Rabbi Gilah Dror's Speech for Aliyah Program
Rabbi Gilah Dror has accomplished a great deal throughout her years in the rabbinate. She received her ordination as well as her master's degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1990, and has since left her mark worldwide. The current spiritual leader of Rodef Sholom Temple in Hampton, Virginia, Rabbi Dror also served for ten years at Eshel Avraham in Beer Sheva, Israel. While in Israel, she championed the Conservative Movement by setting up the first alternative cemetery in Israel in 1999.
As the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, Rabbi Dror was the first woman to lead a rabbinical organization, and through her work with the Va'ad Halakha of the RA in Israel she has published a number of teshuvot on issues ranging from the ordination of women as rabbis to the donation of bodies to medical science.
Rabbi Dror has also been active on many prominent committees, including serving as Vice-Chair of the Joint Placement Committee of the RA of Israel, the Masorti Movement and the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies. She is a member of the UJC of Newport News, and serves on the Holocaust Education Foundation board. Rabbi Dror has also served on the Board of Directors of the Seminary of Judaic Studies, on the Committee on the Status of Women in the Masorti Movement and is a founding member of the Menucha Nechona Association in Beer Sheva.
"Thank you Rabbi David Golinkin. It is always a pleasure to study matters of Halacha and Aggada with Rabbi Golinkin and to hear his review of the sources.
On the basis of the important points he has made, allow me to add some thoughts on the Conservative/Masorti Movement's approach to the issue of aliyah in our day. What has been stated – that aliyah is a mitzvah – reflects one approach in Jewish Law and it is the approach that has been most widespread over the generations among the rabbis in the Land of Israel. However, there is another approach, as mentioned in Rabbi Golinkin’s responsa, which states that aliyah is not in fact a mitzvah but rather, at best, an abstract spiritual yearning. This approach, which does not view aliyah as a mitzvah, was and still is, the most widespread among Diaspora rabbis.
From my point of view, as the Vice President of the International Rabbinical Assembly and as the former rabbi of a congregation here in Israel and the current rabbi of a congregation in the US for the past eight years (and perhaps I will have the opportunity to return to Israel in the future), I wonder whether our approach to the sources and the spiritual issue of aliyah will remain a matter of personal decision or whether we might somehow achieve a broad consensus in the Movement regarding the status of aliyah as a mitzvah.
Will the tendency among rabbis living in Israel always be to relate to aliyah as a mitzvah, while the vast majority of Conservative/Masorti rabbis abroad continue to speak of it as a spiritual challenge or aspiration, but not as a mitzvah?
Of course, it is easier for rabbis to speak of aliyah as a mitzvah when they are themselves fulfilling it, and more difficult to do so in the Diaspora without feeling hypocritical. And clearly Masorti rabbis in the Diaspora will ask themselves the following question: “How can we sing the song of aliyah in a foreign land” ? And don’t we all want to "practice what we preach"?...and the situation in the Diaspora is not at all a simple one.
I ask myself: is there any way to rise above our personal reality from both directions and to discuss aliyah from a broader perspective – one that views aliyah as part of the realization of the Zionist enterprise, an amazing and important enterprise that is unique in the annals of the history of the Jewish People; a perspective that is included in a real way in our spiritual outlook, whether we live in Israel or in the Diaspora?!
In my work in the US in recent years, I have come to realize how difficult it is to develop an awareness of Israel, and of its importance in strengthening Jewish spiritual life worldwide, among members of our communities who have never experienced Israel first hand and close up.
I have felt the difficulty experienced by many in learning the Hebrew language, even when there is a strong desire and motivation to do so.
Indeed, it is a challenging task to highlight and to imbue these important matters within the context of the daily life of the Jewish People in the Diaspora.
In the present situation, in which our work as rabbis focuses to a large extent on building a connection to Judaism – and this connection is often a tenuous one – how shall we attempt to emphasize the importance of connecting to Israel?
And yet, and in view of the historical circumstances in which our people find ourselves, in my opinion, had we not found an halachic basis upon which to declare aliyah a mitzvah, it would be incumbent upon us, as a Zionist movement that believes in the way of Torah as part of a living and developing tradition, to create the mitzvah and to establish it in our day, just as the Sages in ancient times determined the creation of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Hanukah. "What is Hanukah?"
To this end, we must in our generation formulate the sugya of : “What is Aliyah?" For this mitzvah is not a simple one. Indeed, there is a need to define it with modesty and determination, but without arrogance, and with great care, while taking into consideration the complexity of the mitzvah.
In coming to define what we call the “mitzvah of aliyah”, we should not underestimate the many difficulties facing those who are interested in making aliyah and those who are interested in promoting aliyah, while still living in the Diaspora.
What follows in general terms is my proposal for the formulation of “Shir HaMa’a lot L’Aliyah” A Song of Ascents for Aliyah.
Fortunately for us, there is ample basis for the halakhic view that aliyah is indeed a mitzvah; however, I would base the mitzvah conceptually on the well-known principle of "All Jews are responsible for one another", in a similar manner to the conceptual underpinnings of the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity).
As is well known, Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity in a carefully ordered and gradually diminishing order, with each of the levels considered to be a fulfillment of the mitzvah in one way or another.
In defining the levels of charity, from the highest to the lowest, Maimonides strived to build a strong foundation for the mitzvah among the people, and, at the same time, to expand the number of those participating in the holy enterprise called charity, beyond those who could at any given moment reach the highest level.
Today, the mitzvah of charity is familiar to all Jews, thanks in no small part to Maimonides’ definition of the levels of charity. This is what we must do for the mitzvah of aliyah.
Our task, which is not an easy one, is to create a foundation for the mitzvah of aliyah throughout the Jewish People – both in Israel and the Diaspora – so that this mitzvah becomes an accepted concept among all Jews, like charity, and so that this mitzvah will be understood and familiar to Jews, loved and respected by them and at the top of their agenda. That it should not be lost among the other important issues of the day, when we come to describe the reaches of our tradition and its relevance to our spiritual lives.
Let us define for ourselves the levels of aliyah in a similar manner to the levels of charity, whereby the "highest level over which there is no higher" (in the language of Maimonides) will be, for example, those who have come to live in Israel and who contribute to strengthening and developing it. Those who simply come to Israel will be on a lower level, followed by those who promote aliyah and support the State from abroad. On a lower level yet will be those who encourage ties with Israel and support it by visiting and/or supporting it politically or financially. On a still lower level yet will be those who encourage learning that strengthens Israel and the connection to it. And so on.
Let us all agree that those on every possible level are participating in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of aliyah, a mitzvah that has more to it than meets the eye. It is a mitzvah that calls to each and every one of us to give what they can, toward building the People and the Land in our time.
If we succeed in bridging the gaps between us on this issue, instead of emphasizing them, we will be able to communicate a stronger, broader, more united, and more effective message.
May we be privileged to see the strengthening of the Jewish People in its Land and the strengthening of our brothers and sisters, the House of Israel, wherever they may be. This is our common challenge and an honest expression of our faith. May it be realized through our common efforts, and with the help of God, speedily, and in our time.
This then is my proposal, in general terms, for the “Shir HaMa’alot L’Aliyah” - A Song of Ascents for Aliyah. May we all soon be worthy of fulfilling the mitzvah."
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