Interesting question. It is obvious from the presence of many great luminaries outside Israel that there is at present no "obligation" to move to Israel.
The issue is tricky. There is a mitzvah fulfilled by living in Israel, but not an oligation to do so, or at least an obligation that has overrides to it.
There is a well known view of Rabbenu Hayyim (Tosafot, Ketubot, 110b), that there is no mitzvah to live in Israel, because of the obligations that are linked to living in Israel and would be hard to fulfill. A previous comment in that same site argues that the dangers of travel remove the obligation to live in Israel. However, that argument seems to be less relevant today when the travel dangers are next to nil.
More specifically, Rabbis are needed to tend to the flock who have not moved to Israel, children are better positioned to care for their parents who are too frail to move to Israel, some cannot afford to move to Israel, others can better support those who depend on them with their overeas job.
All these are legitimate overrides. But there is no question that absent overrides, it is a great mitzvah to be in Israel, and an even greater mitzvah in helping Israel flourish. Some are better able to help Israel in that way through their support and advocacy outside Israel.
This is a terrific question for which there is no clear answer.As a Conservative rabbi, I understand Halakhah to exist and derive from historical contexts, beginning with the Bible, through the Rabbinic periods, all the way to today. Therefore, because Israel is a place which has absorbed historical influences, these perspectives have evolved and continue to evolve. Let me explain.
During the time of the Bible, it would never have occurred for Judaism to exist outside of the Land of Israel.Jewish observance hinged on the Temple and a connection to agriculture.Ethnicities, religion, and geography were inherently interconnected.Therefore, we can understand why the Bible describes the land itself as holy (Zech. 2:6) and a metaphor for beauty and wonder – “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8).Indeed, there are some commandments that one can only fulfill in the land itself.
This sort of view is reflected in early Rabbinic literature, such as in the Mishnah where it claims that Israel is holier than all other lands because of the agricultural sacrifices it supplies (Keilim 1:6).We also see this in Midrashic literature, where Israel is described as the only one worthy of the Jewish people and Torah (Lev. Rabbah 13:2) and that living in the land alone actually atones for sins (Sifrei, Deut. 333). Some of the Rabbinic, positive attitude toward the Land of Israel is also a backhanded critique of peoples outside of the Israel, such as when it equates living outside of Israel to being an idol-worshipper (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 4:5).
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the dispersion of Jews around the world, the center of Jewish scholarship moved to Babylonia.Here we see a shift in Rabbinic attitudes toward living in the Land of Israel.In fact, the Talmud offers Rabbinic statements claiming, “He who resides in Babylonia, it is as if he resided in the Land of Israel” (Ketubot 111a).
Such a shift in attitude is not only a function of historical influences, but of the inherent resilience and ingenuity of Rabbinic Judaism.That is to say, after the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism became portable.In the centuries following this calamity, we see the development of Jewish literature: Jewish law (Mishnah), Jewish legends and parables (Midrash), and the prayer book.We also see the development of systems and structures of Jewish life that enables one to take Judaism anywhere, such as the calendar (which includes dates specific to those outside of Israel), as well as the local synagogue and school (Beit Midrash).In other words, holiness can be taken with us wherever we go.
For thousands of years, Jews did not have the kind of opportunity to live in the Land of Israel that we have today since the establishment of the State of Israel.However, we know from their writings that they yearned for returning to the land and for the ideals of justice and freedom that the Land represents.Therefore, with this newfound opportunity that the State of Israel presents, the question of the obligation of living in the Land of Israel seems shift to a different kind of question – not one of Halakhah.Instead, I would ask: Where can I live out Jewish values and observances best, while taking into consideration the commitments I have to myself, to my family, to my community, to the Jewish people, and to God? The answer could be different for different people.
This question is difficult to answer from a Reform perspective because it assumes certain things that are generally not true for most people associated with the Reform movement. In specific, it is based on the concept that Halachah (Jewish law derived from the Torah) is binding. This is not a universally accepted principle in the Reform movement: the binding nature of Halachah was rejected by classical Reform thinkers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and their approach is still very much alive and well within the Reform movement. For those who follow this way of thinking, Halachah is one of the guidelines for how we should live our lives, but it is not obligatory, and one may choose to ignore it.
Taking the question at face value, however, it is still difficult to answer, this time because I can think of no Halachic obligation to move to Israel. There are lots of reasons given to do so, and lots of kudos to those who have, but there does not seem to be an obligation within Halachah to undertake this.
Just as there is no obligation to move to Israel, there is no need for a justification for a Jew to remain outside of Israel, if that is what they choose.
The obligation that is sometimes cited apparently comes more from a political argument than a religious one. It seems to be tied to the thinking of the Zionist pioneers in the late 1800s and following, who went to live on the land that had been Jewish since the days of the Bible, and be at one with it, in an effort to reshape Jews and to renew Judaism.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.