Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Stern
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi SternBoaz Lev-Ari

Every year on Rosh Hashannah, thousands of Jews from Israel make the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman.

The tradition has spread from members of the Breslov movement to the broader religious population in recent years.

But the annual event, which leads thousands of Jews to leave Israel – and in many cases finds their families alone for the holiday, as often times men fly to Ukraine by themselves – has drawn criticism from rabbinical figures.

Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, strongly criticized the pilgrimage recently, writing that the sanctity of Israel far outweighs the tradition of visiting Rabbi Nachman’s tomb.

“We have merited to live here [in Israel], and are able to go to Hevron or Meron, and even to the Western Wall, the remnant of our Temple. We come and pray at these places both out of thanks on the one hand, and in order pray for the complete redemption.

“Yet when I listen to what’s going on these days, I hear about mass organized trips to visit the graves of righteous people buried [outside of Israel] – and not just on a regular weekday as part of a vacation, but even on Rosh Hashannah, as if there [outside of Israel] of all places our prayers will be strengthened on the Day of Judgment.

“When I ask [about this tradition], I’m told that people who make the pilgrimage to Rabbi [Nachman’s] tomb on Rosh Hashannah will receive a special blessing. But I’m certain that that same rabbi didn’t mean this except for people already living outside of Israel.

“It is impossible to think that he [Rabbi Nachman] would say that to someone who lives in the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, the land which is more blessed than any other in the world. There could never be an extra blessing for someone who leaves Israel looking for spiritual uplift at the graves of rabbis and righteous people who themselves wanted to move to Israel.

“The Land of Israel is holier than all other lands, and there is no better place to pray – anywhere in Israel and especially next to the tombs of the Patriarchs and rabbis of the Gemara, and it goes without saying the Western Wall most of all.”