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I once had a Jewish classmate. She told me that when she celebrated her bat mitzvah, she would have gone to Israel with her family, but she couldn't at the time, because there was too much war. Is there a Jewish custom to travel to Israel for a bat mitzvah? Is there some custom to visit there at least once in a lifetime? Is Israel the Jewish mecca (it's a pun)?

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Did your Jewish classmate say that such a custom exists, or did you just assume it based on the fact that she wanted to go? – Daniel Jul 9 '13 at 21:38
Just FYI, the word "custom" in Judaism means something more than "custom" does in daily life. "Custom" (Heb. minhag) in Judaism means something that, though it's not obligated by Toraitic or Rabbinic law, has a very strong obligation to follow. So people here might not understand your question as "Do Americans have a custom to eat turkey on Thanksgiving?" Instead, they might hear, "Are some groups of Americans required to eat turkey on Thanksgiving?" – Charles Koppelman Jul 9 '13 at 22:18
@Daniel My classmate did use the term "custom". I thought it was a family custom/tradition thing. Then again, Judaism can be described as a family. – Double U Jul 10 '13 at 0:16
@CharlesKoppelman Thanks for pointing that out. That is indeed how I interpreted the question, and hadn't considered the possibility of "custom" being like "custom to eat turkey on Thanksgiving." Then again, if the OP means that kind of custom, is the question really answerable? – Daniel Jul 10 '13 at 3:59
@Anonymous, I'm not asking what she meant by "I would have gone." I'm asking you mean by "Is it really...?" – Seth J Jul 12 '13 at 4:02
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Judaism doesn't have a current pilgrimage obligation the way I understand that Islam does (I believe every Muslim is required to go to Mecca once). However, Israel and, more specifically, Jerusalem is very important to Jews; Israel is our homeland, and Jerusalem is the site of the temples (past and future). Further, Jerusalem used to be a pilgrimage obligation three times a year when the temple stood, as commanded in Devarim 16:16. (See also Pilgrimage Festivals at My Jewish Learning.) So it is not surprising that Jews prioritize Jerusalem as a travel destination even if we can no longer go to the temple. According to Ketubot 111 one who walks four amot in Eretz Yisrael merits a place in Olam HaBa (the world to come) (h/t @sam). Some also hold that we are obligated to move to Israel if we can.

Synagogues, Federations, and other Jewish groups organize tours, and Birthright subsidizes trips to Israel for college-age students. While these groups sometimes organize trips to other destinations of Jewish interest (just last week the local Jewish newspaper advertised for a trip to eastern Europe), by far the majority of such trips are to Israel.

But if you don't go for a visit you're not transgressing a commandment -- just missing an important connection to your land and people that you can't really experience any other way, and the opportunity to do a good thing and gain a place in Olam HaBa.1

1 I should note that Chazal list many things that either secure or preclude one's place in Olam HaBa and it is not clear to me how they interact. Untangling that is beyond the scope of this question.

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...and before Solomon built the Temple, Shiloh was the pilgrimage obligation, not Jerusalem – Charles Koppelman Jul 9 '13 at 21:52
@monica cellio,thanks its not that simple ,the gemara says that walking daled Amos is a mitzvah (kesuvos 111) ,the Sifri on devarim piska 43 says that one should sorta say practice the mitzvas in galus so it will be new to them when they return(practice).just stepping foot into eretz yisrael is a huge thing and def is a mitzva ,one can argue that its not a chiyuv but a mitzva it certainly is. – sam Jul 11 '13 at 3:03
@monica cellio, it is just the last paragraph which I disagree with because there are numerous Rishonim and Achronim who disagree. – sam Jul 11 '13 at 5:04
@monica cellio Yirmiya bar abbah I believe it is, writes whoever walks daled Amos has a share in the world to come,that is a big thing to miss out on besides for the numerous amount of other benefits of Eretz Yisrael.Its there in the gemara. – sam Jul 12 '13 at 2:28
@sam thanks, that helped me find it. I've updated my answer. – Monica Cellio Jul 12 '13 at 2:42

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