difficulties, ad infinitum.
No argument will blot out the shame of our craven surrender to materialism. The words we mouth in our daily prayers; the slogans we shout at the conclusion of Yom Kippur and at our Passover Seder all become empty and meaningless words when we have no intention of following them. It is up to the yeshivot to teach and to emphasize the religious obligation of a Jew to live in the Land of Israel. It is up to the traditional congregation to take steps to implement it. Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisroel (the commandment to settle the Land of Israel) becomes more than merely another of the laws. It becomes a mirror reflecting our weakness and hypocrisies. Next Tisha B’Av it would do well for us to weep – not for the land but for ourselves.
Kahane resources would like to thank Mrs. Barbara Ginsburg for providing the text of this article.