Rabbi David Golinkin's Lecture for Aliyah Program
Rabbi David Golinkin was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia. He made aliyah in 1972, earning a B.A. in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an M.A. in Rabbinics and a Ph.D. in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. Prof. Golinkin, Jerome and Miriam Katzin Professor of Jewish Studies, is President and Professor of Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He is long-time Chair of the Va'ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which writes responsa and gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. He is the founder and Director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at The Schechter Institute whose goal is to publish a library of halakhic literature for the Conservative and Masorti Movements. He is also the Director of the Center for Women in Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute whose goal is to find halakhic solutions for agunot or "chained women" who are unable to obtain a get from their husbands. Rabbi Golinkin is the author or editor of thirty-nine books including Halakhah for Our Time, An Index of Conservative Responsa and Halakhic Studies 1917-1990, Responsa of the Va'ad Halakhah, Be'er Tuvia, The Responsa of Prof. Louis Ginzberg, Rediscovering the Art of Jewish Prayer, Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards 1927-1970, Ginzey Rosh Hashanah, Responsa in a Moment, The Jewish Law Watch, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, The Shoah Scroll, Insight Israel: The View from Schechter (2 volumes), To Learn and to Teach, The High Holy Days by Rabbi Hayyim Kieval, Responsa and Halakhic Studies by Rabbi Isaac Klein, Za'akat Dalot: Halakhic Solutions for the Agunot of our Time, Taking the Plunge by Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, Essays in Jewish Studies in Honor of Prof. Shamma Friedman and Jewish Education for What? and other Essays by Walter Ackerman. He authored a column entitled "Responsa" which appeared in Moment magazine from 1990-1996. From 2000-2006 he authored a monthly email column entitled "Insight Israel" at www.schechter.edu. His new email column on that website is entitled "Responsa in a Moment". He has published over 190 articles, responsa and sermons.
Aliyah and the Conservative Movement:
A New Approach
by Rabbi David Golinkin
In the new Schechter Haggadah, in which I edited the illustrations, there is a picture from the Birds' Head Haggadah, which was written in Germany ca. 1300. Opposite the words "Lashana Haba'ah Biyerushalayim" - "Next Year in Jerusalem", there is a picture of four birds pointing up at a drawing of Yerushalayim on top of them. I explained in the caption that this is probably an illustration of Yerushalayim shel ma'alah, heavenly Jerusalem. According to medieval midrashim, when the Messiah comes, God will lower the entire rebuilt city of Jerusalem from the heavens.2
In a nutshell, this was the widespread Jewish attitude towards Jerusalem and Israel for 1,800 years. God will lower rebuilt Jerusalem from the heavens when the Messiah comes. The Jewish people will not have to lift a finger or get their hands dirty.
At the end of the 19th century, two new approaches to Eretz Yisrael arose: the practical/political Zionism of Theodor Herzl and the cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg).
These two approaches are reflected in the biography of Solomon Schechter. His twin brother Israel (Yisrael) made Aliyah in 1882 and was one of the founders of Zichron Ya'akov.3 In that same year, Solomon Schechter moved from Berlin to London, and later to Cambridge and New York, and there he became one of the important spokespeople of Ahad Ha'am's approach, against the leaders of Reform Judaism who opposed Zionism at that time.
Solomon Schechter's basic approach was clearly stated in his "Zionism: A Statement" published in 1906:
Zionism declares boldly to the world that Judaism means to preserve its life by not losing its life. It should be a true and healthy life, with a policy of its own, a religion wholly its own, invigorated by sacred memories and sacred environments, and proving a tower of strength and of unity not only for the remnant gathered within the borders of the Holy Land, but also for those who shall, by choice or necessity, prefer what now constitutes the Galuth…
The foregoing remarks have made it clear that I belong to that class of Zionists that lay more stress on the religious-national aspects of Zionism than on any other feature peculiar to it. The rebirth of Israel's national consciousness, and the revival of Israel's religion, or, to use a shorter term, the revival of Judaism, are inseparable. When Israel found itself, it found its God. When Israel lost itself, or began to work at its self-effacement, it was sure to deny its God.4
Until now, the worldwide Conservative Movement has followed the approach of Solomon Schechter. We have worked hard in order to turn the State of Israel into a spiritual/cultural center of the Jewish people. Indeed, this is the main goal of the three major institutions of the Conservative Movement in Israel:
- The Schechter Institute, the educational arm of the Conservative Movement in Israel, runs Jewish education programs for 40,000 people through the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, Schechter Institute graduate school for Israeli educators, TALI school system, and Midreshet Yerushalayim for Israelis and Russian speaking Jews.5
- The Masorti Movement, the synagogue arm of the Conservative Movement in Israel, oversees 50 synagogues, the Noam Youth Movement, Camp Ramah-Noam for Israelis and Marom for Israeli university students.
- The Fuchsberg Center runs many programs for Conservative Jews visiting in Israel, including the Conservative Yeshivah, Nativ, and USY Pilgrimage.
These programs are important and essential for the future of the State of Israel, but there is one essential aspect missing. It is time that the worldwide Conservative Movement also adopt the practical Zionism of Herzl and of Israel Schechter.
If we want to influence the State of Israel in a big way, we need large numbers of Conservative Jews to make Aliyah. Here and there, there have been successful projects, such as that of Rabbi Mauricio Balter, who has helped hundreds of Conservative Jews make Aliyah from Argentina to his kehillah in Kiriyat Bialik. But we need to bring thousands of Conservative Jews to Israel. It is time that we declare that it is a mitzvah to make Aliyah.
A number of years ago I published a teshuvah on this topic in Moment magazine and in my book Responsa in a Moment.6 I surveyed there five different approaches to Aliyah in our classical sources and arrived at the conclusion that making Aliyah is both a mitzvah and a makhshir mitzvah, a preparatory act to a mitzvah.
Who says that it's a mitzvah? We learn, for example, in Sifrey Devarim (ed. Finkelstein, parag. 80, p. 146):
Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamua and Rabbi Yohanan ha-Sandlar (ca. 150 c.e.) were on their way to study Torah outside of Eretz Yisrael. When they reached Sidon in Lebanon, they remembered Eretz Yisrael. They began to cry and they rent their garments and they recited the verse (Deuteronomy 11:31-32): " 'When you have occupied it and are settled in it, take care to observe all of the laws…' Said they: 'Dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all of the other commandments in the Torah'. Whereupon they turned around and went back to Eretz Yisrael".
This approach was followed by Nahmanides who made Aliyah from Spain in 1267. As he writes in his Torah commentary to Numbers 33:53:
" 'And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess'. In my opinion, this is a positive commandment. It instructs [the Jewish people] to dwell in the land and to inherit it, because God gave it to them and they should not despise the inheritance of God. And our Sages emphasized the commandment of dwelling in Eretz Yisrael and that it is forbidden to leave it… here we were commanded in this mitzvah, for this verse is a positive commandment…
Nahmanides repeated this approach in his enumeration of the 613 commandments, and it was adopted by other medieval and modern rabbis.7
Aliyah is also a makhshir mitzvah, a preparatory act, as explained by Rabbi Simlai (Sota 14a):
Rabbi Simali expounded: Why did Moses our Teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus said Moses: "Many mitzvot were commanded to Israel which could only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me".
And thus I concluded my responsum:
I made Aliyah in 1972, because I believe that Aliyah is both a mitzvah and a makhshir mitzvah. First of all, Nahmanides was right to list Aliyah as a mitzvah. He remained in the minority only because all attempts to list the 613 mitzvot took place at a time when it was virtually impossible for most Jews to make Aliyah. It seems that most rabbis saw no point in requiring something so dangerous and expensive that it was virtually unobtainable. By requiring Aliyah, the rabbis would have turned almost the entire Jewish people into sinners. But the thrust of Numbers 33:53 as well as of the entire Bible and Talmud is that all Jews are supposed to live in Eretz Yisrael. That is what God repeatedly promised our ancestors, that is why God redeemed us from Egypt, and that is where a large percentage of the mitzvot need to be observed.
Furthermore, Aliyah is a mitzvah in the sense of a preparatory act, because it enables one to perform not only the mitzvot connected to the land (Sota 14b cited above) but all of the mitzvot. In Israel, one can observe Shabbat and all of the Jewish holidays with ease because the entire country is on "Jewish time". Israel is conducive to Torah study both in term of vast opportunities and in terms of enabling the Bible and the Talmud to come to life. Living in Israel allows one to master Hebrew and thereby connect to our heritage, which is written in Hebrew. Israel ensures "Jewish continuity" because, religious or secular, your children will most likely marry other Jews. Finally, Israel is the actualization of the prayers we have recited for 2,000 years: "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion with mercy"; "Blessed are you God who gathers the dispersed of Your people Israel".8
Finally, I would like to suggest that we call this new campaign "The Rabbi Zeira Campaign". Rabbi Zeira (ca. 300 c.e.) was probably the most devoted Zionist in the Talmud.9 One example will suffice:
When Rabbi Zeira made Aliyah, he did not find a ford to cross the Jordan river. He grabbed a rope and crossed. A certain heretic said to him: "A hasty people who put your mouth before your ears [i.e. who said: "we shall do and we shall listen" (Exodus 24:7)], you are still hasty!" Rabbi Zeira replied: "A place where Moses and Aaron did not merit to enter, I, who will say that I will merit her!" (Ketubot 112a).
Therefore, we should call this Aliyah campaign "The Rabbi Zeira Campaign", so that as many Conservative Jews as possible should make Aliyah "in haste", in order to build and be built in the State of Israel.
- This article is based on my address in Hebrew at the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Jerusalem, Febuary 11, 2009.
- The Schechter Haggadah: Art, History and Commentary, The Schechter Institute, Jerusalem, 2009, p. 93. For the medieval midrashim, see Avigdor Aptowitzer, Tarbitz 2 (1931), pp. 270-272 and Rashi to Rosh Hashanah 30a at bottom.
- Daniel S. Schechter, Our Family History and My Life Story, Glencoe, Illinois, 2008, p. 11.
- Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers, New York, 1959, pp. 95, 97.
- David Golinkin, Insight Israel: The View From Schechter, Second series, Jerusalem, 2006, pp. 239-249. Also at www.schechter.edu, Insight Israel, March 2004.
- David Golinkin, Moment, February 1995, pp. 28-29; Responsa in a Moment, Jerusalem, 2000, pp. 79-83; also at www.responsafortoday.com.
- See his addenda to Sefer Hamitzvot by Maimonides, No. 4 and Responsa in a Moment, p. 82, note 7.
- Ibid., pp. 81-82.
- See Niddah 48a; Bava Batra 158b; Vayikra Rabbah 34:7; Bava Metzia 83a; and Mordechai Martin Buber, Bein Am L'artzo, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1945, pp. 58-60.