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I was recently studying Berakhot 24b when I read the following statement:

'כל העולה מבבל לא"י עובר בעשה שנאמר (ירמיהו כז, כב) בבלה יובאו ושמה יהיו עד יום פקדי אותם נאם ה'

Whoever goes up from Babylon to the land of Israel commits a transgression because of [the injunction] which is stated, "They shall be carried to Babylon, and there shall they be, until the day that I remember them, saith the Lord" ( Jer. xxvii. 22).

I know that there are small orthodox groups, like the Neturei Karta, who base their ideas of anti-zionism on this. They believe we can't go to Israel until the messianic redemption happens. But they're obviously a small minority.

How does modern orthodox judaism interpret this passage?

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    There are several answers to this, the main ones are probably that this is a midrash agada, and not halacha (this "law" doesn't appear in any of the books such as Rambam, Ramban, Rif, Rosh, etc.). Another is that "יום פקדי" had already happened when Jews were allowed to make aliyah (for example, the Balfour Declaration), and there are many more. I highly recommend the book Em HaBanim Semecha by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal who discusses this issue throughout the book, with many proofs that it is allowed (and encouraged). – Cauthon Feb 21 '16 at 20:36
  • many came there escaping the holocaust – ray Feb 21 '16 at 20:40
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    Possible dupe judaism.stackexchange.com/q/18781/759 – Double AA Feb 21 '16 at 22:35
  • Just wanted to add as a comment that to say so will be against great Rabbi's. Rabbi's that came to Israel or tried to or send the talmidim to Israel: Gra, Ba'al Shem Tov, Rambam, Ramban, Or Haim, the rabbi's of Zfat, Baeli Ha'Tosfot, Rabbi Nachman, Hafetz Haim, Hrav Shach, Hrav Kook etc etc... More so there is an opposite Midrash from the Talmud, that says who ever lives out of Israel is like a person with no G-d and who ever lives in Israel is like a person with a G-d. With all that your question is a good question and I saw good answers – Tomer Feb 22 '16 at 2:42
  • @DoubleAA methinks it's a dupe fwiw. – msh210 Feb 22 '16 at 5:04
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+50

On that gemara, artscroll notes

Although on the surface this verse discusses the Babylonian exile, which ended long before the time of Rav Yehudah and R Abba, Rav Yehudah understood it as referring to the Jewish people throughout all their various exiles, and as containing a commandment for them to remain in the Diaspora until God gathers them together. R Abba, however, understood this prophecy as referring not to the Jewish people, but to the Temple vessels, which are mentioned in the previous verses. The verse predicts that the vessels will remain in Babylonia throughout all the various exiles of the Jews. They will not be returned until the final ingathering of the exiles (Gra, Imrei Noam).

The same verse is brought in Ketubot 110b-111a where "R Zeira maintains that verse was written in regard to the sacred ustensils".

R Yehuda there responds with the verse from Shir Hashirim "I have bound you in oath, O daughters of Jerusalem" and derives that Hashem bound Am Israel and the nations of the world with three oaths. The first oath is, "shelo yaalu bachoma," that the Jews should not forcibly, "break through the wall," and enter Eretz Israel. The second is that the Jews should not rebel against the nations. The third is that the nations of the world should not oppress Israel too much over the course of the exile.

It is from there that the Satmar Rebbe (R Yoel Teitelbaum) writes in Va-Yoel Moshe that these oaths apply to the establishment of Medinat Israel, the State of Israel and that Hashem brought about the Holocaust because the Zionist movement caused the Jews to violate the "Three Oaths." Since the Jewish people forcefully went to resettle Eretz Israel, Hashem brought upon them massive destruction, as the Gemara warns in its conclusion.

Many have written on reasons this doesn’t apply. Here is a synthesis of their rationale (see at the end for sources). Note these are not modern Orthodox writers, rather a gamut of opinions across the spectrum of traditional Judaism.

  • the gemara regarding the "Three Oaths" is aggada, and we do not decide halacha based on aggada
  • not only are the three Oaths not cited by the halachic authorities (e.g., Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Brura), but rather they write that it’s a mitzvah to make aliya and to conquer the Land of Israel in all generations. The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 11:2) who brings the Bar Kochba rebellion supported by R' Akiva and his many students as the prototype for the way of the rise of mashiach, clearly feels that the oaths are not halachic, for they rebelled against the Romans and tried taking the Land by force
  • the gemara in Sanhedrin 98a says that when Eretz Yisrael gives forth fruit abundantly, it is a sure sign that the redemption is coming. Eretz Yisrael, in the time of the Zionist movement, began blooming and giving forth fruits unlike any previous time since the destruction of the land. This sign of redemption showed that the oath was no longer in effect
  • the gemara in Yoma 9b contradicts the three oaths and says that we actually must (!) “rise up as a wall”, and that we were even punished for not doing so in the time of Ezra, to build the 2nd Temple
  • Shir HaShirim Rabba 8, 9 (3), R. Zeira, the author of the three oaths in Ketubot, changes his mind explicitly, and adopts the contradicting opinion mentioned in Yoma!

  • The Avnei Nezer writes that this oath does not apply when the nations give Yisrael permission to return. Following the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference, in which the nations of the world determined that the Jewish people have a right to settle the land of Israel, the oaths do not apply. The Midrash hints to this idea, that if Bnei Yisrael have permission to enter the land they do not violate the oaths

  • R Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (the Meshech Chochma and author of the Or Same’ach), in a letter to the Keren Hayesod, dismisses the oaths as aggada, and stresses, especially after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, ratified internationally in San Remo, where the nations of the world officially recognized the right of the Jews to establish a national homeland in Palestine, “it removes all ‘fear’ of those oaths”. Rashi explained not to take the land by force, but once the nations gave us permission, it’s no problem
  • R Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal (in "Em Habanim Smeicha”), writes that, although the Jews were sworn not to enter Eretz Yisrael forcefully, the nations of the world were also sworn not to persecute the Jews too much. Over the course of the exile, the Jews were severely persecuted by the gentiles. Because the gentiles violated their oath, the Jews were no longer bound by their oath.
  • similarly R. Shlomo Kluger explains that if the gentiles don’t observe their oath, we are exempt from ours. Nobody who learned about the Holocaust can take the gentile’s oath seriously, as if they didn’t “oppress us too much”, so we clearly are no longer obligated by our oath, and it is no longer “before its time”
  • R Chayim Vital, the great disciple of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, writes that the Oaths expired after the termination of the first millennium of the two thousand years of Messiah
  • the Vilna Gaon makes specific mention of going out to rebuild the Temple. This could be construed as implying that the prohibition of re-settling the Land by force is limited to the building of the Temple
  • R Zvi Hirsch Kalischer writes that the Oaths only prohibit forcing the actual End, a destiny whose achievement must remain solely in the hands of God. Concerning the beginning, the path of settling the Land that leads “little by little” towards the End, there is no prohibition (and in his opinion, doing so is a religious obligation)
  • R Aviezer of Tiktin (one of the disciples of the Vilna Gaon who immigrated to the Holy Land in the beginning of of the nineteenth century) writes that the prohibitions do not apply to “extraordinary times” in which the coming of Mashiach may be hastened by human action
  • R Yisrael of Shklov (a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon and one of the leaders of the original settlers) contended that because the Gentiles had not kept their part of the Oaths [namely: not to persecute the Jewish People “overly”], the Jews were absolved of theirs
  • R Yehudah Alkalai explained that the injunction prohibits only collective ascending in a sudden, revolutionary thrust; according to him, the Oath is actually supportive of the move towards settling the Land of Israel: Israel is adjured not to “ascend the wall,” but is obligated to ascend!

If you are interested in halachic sources showing that alya is a mitzva and halachic requirement, there is a very nice and highly readable book by Michael Kaufman (Land of my past, land of my future) where he describes his journey through halachic sources and modern poskim to understand the halachic nature of alyah (spoiler: he moved to Israel after writing the book). In appendix he brings a copy of all the halachic sources.

See here, here, here and there for sources and references to the above.

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The gemara you mention is also quoted in Ketubot (111a) along with "The 3 Oaths" that were made by both Jews and non Jews to God.

  1. The Jews would not return to Israel en masse (they would not return "as a wall")
  2. The Jews would not rebel against the non Jews
  3. The non Jews would not overly oppress the Jews.

Rav Aviner wrote a book about various approaches to understanding this in light of Zionism, he has 13 approaches summarized here

some answers:

  • the non Jews allowed Jews to create their own country so the oath is void.
  • the non Jews overly oppressed the Jews with centuries of persecution which also voids the oath
  • Why would it need to be voided? The country was created by a un resolution and we don't have a government system recognized by the Torah. Israel is more like a political construct that allows Jews to live in Israel with protection. – Dude Feb 21 '16 at 22:12
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    When did this oath take place? And which non Jews accepted it? – Gabriel12 Feb 21 '16 at 22:29
  • This is agaddata so we don't necessarily interpret it literally . – ky7 Mar 3 '16 at 21:04
  • If you said that i copy from web then you are right but please tell me when you provide your answer from the book did you take or have permission to post it in web – Yamin Apr 12 '16 at 1:44
  • @ky7 everything is aggadah – bluejayke Apr 19 at 11:06
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Besides the slew of poskim and Gedolim from all walks of Torah Judaism who quote the Oaths l'halachah, pick up the Zionist journal "techumin" Vol. 10, and you will see the Oaths quoted l'halachah by none other than Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

He discusses the issue of "Land for Peace", and mentions the fact that Hisgarus B'Umos - antagonizing the nations of the world - is against the Torah, prohibited by virtue of the Oaths.

He says that if the nations of the world demand Israel give back land in return for peace (of course it has to be a real deal), and doing so would prevent war, then we are obligated to do so, and we are not allowed to go to war in order to maintain the land. We would be obligated to give the land back because of Pikuach Nefesh.

He quotes the Megilas Esther that says the reason the Rambam omitted the Mitzvah to live in EY nowadays is because the Oaths negate the Mitzvah. (note Rambam says at the end of Iggeres Teiman: “And these are things the prophets have already foretold, and they have told us about what I have told you, that when the time of the true moshiach draws near, there will be many who lift themselves high and place doubts in people's minds, but their claims will not be born out, and they will perish and many will perish with them. And when Shlomo, peace be upon him, made known with his holy inspiration, that this nation when it is sunk into exile will try to arouse itself not at its proper time, and they will die because of this and travails will come upon them – he warned against this, and made an oath against this in an allegorical way, and said (Shir Hashirim 2:7), ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem…’ And you, our brethren, our beloved – keep his oath and do not arouse the love before it is desired!”)

Then he quotes the Rashbash who says that the Ramban held that the Oaths only prohibit a massive national ascent to EY, but individuals who want to live in EY are not affected by the Oaths. The Rashbash points out that the Bnei Efraim were annihilated in the desert because they violated the Oaths, and warns us to take heed from what happened to them ("tzai ur'ah mah irah lbnei efraim.")

Then he quotes the Rivash who also brings the Oaths l'halachah.

Then he quotes other Achronim who apply the Oaths l'halachah, as well as those who hold l'halachah that the Oaths even negate the Mitzvah of living in EY for individuals - as per the Megilas Esther. They include Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ZTL (the "Bais Halevi").

His conclusion l'halachah is that because of the Oaths, even the Ramban agrees that there is no Mitzvah at all nowadays to endanger Jewish lives to conquer Eretz Yisroel, and therefore, when you can obtain peace by giving up land, you are obligated to give up land because of Pikuach Nefesh.

(Interestingly, later on he refutes one of the most common Zionist blunders against the Oaths - that they expire after 1,000 years.

This is based on a misunderstanding of a statement in the Zohar, and other Kabbalistic works. Chacham Ovadiah says that first of all, it’s crystal clear in the Gemora, the Targum, the Rambam, and Rishonim and Achronim who all quote the Oaths l'halachah after the alleged expiration date, that the Oaths are in fact in effect until Moshiach comes. As for the Zohar, Arizal and Kabbalistic works, he refers the readers to the Satmar Rebbe's Vayoel Moshe, p. 85 and onward, where he says the issue has already been dealt with at length.

The Satmar Rebbe in fact shows that a proper understanding of the Zohar and the Kabbalah shows that they agree 100% with the Halachah, and that the idea that they said the Oaths expire is a total mistake.)

  • Spr22, welcome to Mi Yodeya. – רבות מחשבות Mar 18 '18 at 21:36
  • Why is this downvoted so heavily? I think this is an amazing answer. Welcome @spr22 to Mi Yodeya, and thank you for sharing your insights with us. – DonielF Mar 18 '18 at 22:24
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. We hope to hear more from you in the future. – LN6595 Mar 19 '18 at 1:53
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    @DonielF Maybe because it doesn’t really answer the question? The OP knows that there are those who forbid settling Israel because of this and other sugyot. The question is about how modern Orthodox rabbis, who are presumed to encourage aliyah, interpret these sources. – Joel K Mar 19 '18 at 5:39
  • @JoelK ... This is why I need to better read the question before posting comments like that. You are correct in that the answer focuses more on the three oaths and not on the actual Gemara in question. – DonielF Mar 19 '18 at 7:23

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