Last week, we wrote that many Jews have a distorted understanding of Judaism. Since this statement triggered some backlash, I’d like to explain in more depth. Perhaps “distorted” is not the right word. I should have said that many Jews have a “mistaken” understanding of Judaism, or that they live a “truncated” Judaism, or that they have been “improperly taught” what Judaism is all about.
For instance, we mentioned that there is a great difference between the Judaism of the Exile and the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael. Not only quantitatively, in the greater number of mitzvot a person can perform in the Land of Israel, but also qualitatively, in a deeper understanding of what Torah is all about.
Let me cite an example. Once, I was in the city of Toronto to raise money for a kiruv program in Israel. Invited to speak at a large Orthodox synagogue, I arrived early and had time to browse through the local Jewish weekly. On the cover was a big picture of the skyline of Toronto. The headline read: “Looking Forward to the Next Decade of Jewish Life in Toronto.” I took the newspaper into the auditorium and held it up for everyone to see.
“What is going on here?” I asked in amazement. “Everything I learn says that a Jew is supposed to look forward to the next decade of Jewish life in Jerusalem. I have a feeling that if the Mashiach were to come today, he would spoil your plans.”
The point is that when a person has the proper understanding of Judaism and seeks to come close to Hashem, he or she longs to live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel and be attached to Hashem’s Divine Plan for His Nation. He longs for Redemption from alien lands; he longs for the ingathering of the exiles to Israel; he longs to take a part in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the renaissance of the Nation of Israel in its Homeland, just as we request in our prayers three times a day. This is the whole direction and goal of the Torah. Without it, Judaism is a dry, lifeless, miniature version of the real thing.
No matter how pleasant the Jewish community in Toronto may be, it’s not the real thing.
Of course, throughout the long and painful generations that we were outcast from our Land, the Judaism of the Exile was all that we had and its value was beyond all measure, preserving the Nation and its sacred heritage until the time arrived when we could return. But now that we can come home, why linger on in foreign Gentile lands and perpetuate the curse of Exile?
Let me cite another example. Once, I was in Boca Raton visiting my parents before they made aliyah. Entering a Modern Orthodox synagogue to pray, I noticed a flyer on the bulletin board. It featured a photo of WDC and the headline read: “This Summer Visit Our Nation’s Capital with the Rabbi.” Now if the Rabbi of the synagogue is teaching his congregation that their nation is America, and that their capital city is Washington, and not Jerusalem, how can you expect young Jews to have a proper understanding of Torah and Jewish Identity?
This same mistaken understanding of Torah is prevalent in much of the haredi world as well. An article published this week on the Chabad “COLlive” website proudly reports: "Hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and supporters from over 40 states and dozens of countries converged upon the NATION’S CAPITAL to mark the 120th anniversary of the Rebbe’s birth… The attendees marveled at the prestigious locations where events were held, such as the Senate Kennedy Caucus Room, the Library of Congress, and the St. Regis Hotel which is just across from the White House. The day concluded with a gala reception and banquet in the Presidential Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. It was a sight to behold!"
Where, I ask you, is it written anywhere in Jewish sources that WDC is "the nation's capital"?? It is a tragic by-product of the physical and spiritual isolation from Eretz Yisrael which came to pass in Galut.
One more example to further sharpen the very great difference between the Judaism of the Exile and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. In response to last week’s essay about the supreme value of Jewish life in Israel, I received a question from a reader which was titled: Why Move to Israel? It read: “We live in a thriving Orthodox community in Monsey, New York. It offers the best in Jewish education for our children, a wide gamut of synagogue activities for the whole family, Torah classes throughout the day, and real joy during the Jewish holidays, all of which foster a sense of Jewish identity and pride. Why should we move to Israel where the influence of the secular Israelis is so pervasive, and where our spiritual (and physical) wellbeing will be jeopardized?”
“Are there no spiritual dangers living in America where 70% of the Jews are assimilating? Is Monsey so hermetic that you don’t feel the influence of the Christian culture that surrounds you? For instance, if you have to leave your shtetl during Christmastime, aren’t you immediately confronted by Santa Clauses and Virgin Marys? And if my memory serves me right, haven’t some synagogues in Monsey been torched and a giant Chabad menorah vandalized? Wasn’t there a terrifying stabbing? Isn’t anti-Semitism skyrocketing? And isn’t the influence of American “culture” all over, in the surrounding towns, throughout the media, and on the campuses where your children go off to college?
“Furthermore, if you enjoy your life in the ghetto, we have dozens of Monsey-like communities in Israel that dwarf Monsey in size and in religious observance, places like Mea Shaarim, Geula, Ramot Dalet, Bucharim, Sanhedrin Muchevet, Romema, Har Nof, Bnei Brak, Betar Illit, Kfar Sefer, dozens of Orthodox yishuvim in Yesha, etc., etc. In almost every city in Israel, there are Orthodox neighborhoods which offer everything you describe, with the added bonus of being in the Holy Land.
“Please don’t make the mistake of underplaying the holiness of the Land of Israel. Nothing in the world compares to it. For example, this year in Israel, every religious Jew is occupied, in one form or another, with the mitzvah of Shmittah, the Sabbatical year when the Land must rest from labor. This countrywide mitzvah influences the food that we buy, where we will buy it, what housewives will do with the discarded peels of the Land’s holy fruit, what homeowners do in their gardens, and what farmers do in their agricultural fields. All of these things don’t exist for the Jews of Chutz L’Aretz (the Diaspora) who are not obligated by this gigantic, national mitzvah. Even those in Israel who hold by the “Heter HaMichirah” which technically temporarily transfers the Land to non-Jewish ownership, are involved in a day-to-day basis with the consequences of Shmittah.
“Please note a very vital difference. Judaism isn’t a private religion such as Christianity, Protestantism, and the like. Judaism is the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION of the Nation of Israel that is to be played out in Jerusalem and over the mountains and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. In addition to private individual commandments like tzitzit, tefillin, and keeping kosher, Judaism includes commandments for the Jewish Nation as a whole, like conquering and settling the Land of Israel, enlisting in the Jewish army, rebuilding the Temple, establishing the Sanhedrin and Jewish Monarchy, and keeping the agricultural mitzvot that are dependent on the Land.
"The proper understanding of Judaism is that each individual Jew put his, or her, life in line with the goal of the Nation of Israel as a whole (the Clal), and not just live a private, ritual Judaism, practicing personal precepts, stripped of our NATIONAL ISRAELITE essence. The Jewish People are to establish the Kingdom of G-d on earth, and this can only be accomplished in our national format in the Land of Israel, as it says, “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” No matter how much yiddishkeit can be found in Monsey, the mission of the Children of Israel can never come to pass when we are a despised minority in a foreign Gentile land.
”The eyes of the whole world are focused on Israel because everyone knows that this is where history began, and this is where the unfolding saga of world history is destined to reach its climax. Let’s face it. Can you imagine an international website like INN frequented by millions of readers called: Monsey Jewish News?
“And finally, you and your children may be living comfortable lives as Jews. But what will be with your grandchildren? Will they marry Jews? And if the Gentiles turn against the Jewish community of Monsey, as has happened so repeatedly in our past, who will protect you? The Monsey Police? The National Guard? The United States Marines? Look back at our history in foreign lands. Please.
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."