July 16, 2024
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On Living in Eretz Yisrael

In reading Steven Starr’s letter in the June 6 edition of The Jewish Link (“We Need a Nuanced Discussion of American Aliyah”), there are a few points worth clearly stating.

1) Unless one is an adherent to the approach of the Satmar or Neturei Karta movements, the fact that living in Eretz Yisrael is halachically preferred to living in galut is not a matter of nuance or ambiguity. It is the widely accepted understanding of halacha, including by the Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who were all proponents of aliyah, not opponents. That they didn’t make aliyah themselves is in line with the historical precedent that leading gedolei Torah of a Diaspora community, whom the community widely depends on for Torah guidance, may constitute a unique exception to the requirement of aliyah. While we all strive for greatness, we are not all as essential to American Jewish life as those leading Torah figures were to their respective communities,
and we shouldn’t be fooling ourselves into thinking that we are.

2) Aliyah is not a matter of religious “idealism” any more than putting tefillin on in the morning, bentching, or any other mitzvah. We typically don’t refer to performers of those mitzvot as idealists, because idealism implies something with theoretical value but with a lack of practical necessity or practical applicability, which is not how we are meant to approach mitzvot. Aliyah is as necessary and practically applicable as any other mitzvah, and our responsibility is to treat it as such.

3) Mr. Staar is right that there should be a serious communal discussion regarding aliyah, but the thrust of the conversation shouldn’t be to spread doubt regarding aliyah’s halachic importance or

its benefit to Israel and the Jewish future. The discussion should be about how to motivate more members of our community to make professional and educational choices that make them well-positioned for aliyah, and how we improve our bottom-line results of the number of American Jews making aliyah annually, because on this matter, ultimately our actions are what count. In 2023 this number stood at around 3,000, which means less than 1% of the American Orthodox Jewish population. We can and must do better.

Benjamin Horowitz
New York
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