The recent slaughter of five members of the Fogel family of Itamar, Israel, has led some people to suggest that it would be better for Jews not to live in "far-flung" areas of the "settlements," where they will be close to our enemies who seek to destroy us. Perhaps we should use whatever influence we have to encourage the "settlers" to live in "safer" areas, like Tel Aviv. Some of those making these suggestions are wonderful Jews with records of support for Israel.
I, however, beg to differ.
It is easy from the relative safety of America to tell our brothers and sisters in Israel where they should live. But we have no right to do so as it is they who sacrifice so much to fulfill the great mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel.
It is, in fact, nothing new to ask if it might not be better for Jews not to live in certain parts of Eretz Yisrael, or indeed, whether it is safe to live anywhere in the Jewish state. The question has been asked about living in the Old City of Jerusalem and, generations ago, about living outside its walls. The question has been asked about Hebron and Sederot.
When one is dealing with enemies who have been perfectly clear about their desire to eliminate the Jewish people from Israel, no place is safe from those who think nothing of slaughtering children.
The Torah teaches us that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Like the Torah itself, it is called a morasha, a sacred inheritance. The Ramban teaches that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, like learning Torah, is equal to all other mitzvot. Thus, it is no surprise that Jews for centuries have been willing to risk their lives to live in all parts of the land.
In his responsa, Sheilat Shlomo 3:224, HaRav Shlomo Aviner (the current Rosh HaYeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim) notes that while normally one does not endanger oneself to do a positive mitzvah, living in the Land of Israel is different. He writes: "Our eyes have seen that in all generations Jews have endangered themselves for this mitzvah; among them have been Torah Scholars, and in the time of Ezra living in Yerushalayim was more dangerous than anywhere in the Land of Israel. Yet he said that a set percentage of Jews from every city must live in Yerushalayim in order to settle it.
"And those who came willingly and the people blessed them. And in recent generations people came despite disease, hunger and poverty. And the Chafetz Chaim told his students to make aliyah to the Land despite the danger from the Arabs. This is a mitzvah that pushes away the danger."
Later, in the same responsa, HaRav Aviner points out that though there is clearly a mitzvah to live anywhere in the Land of Israel, there is an even greater mitzvah to living in those areas that also require kivush ha'aretz -- conquering the land. Settling "new" areas of our land (with permission of the government) qualifies as this mitzvah. Though conquering and war do have elements of danger, they represent an inherent part of the mitzvah of having the Land of Israel under Jewish control.
Clearly, there is good basis in Jewish law for living in any of the so-called settlements. Though one may not force someone to do so, one can certainly live there if one chooses. Certainly, one should not discourage others from doing so.
So, what does all of this have to do with those of us living in America?
I believe that all of us have the duty to support our brothers and sisters living in Israel -- anywhere that they choose. They give us so much: both physically in protecting our land and spiritually in being role models of self-sacrifice.
If we are not worthy to live with such great self-sacrifice, let us at least support those who do. Rather than suggesting that they give up this great mitzvah, let us support them with our prayers, tzedakah (if we can) and all of the moral support that we can provide. Let us also remember that most Israelis are physically safer than most Americans, and are surely spiritually safer as well.
Though we are in America, let our hearts and minds truly be in the land of Israel -- all of it.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is principal of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of:www.rabbijablon.com .