In a recent Jewish Press article I asserted that the very presence of Jews in exile is the ultimate chillul Hashem, which cannot be neutralized by good behavior. I referred to Orthodox Jews who are not bothered by this, and are not actively striving to rectify it, as assimilated Orthodox Jews.
I wasn't expecting a bouquet of flowers from diaspora Jewry, but some of the responses only illustrated how deeply entrenched the galus is inside them. The Jewish Press published three letters in response to the article, yet none of them offered an argument against the notion that remaining in exile is a desecration of God's name. Two merely expressed indignation, and require no rebuttal. Several commenters on the Jewish Press web site expressed condemnations not befitting a response (they have since been removed).
A rabbi in North America wrote that I had made “quite an accusation”, yet went on to support it with one of many pesukim that directly equate exile with chillul Hashem. He offered no explanation for why my thus validated assertion is incorrect, for there is none. Instead, he noted that the Rambam does not include living in Israel as one of the 613 mitzvos (while noting that the Ramban disagrees), he cited Rav Yosef Dovid HaLevi Soloveitchik's allowance for rabbis and educators to remain in exile, and cited Rav Moshe Feinstein's statement that “the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael is not an absolute obligation.”
The weakness of this reply from a clearly knowledgeable rabbi only strengthens my case. Firstly, his reply conflated two distinct issues: the chillul Hashem of Jews being exiled from their land, and the degree of halachic obligation for them to return to Eretz Yisrael. Were he to successfully prove that some or even all diaspora Jews were halachically exempt from returning for one reason or another, this would have no impact on the chillul Hashem of millions of Jews being exiled from their land. On the contrary, in lieu of a halachic exemption – assuming one applies – they would be obligated to return if for no other reason than to nullify the chillul Hashem.
This is indeed borne out by the sources he cites. The Rambam's omission of the mitzva to live in Israel from the 613 is often mentioned as an excuse for Jews to remain in exile. This is irrespective of the fact that the Ramban includes it; diaspora Jews simply claim that they are obediently following the Rambam, as if that's the reason they remain in galus. The reality is that if the opinions were reversed, they would simply become ardent followers of the Ramban instead. They first decided what they wanted the answer to be, then they conveniently found a source for it. This is not how an Orthodox Jew is supposed to make decisions; this is how breakaways from Orthodoxy operate.
In addition, the belief that the Rambam did not consider it a mitzva to live in Israel before Moshiach comes is a terrible misunderstanding. Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, may Hashem avenge his blood, thoroughly demolishes this position – an extreme minority – in Eim Habanim S'meicha beginning on page 149. Rav Teichtal proves that the Rambam did not include the mitzva of settling the land as one of the 613 for technical reasons based on how he enumerated the mitzvos, and that the mitzva to settle the land is too overarching to be enumerated with the others. It transcends the 613. It is only on this technical point that the Ramban disagrees; both titanic poskim agree that settling the land is a mitzva at all times.
Rav Soloveitchik's exemption for certain individuals to remain in galus is merely a concession to the unfortunate reality that not all Jews in galus are able or willing to make aliya en masse, and they need spiritual caretakers to remain with them. It is in no way a lechatchila that rabbis and educators remain in galus; ideally they would fulfill the mitzva of settling the land. Their staying behind should be viewed as a tragic necessity, one that pains them every moment, and which they hope to rectify by bringing their flock with them to Israel at the earliest possible time.
Rav Feinstein's famous ruling that living in Israel is not an “absolute obligation” is famous only because of its convenience to so many people who wish to remain in galus. However, it hardly justifies their conclusion. Wearing tzitzis is also not an “absolute obligation”. The obligation only applies to a four-cornered garment. If one chooses not to wear such a garment, according to the Torah he is completely exempt from the mitzva.
However, we recognize that it is Hashem's will for us to wear tzitzis. We therefore go out of our way to wear a four-cornered garment just so we can fulfill the mitzva, to the extent that a man who does not wear tzitzis is not even considered frum! No Orthodox person will say that he does not wear tzitzis because it is not an “absolute obligation” – yet when it comes to the transcendent mitzva of settling Israel, which concurrently rectifies the most serious chillul Hashem, Orthodox Jews excuse themselves that it is not an obligation!
If only they viewed settling Israel with the same seriousness that they have for a mere minhag, such as having a fish head on Rosh Hashana.
What is most tragic is that I even need to “prove” that it is a chillul Hashem for Jews to be in galus. The two are equated throughout the Torah, and the concept should be too fundamental to have to debate with educated Orthodox Jews. This is only a “controversy” because of the deep attachment these Jews have to galus – which only demonstrates their spiritual assimilation in this respect.
The fact that many gedolim lived in galus throughout history is not a counter argument. Their presence in galus was involuntary, but still represented a desecration of God's name. They are not guilty for this; no doubt they were deeply pained by the situation and devoted their lives to rectifying it however possible.
Today, however, the presence of Orthodox Jews in galus, with few exceptions, is voluntary. There is little evidence that they are deeply pained by the situation – on the contrary, the suggestion that they make aliya is met with indignation – and they dedicate their lives to cementing diaspora life for perpetuity instead of leaving it once and for all. This is indeed the ultimate chillul Hashem, and demonstrates an assimilated mindset that has lost sight of the big picture.
Indeed, we say in Shemoneh Esrei that Hashem will redeem up “for the sake of His name, with love”. Even if we do not deserve to be redeemed, Hashem must redeem us and will redeem us to cease the desecration of His name caused by our continued exile. How can the diaspora Jew willingly perpetuate this desecration and not be pained to the core?
As we enter the culmination of the three weeks commemorating the ultimate chillul Hashem, let us resolve not merely to mourn it, but to rectify it. It is time to leave galus and not look back.
Readers who are interested in additional sources that illustrate the direct link between Jews living in galus and chillul Hashem may refer to the following list below. Some of the sources in Nach were found on Wikitext with the aid of a quick search. This list of specific sources is a small representation; a complete list would encompass the totality of the Torah.
My sefer Go Up Like a Wall, which expands on these topics, is available at no cost to those who request it.
Shmuel I 12:22
Melachim II 19:34
Yeshaya 43:25, 48:9, 52:5
Yechezkel 20:9, 36:20, 36:23
Tehillim 14:7, 21:6, 44:27
Eicha Rabba Introduction Section 17