Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin Courtesy
Why aren't all the Jews in Israel today? This may seem like a simple question, but there is no simple answer! Obviously most people living in Israel would like to see all the Jews finally gathered into their homeland in the Land of Israel. This has always been the ultimate dream of every faithful Jew for thousands of years. But the fact remains that there is such a thing called the Galut, the Exile of the Jews in many lands outside of Israel.

If God wants all the Jews to be in Israel so then why has He spread them all over the world for so long? The answers are complex. I would like to present a Torah-based description and explanation.

Let's start at the very beginning. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they were banished and this became the first "Exile". Since then, humanity has been searching for a way back into Utopia, which is really the proverbial Garden of Eden.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the first Hebrews, started on the road back to the Magical Kingdom in which their descendants, the Children of Israel - also known as the Jewish People - would try to recreate Heaven on Earth in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) by serving God in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But even there they didn't succeed because something terrible went wrong and just like Adam and Eve, the people sinned, causing God to destroy the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem and sending the people into Exile.

What are the hidden dynamics behind these scenarios that can be learned from the Torah?

First of all even after God told Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees and he then moved to the land of Canaan, once Abraham arrived there he was forced to leave due to a famine and go down to Egypt where Pharaoh captured Sarah and then released her, allowing Abraham to return home to the land of Canaan. Abraham and Sarah were in Exile in Egypt. Exile is therefore built into the very beginning of Jewish History as much as being in the Land of Israel. From where we stand now, Abraham's seed would spend more time in Exile than in the Land of Israel over the course of Jewish History as we know it to be.

In the Brit Bein HaBetarim (The Covenant Between the Halves) God showed Abraham in a vision that his descendants were destined to suffer four hundred years in Egyptian exile: "God said to Abraham, 'Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They will be enslaved and oppressed. But I will finally bring judgment against the nation who enslaves them, and they will then leave with great wealth.'" (Genesis 15:13-14). In other words, there will be a great Exile followed by an even greater Redemption. That is the story celebrated on Passover.

Our patriarch Isaac would never leave the Land of Israel but his son Jacob was first forced to flee into exile since Esau wanted to kill him. Then, towards the end of Jacob's life he was once again forced to leave the Holy Land with his entire family and go down to live in Egypt because there was a famine in Canaan and the world except in Egypt where Joseph was the ruler.

There is an important episode when Jacob was leaving the home of his father in law Lavan and prior to his encounter with his brother Esau that the Torah says that Jacob divided his camp into two parts with the intention that if Esau destroyed one camp then the other would survive. This then became the blueprint, battle-plan, prototype and template for a "Galut Policy" of our Jewish forefathers, believing that the Jewish Nation needs to be divided in half when it is facing the danger of annihilation by its enemies, particularly the dangerous Edom/Rome descended from Esau.

This is what Jacob did and said: "Jacob was very frightened and distressed. He divided the people accompanying him into two camps, along with the sheep, cattle and camels. He said,'If Esau comes and attacks one camp, at least the other camp will survive." (Genesis 32:8-9)

This then has been one underpinning foundation of why the Jewish People have been divided into at least two large centers for most of their history. After the Children of Israel departed from Egypt and conquered the Land of Israel they would remain in the land as a united people for a relatively short period of history. From the time of Joshua (1355-1245 BCE) to the time of King Solomon (d. 931 BCE) when all the Israelites lived in the Land of Israel was not more than about 400 years until the kingdoms split into Israel and Judah. From that point on there were two different countries of Israelites/Judians within the geography of Eretz Yisrael. The northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 720 BCE and the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed in 586 BCE followed by the "Babylonian Exile" which has existed since that time in one form or another.

For the last 2,500 years there has always been a Galut - Exile of Jews living outside the Land of Israel/Judah. While during the rebuilding of the Second Temple some Jews returned to live again in Eretz Yisrael/Judea, when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE there was a huge Jewish community living in the East in the areas of Babylonia-Parthia-Persia not conquered by Rome that then became the centers of Jewish life culminating with the completion of the Babylonian Talmud around 500 CE.

When the Jewish centers of life in the East started to decline under the gradual rise of Islam, the new Jewish centers of life began to flourish in the West. The eventual dichotomy between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewry was another manifestation of the Jewish People living in two divided camps. If misfortune befell part or all of the one camp, the other camp would be there to continue. This was what happened during the Holocaust when Ashkenazic Jewry in Europe was devastated by the Holocaust while most of Sephardic Jewry survived.

Another example of the division of the Jewish People into two camps happens with the opening up of the United States of America in modern times to Jewish life and settlement, eventually becoming the largest single Jewish community in the world after the Holocaust. While the minions of Esau/Rome/Europe destroyed European Jewry, American Jewry was safe and escaped the Nazis' Final Solution, as prophesied by the verse in the Torah: "If Esau comes and attacks one camp, at least the othetr camp will survive" (Genesis 32:9).

While always praying for the Geulah - Redemption back to Zion, our forefathers did not treat the Galut - Exile flippantly. On the contrary, again we see the "Galut Policy" of our forefather Jacob, who as the Passover Haggadah states went down to Egypt not to settle but to escape the famine, the "Churban-Destruction" that could come from death by starvation. This is the principle of Pikuach Nefesh - Saving of Jewish Lives that takes precedence over all dangers! From this we can learn that Jews are in exile everywhere by dire necessity and not necessarily by first choice. That's the way it's been for a long time, moving from place to place from kingdom to kingdom from nation to nation as one of them becomes dangerous and untenable to live in, another one opens up its doors and possibilities. Jews became experts at this method of trying to keep one step ahead of impending disaster by country-hopping to stay alive.

Fast forward two thousand years from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the exile of the Jews throughout the world. Along comes 1948 and the establishment of the modern State of Israel with its Law of Return in 1950 which gives Jews the right to relocate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship. God opens a new door of escape from the long seemingly never-ending Exile. Interestingly, this long exile is also intimated in the opening words of the Torah that when it says "there was darkness on the face of the water's depths" (Genesis 1:2) the classical commentaries state that this refers to the seemingly never-ending exile under Rome which stretches forth seemingly unendingly like "the water's depths"!

Since 1948 when Israel's total Jewish population stood at around 600,000, and due to the resulting influx of Jewish refugees first by Ashkenazic European Holocaust survivors, then by Sephardic refugees fleeing Arab anti-Semitism, then followed by Jews fleeing the collapsed Soviet Union, Israel's population has grown by a million Jews every decade and now stands at over six million Jews. But there are still six million Jews in North America and the Jewish camp is still divided in two!

Now comes the question of Aliyah. There are those in Israel who call out to the Jews in America to come to Israel ASAP, or else! There is now the phenomenon of Atchalta Degeulah, the "beginning of the Redemption" which is undeniable as Israel's Jewish population grows by a million Jews every decade since the 1940s and the Jewish population of the Galut goes down accordingly as Kibbutz Galuyot, the "ingathering of the Exiles" proceeds apace inexorably. The Land of Israel is blooming and thriving, another sign of Atchalta Degeulah described by the Prophets.

Those who criticize Jews in America or anywhere outside of Israel, and even accuse the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of "wasting its time instead of encouraging all Jews to make Aliyah ASAP" cannot expect a mentality that has been two and half thousand years n the making, as well as having validity to some degree from the Torah, to just suddenly turn into instantaneous immigration to Israel. Obviously the Galut-Exile is still with us for the foreseeable future and it will not go away via barbs pointed at Jews living outside of Israel.

A deeper approach is needed, understanding that a Jew can become a "Baal Aliyah" (one who is devoted to "rising higher and higher" as a Jew) even if not living in Israel - yet! Hear the famous Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sing "LORD GET ME HIGH" in this vein!

There is a question as well, and this goes to the core of the cultural wars in Israel today between secular and religious. What does being a Jew mean in any case? A secular Israeli? Or a religious Jew living in Israel? Here comes the notion of a different kind of Aliyah, the Aliyah of a Jew towards higher Jewish, actually Torah, spiritual levels. There is Aliyah, meaning literally "upwards" movement, and its opposite "Yerida" which can mean both emigration by Israeli Jews from Israel, and a downward spiral of Jewish observance.

There is no question that from the point of view of Judaism, just physically being in Israel, while a great mitzva, is not enough! One needs to make spiritual Aliyah as well, and that is why so many Jewish Orthodox organizations are devoted to Kiruv Rechokim-Jewish Outreach, Just as Jews in the Galut are encouraged to move to Israel, secular Jews be they in Israel or in the Exile should be encouraged to become Baalei Teshuva-Returnees to Judaism!

It is not enough to preach to Jews living outside of Israel about how foolish they are to put off moving to Israel, while avoiding the fact that secular Jews pose as great a threat to the Jewish People when they assimilate and intermarry - and in the case of Israel, many have dedicated themselves to uprooting Jewish life in toto.

There is famous story of a rabbi who was asked how he would define Galut-Exile, and he replied that there are in fact three types of Galut-Exile:

* The first Galut-Exile is of the Jews among the gentiles!

*The second Galut-Exile is of the Religious Jews among the secular Jews!

*The third Galut-Exile is of the great Torah scholars among the religious Jews!

The aim should be that Jews not feel they are in an exile surrounded by hostile non-Jews. And that religious Jews not feel that they are surrounded by hostile secular Jews. Finally, Torah scholars should not feel isolated from their own mainstream religious Jews and that they should eventually be appreciated by all Jews.

The final spiritual Redemption can only come about when all Jews return to their religious roots and will eventually all live in Israel. There is no other path. Secular Jews are not only the majority of Jews in the Exile, but they are the majority in Israel as well. From a religious point of view they are in a condition of Churban-Destruction of their Jewish selves that results in their Galut-Exile from Judaism and God be they in Israel or America or anywhere else.

The only way to achieve the ultimate Geulah-Redemption is to combine both return to Israel and returning home to Judaism and to God.

* The idea of "The Cycles of Jewish History: Churban (Destruction) -- Galut (Exile) -- Geulah (Redemption)" is based on a lecture by Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner on understanding the Holocaust (The Jewish Observer, 1977)

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at: izakrudomin@gmail.com