Letters to the Editor – Chanukah Edition 5783

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Responses to “Would This Sermon Make You Angry?”

In his Letter from the Editor, Rabbi Elie Mischel (Vol. 5, No. 5) challenges Diaspora Jewry to consider if they would be angered by a pulpit rabbi arguing for Aliyah from the pulpit. 

I belong to a Religious Zionist community, daven in a Religious Zionist shul and work in a Religious Zionist school. So would a sermon about Aliyah coming from any of these Religious Zionist institutions make me angry? Of course not.

True, there may be reasons why some of us are here and not in Israel, and some of those reasons may be totally or somewhat valid for now, but it is still better to live in Israel, which 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 Jews into Israel, our educational system promotes the centrality of Israel and importance of living there. Most of the Torah actually describes the journey towards the Land of Israel. Chazal regularly make comments about the importance of living in Israel, sometimes going so far as to state that one who lives outside of Israel is merely practicing the mitzvot for when he can one day do the real thing in Israel (how to understand this comment lies outside of the scope of my letter).

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. Current events further support this idea, as Israel has become the dominant religious, political and intellectual center of the Jewish people today.

Messaging that promotes Aliyah is no different than messaging that exhorts our community to learn more Torah, do more chessed, or attend minyan more often. Some of the messages we hear from the pulpit may be hard-hitting, and they may even feel very personal or hit raw nerves. But we need to ask ourselves whether we prefer rabbis who lead us in a mission-aligned (and of course, appropriately stated) fashion or rabbis who are nervous about upsetting congregants for “saying the wrong thing”. 

I am reminded of the famous joke about the new rabbi who, on his first week on the job, gives a sermon about keeping Shabbat. The president of the shul approaches him following davening, telling him that he should avoid discussing Shabbat, as some of the congregants are not Shabbat observant. Taking the message to heart, the rabbi speaks about kashrut the following week. Once again, the president approaches the rabbi following davening, asking him not to speak about kashrut, as some congregants do not keep kosher. This pattern continues for a few weeks, until, exasperated, the rabbi asks his president, “What should I speak about?” The president responds, “That’s simple. Just speak about Judaism!”

Aliyah is easier today than it has been for two thousand years. Yet most of our community is quite comfortable in the Diaspora. I imagine that one can find parallels to the time of Ezra and Nechemiah, when many rationalized staying in Bavel lechatchila and made arguments for 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. 

We should celebrate the fact that many members of our community make Aliyah, and often under difficult conditions. And yes – our rabbis should continue to preach our values from the pulpit. 

Rabbi Daniel Alter
Head of School, The Moriah School
Englewood, NJ

 

I greatly appreciate Rabbi Mischel’s candor in his latest editorial regarding the responsibilities of rabbis in the Diaspora to encourage Aliyah. His comment that “there are more rabbis in Israel than street cats” specifically hits home. While in Israel on my final pilot trip before making Aliyah, I learned that community rabbis do not generally get paid in Israel, and that gap year yeshivot require significant funding from the Diaspora in order to survive. Both of these realities are significant disincentives for the rabbinic establishment to make Aliyah and to promote it from the pulpit.

I was recently a guest at a meal together with a prominent rabbi who made Aliyah after leading his community in the Diaspora for many years. When I asked him about why he waited until he retired to make Aliyah, he talked about his mission in the US. But then he said sadly: “We had a family to support; we needed the parnossa. Many rabbis in the Diaspora earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in places like the Five Towns, Monsey or Boca Raton. You can’t make a living like that as a rabbi in Israel.”

Many people remain in galut for financial reasons. I hope Mizrachi will devote a future feature to these financial challenges.

Rhona Silverman
Deerfield Beach, Florida, USA

 

Great sermon! Inspiring! However, it’s easy for me to come to that conclusion having already made Aliyah and now living in the same country as my children and grandchildren. I discovered that when you make Aliyah, your Judaism goes from black and white to color. The “only in Israel” moments more than make up for any inconveniences. Yes, some prices may be higher, but healthcare, education and one car (instead of two) are all more affordable. I am grateful that I am able to work here in my profession and that I have made amazing new friends. With the help of technology, I have succeeded in maintaining many close relationships abroad.

Would I have made Aliyah had I known in advance about a global pandemic limiting my trips abroad? Yes! About the sacrifice of many material luxuries? Yes! About the hurtful loss of a significant relationship in the States? Yes! Any difficulties I have had do not compare to the experiences of the brave pioneers who founded this great Jewish state or to the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives safeguarding it. My life is so much more meaningful here. I only wish I had made Aliyah sooner.

I have one addition to your sermon. To quote my son, Rafi, in his article “Why I Could Not Live Anywhere Else” in Yeshiva University’s Kol Hamevaser magazine: “Centuries from now, where will my descendants point on their family tree and say, ‘This is where we returned from the exile’?”

Rachelle Miller
Raanana, Israel

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