As we near the end of our study of Massechet Ketubot, today’s (Ketubot 110b) – along with the upcoming dapim – discusses the importance of living in Israel. In particular, a Beraita is quoted in today’s daf which, while referencing the common situation where a wife wishes to make Aliyah but the husband does not, or the husband wishes to make Aliyah and the wife does not, informs us that the spouse who wishes to move to Israel can force (כופין) the other to do so – meaning that this can be viewed as a maker or breaker in a marriage.
Before going further, it is important to note that while the term ‘force’ (כופין) doesn’t sit comfortably with our understanding of healthy relationships, in most instances when a couple do choose to make Aliyah, one spouse is much more enthusiastic about doing so than the other. Given this, while the absolutist language expressed in our Beraita is less commonly applied today, many couples who make Aliyah do so because one spouse has strongly encouraged the other to do so. In many cases, the weaker party adapts. However, there are some situations when this can place a significant strain on a marriage, and I believe that it is worthwhile considering this fact ahead of time.
Returning directly to our Gemara, Tosfot (on Ketubot 110b), writing in the 12th century, asserts that this rule of forcing each other to move to Israel no longer applies because of the dangers inherent in travelling to Israel and because of the difficulties of adhering to all the mitzvot of the land of Israel when living there. However, the 16th century Maharit (Responsa Vol. 2, Yoreh Deah 28), though acknowledging that one should not risk one’s life to fulfil a mitzvah, disagrees with the overall approach of Tosfot which seems to claim that it is better to passively stay where you are than to actively do what you can to fulfil certain mitzvot. It is in response to these remarks that Rav Asher Weiss writes (Minchat Asher, Parshat Mas’ei) that especially since, nowadays, journeying to Israel is relatively easy, and especially since one can live in Israel and fully observe the mitzvot of the land of Israel, making Aliyah is proper, correct and one who does so is doing a great mitzvah.
It would seem from this discussion that the calculus for making the choice to live in Israel is the level of one’s mitzvah observance while living in Israel. It doesn’t seem to take the view that living in Israel is itself a meta-mitzvah. And it would appear to suggest that if one foresees that living in Israel may – for whatever reason – weaken one’s mitzvah observance, then perhaps this may not be the right thing to do.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that, later on in our same daf we are taught that לעולם ידור אדם בארץ ישראל אפילו בעיר שרובה עובדי כוכבים – ‘a person should always dwell in the Land of Israel, even if it means that they dwell in a city whose majority are idol worshippers’ – which suggests that even if a move to Israel involves living in a less vibrant religious community as compared to where you are living outside of Israel, then one should still make the choice of Aliyah. But why is this so?
There are many answers that could be offered to this question, but one that very much resonates with me is offered by Rabbi Yisrael Rabinowitz (in his sefer ‘Ohel Yisrael’ printed alongside his ‘Yismael Yisrael’) who explains how those living in Israel have a greater awareness and sensitivity of God’s presence and oversight in the world – meaning that living in Israel heightens our God-consciousness. Of course, this doesn’t suggest that a person can’t live outside of Israel with such awareness. However, in general, even those who are less observant in Israel have a very high measure of God-consciousness.
Still, practically speaking, while many secular Israelis will mention and praise God as part of the most mundane of conversations, it is also true that while there are those who have made Aliyah who have maintained or increased their religious observance, there are many families who, upon coming here, find that while they may be living a more wholesome Jewish life, they also find that they are living a more religiously diluted life. And what is the main reason for this? It is that the communal structure and institutions that help sustain one’s religious observance while living outside of Israel differ from the communal structure and institutions that help sustain one’s religious observance while living in Israel.
As our Gemara notes, this itself should not be a factor in not choosing to make Aliyah. However, what it does mean is that a person should start having a paradigm shift about adapting to the different religious ecosystem that exists in Israel before even making Aliyah. So that when they do so, they have a “Yishuv Tov” in every sense of the word!