Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Steven Starr wrote a letter to the editor last week (“Change the Tone of the Conversation Between Israeli and American Jewry,” August 4, 2022). He is bothered that a religious Zionist newspaper, serving a religious Zionist community, often has writers who admonish us to make aliyah.

Our community holds certain values that are promoted in our schools, in our shuls and in our publications. Aliyah is one of those values.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, then we have to admit that living in the Diaspora is “less than and undesirable,” to use the words in his critique.

True, there may be reasons why some of us are here and not in Israel, and some of those reasons may be somewhat valid for now, but it is still better to live in Israel and is a basic Jewish value. Simply put, the mitzvah of aliyah applies to all of us, whether we are capable of fulfilling this mitzvah today or desire to do it at some point.

From the day our students begin studying Torah with the story of Avraham’s aliyah, or studying Navi with the story of Yehoshua leading the entire people on aliyah, teaching the centrality of Israel and the importance of living there is an educational goal in our institutions. Most of the Torah actually describes the journey towards the land of Israel. Chazal regularly makes comments about the importance of living in Israel, sometimes going so far as to state that one who lives outside of Israel is just practicing the mitzvot for when we can do the real thing in Israel.

This does not negate the fact that Diaspora Jewry has much to offer the Jewish people. We can still be partners with our brethren in Israel. But our history and tradition make clear that we are the junior partners in this Jewish journey through history. Current events further support this idea as Israel has become the dominant religious, political and intellectual center of the Jewish people today.

Some may find this messaging “hurtful and insulting,” to use Starr’s words, but they reflect the values of our community here in New Jersey. In similar fashion, I would support messaging that exhorts our community to learn more Torah, do more chesed or attend minyan more often, even though there is a real chance that those who don’t do any of these may feel that they are looked at as “less than.”

I imagine that in the time of Ezra and Nechemiah there are those who also rationalized staying in Bavel lechatchila (at first glance) and made arguments why most Jews were not making aliyah. Chazal did not view their arguments fondly. I suspect that future generations will also ask why we didn’t make aliyah in larger numbers when it was relatively easy compared to previous generations.

I, for one, will continue to celebrate those who make the superior choice based on our community’s values, often in difficult situations, and make aliyah. Yes, in this regard, they are doing better than I.

Rabbi Daniel Alter
Head of School, Moriah

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