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My Favorite Yemenite Waitress

By Tzvi Fishman
10/20/2010, 12:00 AM

Great title, isn’t it? I couldn’t resist borrowing it from DACON9. It says it all. Sometimes a good title can say more than an entire blog. It’s got to be catchy, and at the same time, capture the essence of the essay. This title does both to a tee. Don’t you agree?

The truth is, I like DACON9. He’s a sweetheart. He’s really sincere and well-meaning. I can tell that he likes me too. I’m sure that he secretly laughs at my jokes. Especially the photo of the world champ gefilta-fish eater. Or is he the lead cantor in  the Great Reform Synagogue of Tokyo?  Just looking at that picture cracks me up.

Cantor Mofuni Toshibo in the Great Reform Synagogue of Tokyo

DACON’s very right. I am unhappy. I am unhappy that millions of Jews are wallowing in the darkness of galut. I am unhappy that so many of my brothers and sisters are so lost, and missing out on the light, trying so hard to be good Frenchmen and Englishmen and Australians and lovers of baseball. I’m miserable about it. My brothers and sisters are sinking in quicksand, and they think they are swimming. After 2000 years of exile amongst the gentiles, the ALL MERCIFUL returned us to our homeland, built up our cities, turned the once impoverished country into a world leader in agriculture, science, technology, computers, medicine, military and space hardware… you name it, as well as being the Torah center of the world, with more yeshivot, ulpanot, and heders than everywhere else combined, and yet, so so many of my dearly loved brothers and sisters haven’t opened their eyes and realized what’s taken place.

It isn’t the same old ghetto Judaism-in-a-jar anymore. There’s been a big change!

Nonetheless, DACON9 is right about another thing too. Aliyah isn’t for everyone. Some people just can’t make it, for whatever reason, whether it’s family problems, health troubles, personal psychosis, genuine difficulties in finding a livelihood.  But these are exceptions to the general, all-encompassing Torah obligation to make aliyah that applies to every Jew, in every generation. Certainly, as Rav Shapira noted in our previous blog, even if parents can’t come, all young people in the Diaspora should be educated to make Israel their goal.

Shulchan Aruch

Since DACON9 doesn’t like to learn things from the narratives of the Torah, the lives of our Forefathers, and the teachings of our Prophets, let’s have a look at the “Shulchan Aruch,” the universally honored, and most widely-accepted compilation of Jewish Law, which DACON9 is always mentioning.  While the derivation of halacha is a long and complicated  exploration through mountains of texts and Talmudic opinions, the “Shulchan Aruch,” compiled by the incredible Torah giant, Rabbi Yosef Caro, of blessed memory, is an excellent starting place.

Jewish Law is determined by Talmudic masters well-versed in all spheres of Jewish study.

The “Shulchan Aruch” discusses a situation in which a husband wants to make aliyah but the wife doesn’t. What do you do?

The “Shulchan Aruch” states:

“The Beit Din (Jewish Court) compels her to go on aliyah with her husband, even if it means giving up a beautiful house in the Diaspora for a miserable house in Eretz Yisrael; even from a place in the Diaspora where most of the inhabitants are Jews to go to a place in Eretz Yisrael where most of the inhabitants are gentiles” (Shulchan Aruch, Aven HaEzer, 75:3).

Right away we see that living in Eretz Yisrael must be a very important mitzvah, indeed, if the holy bonds of wedlock fall aside in deference to a husband’s desire to make aliyah against his wife’s wishes.

Now, I am not suggesting that any frustrated Jerusalem-stricken husband out there in Internet Village use this as his one-way ticket in dissolving his marriage to go live in Israel. Sensitive marital matters like this must be carefully weighed and discussed thoroughly with the most competent rabbis at hand. Certainly everything must be done to help keep the marriage intact, like a long vacation trial-run in Israel to seriously check things out, to give the wife a chance to experience the great benefits of living in Israel.

The “Shulchan Aruch” continues:

“Similarly, a person isn’t allowed to leave the Land of Israel to go live in the Diaspora, even from a miserable dwelling to go to a good dwelling; or from a place where most of the inhabitants are gentile to go to a place in the Diaspora where most of the inhabitants are Jewish.”    

From this we can clearly see that living in Eretz Yisrael is no small matter.   

The “Shulchan Aruch” continues:

“If the wife wants to leave the Diaspora to live in Eretz Yisrael, and the husband does not, the court compels him to grant her a divorce and give her the full sum of her Ketubah payment.”

In other words, the mitzvah of living in Israel overrides the holy bond of marriage – by the enactment of the Bein Din itself. So it is clear that going on aliyah is a mitzvah.

The “Shulchan Aruch” adds:

“There is someone who says that we force the marriage partner to make aliyah to Eretz Yisrael when this is possible without encountering danger.”

A little ways down the same page can be found several commentaries to the “Shulchan Aruch.” One of them, the “Pitchei Tshuva,” clarifies matters by presenting the opinions of other major halachic authorities. Regarding the question of danger and its influence on aliyah, the “Pitchei Tshuva” asserts that the mitzvah of going to Eretz Yisrael to live applies nowadays as well. He cites the prominent halachic authority, the “M’il Tzedakah” who mentions a case brought before a Beit Din in which a husband wanted to bring his family on aliyah. The court held up their departure, agreeing with the wife who contested that the long sea journey, and change of environment , would be a burden and strain on their two and three-year-old children. When asked if they should indeed postpone the journey until the children were older, or ignore the Beit Din’s decision, the “M’il Tzedakah” explains why he disagrees with the court’s ruling, saying that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael is a commandment from the Torah that applies in all generations, as established by the Ramban, who lists it among the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. He adds that all of the (Rishonim and Achronim) earlier and later Torah authorities agreed on this, and that it is a mitzvah equal in weight to all other commandments in the Torah, as stated in the “Sifre.” He notes that the noted halachic authority, “Terumat HaDeshen,” also stresses the importance of the mitzvah, and says that the opinion of the Tosefot in tractate Ketubah in the name of Rabbi Chaim Cohen that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel no longer applies in our times, because of danger and the inability to keep some of the land-related mitzvot there, was proven to be the words of a mistaken student, as recorded by the respected halachic authority, the “Maharit.” He explains that the claim about putting children in danger via traveling to Israel does not appear anywhere in related halachic discussions, that in fact families regularly take their children on sea voyages, and that children are no more in danger from sea storms or pirates than adults. The opposite is true, he asserts, in that children suffer far less from the disturbances of sea sickness and voyages at sea than adults. He explains that what halachically determines whether a journey is dangerous, or not, is whether or not merchants are accustomed to making the same voyage for business, was indeed the case at that time regarding merchant travel to the Land of Israel. He maintains that if a Beit Din were to say that the sun had set, and a person goes outside and sees that the sun is still high in the sky, the person doesn’t have to accept the court’s faulty ruling. This is similar, he says, to the case of aliyah-bound Rabbi Zera, who avoided conferring with his teacher, Rabbi Yehuda before he departed, because he knew that Rabbi Yehuda would oppose his going.       

Therefore, the “Pitchei Tshuva” concludes, the wife’s insistence that going to Israel would endanger the children is not a consideration and she should be forced to go with her husband. However, he adds, if she could prove that there was absolutely no way that they could make a livelihood in Israel, and they would have to live in abject poverty, and depend on charity, something which could indeed cause the children harm, then the Beit Din  cannot compel her to make aliyah.

This last consideration of poverty was a very real factor in the time of the “Pitchei Tshuva,” well before the waves of modern aliyah that brought a miraculous rebirth to the Land. Today however, the economy of Israel is booming, jobs are available, and while an immigrant from the West may have to suffer a loss in wages, it doesn’t come close to starvation in any shape or form.

The Gemara states that G-d gave three gifts to the Jewish People and each one is won through suffering; the Torah, the World to Come, and Eretz Yisrael. So, if you have to suffer a drop in your salary (or your pride), it’s not the end of the world.

It’s the beginning.