Since many of our readers don’t have a yeshiva background, I don’t often write blogs discussing halacha. However, because there are still devotees of galut who don’t understand the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism, and who believe that the mitzvah of living in Israel is some unsubstantiated Zionist folklore, I will try to summarize a basic halachic idea that the Torah giant, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, of blessed memory, would teach his students at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
While lovers of Brooklyn and Monsey may have learned a Gemara here and there, it wouldn’t hurt them to deepen their horizons and try to grasp this vital concept.
The Rambam himself emphasizes the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism in his treatise, “Sefer HaMitzvot,” concerning the positive commandment to sanctify the new month (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precept 153). In a lengthy discussion, he makes it clear that it is the Jews of the Land of Israel who constitute the Jewish Nation. Even if the majority of Jews were exiled from the Land, it is not the Torah centers outside of Israel which make up the heart of the Nation, but the Jewish farmers and peasants who live in Eretz Yisrael. This is illustrated by the calculation of the Jewish calendar, which can only be established by the Jews in Israel, irrelevant of their status in Torah.
Sorry, but you can't sanctify the new month in Brooklyn or Monsey
The calculation of the new moon, and hence of all the months, years, and dates on which the holidays fall, can only be done in the Land of Israel (Ibid. Also, Berachot 63A and B; Sanhedrin 11B; Devarim, 12:5). This was performed by witnesses, who upon observance of the new moon, would travel to Jerusalem to testify before the Beit Din (Mishna, Rosh HaShana, 1:3-3:1). When the Sages saw the foreign persecution and rule over Israel threatened to disrupt the line of rabbinic ordination (smeichah), handed down from Moshe to the Torah leaders of each generation, they sanctified for all time the calendar which we use today (Rambam, Laws of Sanctify the Month, 5:3).
The Rambam makes clear that this can only be done in Israel:
“Know! This accounting of months which we calculate today, which tells us of the beginning of the months and the holidays, is not allowed to be made, except in the Land of Israel, exclusively… and here lies a very great foundation from the axioms of our belief, which was not known or understood except among the deep learners of Torah…. We only make this accounting today to know the day that the Jews living in Israel established, for from their accounting we calculate the months today, and not by our observation of the new moon. We base our calculation on their fixing and not upon ours. And our accounting is nothing more than the substantiation of their words (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Precept 153).
The Rambam adds:
If we could suppose, for example, that the Children of Israel disappeared from Eretz Yisrael, G-d forbid the Almighty ever do this, since He had already promised not to totally erase or uproot all signs of the NATION – then our reckoning of the months would not help us at all, in any way whatsoever, because we are not empowered to make the reckonings outside of the Land of Israel, as we explained, ‘From Zion shall go forth Torah’” (Ibid).
The Torah authority, the Chatam Sofer, explains the deep import of what the Rambam is saying:
“If, G-d forbid, a single Jew wasn’t living in Israel, even if there were Jews living outside the Land, this would be the destruction of the entire NATION, G-d forbid…. The Rambam asserted that the times of the years, and the months, and the holy days which the Rishonim calculated were valid only if there were at least vine growers and farmers in Israel who would determine when the time had arrived. And if this wasn’t so, then the reckoning and sanctification of the early Sages would have no effect, and the entire Torah would be null, G-d forbid, and there wouldn’t be any NATION of Israel, G-d forbid, and our existence as a NATION would be utterly destroyed, G-d forbid. But our Creator promised us that this would never be (Responsa, Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, 234).
Not only did the Rambam believe that living in Israel was a mitzvah, he felt is was a mitzvah on which the whole Torah was based!
So the next time you think you’re right in the center of things in Brooklyn or Monsey, put that in your gefilta fish and smoke it!