Is it permissible to leave Israel?

Photo Courtesy Joshua Halickman

In Parshat Masei, Bamidbar 33:53, we are commanded to settle the Land of Israel: “Drive out the inhabitants of the Land and settle in it, because I have given this Land to you to possess.”

According to Ramban, Nachmanides, it is a Mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel and inherit it.

Rashbam explains that it is forbidden for a person to move out of the Land of Israel because they will remove themselves from the observance of the Torah’s commandments (as they won’t be able to observe the mitzvot hatluyot baaretz- the mitzvot that only apply in the Land of Israel such as Truma and Shmita).

If we are obligated to settle the Land and live there, are we permitted to leave and move elsewhere?

In the Talmud, Bava Batra 91a the Sages taught: One may not leave the Land of Israel to live in Chutz La’Aretz (outside of the Land of Israel) unless food prices have risen so sharply that two se’ah of wheat cost a sela (double the usual price).

From here it would seem that one could leave the Land if they find the products to be too expensive.

The Gemara then brings Rabbi Shimon’s dispute of the first opinion: When is it permitted to leave Israel? One is permitted to leave if there is no wheat to purchase. But when one is able to find wheat to purchase, then even if the wheat is so expensive that a se’ah costs a sela (four times the original price), one may not leave.

According to Rabbi Shimon, it is about the availability of the wheat, regardless of its price. If food is available, there is no reason to leave. Therefore, if there is enough food available and one can afford to feed their family, they may not leave even if the food is very expensive.

The Gemara continues: Similarly, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai used to say: Elimelech, Machlon and Chilyon (Naomi’s husband and sons who left the Land of Israel during a famine and moved to Moav where they died) were the great men and caretakers of their generation. Why were they punished? Because they left the Land of Israel to go live outside the Land even though they had grain available to them. As it says (Megilat Ruth 1:19) “And it was when they (Naomi and Ruth) arrived in Bethlehem, that the entire city was in an uproar over them, and they said ‘Could this be Naomi?’”

The Gemara explains: What did they mean when they said, “Could this be Naomi?” Rabbi Yitzchak said: They said, “Have you seen Naomi who left the Land of Israel to go live outside the Land, and what happened to her?

The people were struck by the irony that they had remained in the Land of Israel and survived the famine while Naomi’s family who went to Moav to escape the famine died there.

We see from here that one is only permitted to leave if they can’t afford to put food on the table.

In Israel today, there is plenty of food. Many products such as fruits and vegetables and a lot of the basics are inexpensive yet other items are extremely expensive. If you shop at discount supermarkets and open air markets, you can get some very good deals. On the other hand, if you go to a more local grocery store and buy fancy imported products you will be spending a lot more.

If a person makes aliya and wants to make it work, they may have to give up some products that they are used to which are unavailable in Israel as well as other products that are available but overpriced. For example, a box of Shoprite brand “Crispy Corn Squares” (a generic brand, not even Corn Chex!) is 26 Shekels ($7.50) while a much larger box of Kellogg’s Corflakes is 13 Shekels, half the price! Although I love and miss Corn Chex, I can’t bring myself to spend so much unless they are on a very good sale. Yet I don’t feel like I have to move back to the United States because the cereal is expensive.

Anyone who makes aliya knows that they are not going to have the exact same job that they had abroad (unless they are working remotely form their old company) so they come with an understanding that they must be flexible and may need to be retrained or work in a totally different field including something “below” what they were doing before aliya. Many native Israelis don’t have that transition as they are privileged to have studied in Israel, have connections, speak fluent Hebrew and get jobs in the field that they pursued.

With the onset of the coronavirus, many Israelis are beside themselves after losing the jobs that they have been doing their whole lives. Every day for the last three months, the newspaper, Yediot Achronot has been highlighting Israelis who have lost their jobs and are now sitting around waiting for the government to help them out. It has been extremely sad and depressing to read these articles.

Today, for a change, there was an article about Israelis who can’t work in their regular fields right now due to the pandemic so they are creatively finding other ways to support themselves, even if they are lower paying, less glamorous jobs. I give the people who were featured a lot of credit for finding new ways to support their families. This is what new immigrants do when they get to Israel and this is what our grandparents and great grandparents did when they arrived in the US and Canada over 100 years ago.

If we want to make aliya work, we have to do everything that we can. For many, it will not be the same lifestyle that we left behind although someone must be buying the Crispy Corn Squares or else they wouldn’t be importing them. Those who want to stay must make a plan in order to remain here. But it is possible to make it work, even during a pandemic. If the Zionist dream and the mitzvah of settling the Land is more important to you than a box of cereal, then we hope that you will join us here in the Modern State of Israel.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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