Aliyah: A Torah Commandment and a Privilege

There are many good reasons for Jews to live in the Land of Israel, which is of major importance according to the Torah and a basic principle of Zionism.

Aliyah is the term used to describe the immigration of Jews from around the world (known as the Diaspora or the “Jewish Exile”) to the Land of Israel. It is one of the most basic tenets of Zionism. Throughout much of Jewish history, most Jews have lived in the Diaspora. Today, the world’s Jewish population is mostly concentrated in two countries: the United States and Israel.

The concept of Aliyah (return to the Holy Land) was first developed in Jewish history during the Babylonian exile. During the Jewish diaspora, Aliyah was developed as a national aspiration for the Jewish people, although it was not usually fulfilled until the development of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. Large-scale immigration to the Land of Israel, then called Palestine, began in 1882. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, more than 3 million Jews from over 90 countries have made Aliyah.

Israel’s “Law of Return” allows any Jew and eligible non-Jew (a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew) the right to immigrate to Israel and become an Israeli citizen.

lone soldiers

About 60 young Jews from North America landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Aug. 18, 2015, in order to join the IDF. These lone soldiers were among over 200 new immigrants who arrived that day. (Flash90)

Most religious Jews view Aliyah as the fulfillment of God’s promise to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give the land to the Jewish people. The Ramban, aka Nahmanides, a great medieval Spanish-Jewish rabbi, Biblical scholar, Kabbalist and physician, ruled that making Aliyah is a mitzvah (Torah commandment). Some sources even say that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is as important as all the other mitzvot of the Torah combined! There are many mitzvot of the Torah that can only be performed in the Land of Israel, such as the sabbatical year for farming, which was in effect just last year.

The Talmud says, “A man may compel his entire household to move with him to the Land of Israel, but one may not compel someone to leave the Land of Israel.” This shows the great value and importance of living in Israel. The Talmud further states: “One should always live in the Land of Israel, even if one must live in a town in which most of the inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are Jews. Whoever lives in the Land of Israel is considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land is like one who has no God.”

I am often asked, why make Aliyah? Here are a few good reasons:

Because it is one of the greatest mitzvot of the Torah!

b'nei menashe

About 100 Jews from India landed in Israel on June 25, 2015, and settled in the Golan Heights. (Flash90)

Because God wants us here! For 2,000 years we lived in exile and experienced terrible persecution – pogroms, crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust. God has finally brought us home! Who doesn’t want to come home? There’s no place like home.

Because living in Israel means that you are living, and making, Jewish history! You can’t walk anywhere in Israel without seeing our past and experiencing our Redemption.

Because Israel is the only place where you can live a normal Jewish life. In Israel, we are surrounded by our people, we speak our own language, we celebrate Shabbat and all our Jewish and national holidays, and we defend ourselves through a Jewish army. Israel is the only place where the Torah can be observed and experienced in its fullest. I don’t know about you, but I want my children speaking the language of the bible.

More than 30,000 Jews arrived on Aliyah from around the world in 2015.

And did you know? The very last word of the Hebrew Bible is: Aliyah! (2 Chronicles 36:23)

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin