By Michael Freund, JPost—
Over the years, as I take part in the annual festive celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut and the Divine restoration of Jewish sovereignty that Independence Day embodies, I have found myself increasingly troubled by a question that may be simple yet is anything but simplistic.
To put it bluntly: why are so many North American Orthodox rabbis silent on the issue of immigrating to Israel?
In light of rising antisemitism in the US, the growing political divide, and mounting social unrest that seems to be sweeping the continent, this query only takes on added urgency.
Indeed, for anyone with even an inkling of Jewish historical consciousness, the failure of much of the Orthodox rabbinical leadership to inspire, cajole, nudge, preach, plead and teach their followers to make aliyah is both staggering and inexplicable.
After all, over the past 1,900 years of exile, Orthodox Judaism nourished the vision of returning to Zion, placing it at center stage in Jewish ritual, thought and belief. Despite the slaughter of the Crusades, the dungeons of the Inquisition, the pogroms, expulsions, forced conversions and massacres that our people endured, Jews were always sustained by the dream of restoration.
And now, after the modern State of Israel was established 73 years ago, transforming that aspiration into reality has never been more achievable.
So why aren’t Orthodox rabbis in America and elsewhere vocally leading the charge to return to our ancestral homeland?
To understand just how pitiful the extent of Orthodox immigration from North America has been, it’s worth taking a quick look at the sorry statistics.
Each year, an average of 3,000 to 4,000 North American Jews immigrate to the Jewish state, of whom an estimated 80% are said to be Orthodox. That translates into just 2,400 Orthodox Jews from the US, Canada and Mexico who annually make the long journey home to Zion.
As a kid growing up in New York, I attended ball games at Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden where more Jews were present than that.
All told, there are more than half-a-million Orthodox Jews in the US alone, which means that less than one half of 1% of them are migrating to Israel each year.
If it came to any other mitzvah, whether ordained by the Torah or the sages, and just one half of 1% of Orthodox Jews were bothering to fulfill it, wouldn’t there be an outcry from the pulpit?
Wouldn’t the spiritual leadership of North American Orthodoxy jump into action, organize conferences, write articles, deliver sermons and try to get people to act?
And yet, when it comes to immigration, not much hand-wringing seems to take place.
This “oversight,” if it can be called that, is particularly difficult to comprehend in light of the importance that Jewish sources down through the centuries have attached to making aliyah.
For example, the Sifrei on Deuteronomy 12 states unequivocally that “dwelling in the Land of Israel is the equivalent of all the mitzvot in the Torah.” That isn’t a quote from an aliyah brochure. It is from a midrashic work of Halacha (Jewish law) dating back to Talmudic times.
Nachmanides, the great medieval scholar, in his comments on Maimonides’s Sefer HaMitzvot, wrote categorically that the mitzvah to dwell in Israel “is a positive commandment for all generations, obligatory upon every individual, even in a time of exile.” Continue Reading….