The Prohibition of Leaving Eretz Yisrael
Based on a Shiur by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l
Translated by David Strauss
THE NATURE OF THE PROHIBITION
Several sources imply that one is forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz. The Gemara in Ketubot 111a relates:
A certain man who fell under the obligation [of marrying] a sister-in-law at Bei Chaza'a came to Rabbi Chanina and asked him: Is it proper to go down there to contract with her levirate marriage? He said to him: His brother married a Kutit and died; blessed be the Omnipresent who slew him, and this one would follow him!
From here it would seem that even to fulfill a mitzva, one is forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz.
This issue arises again in Mo'ed Katan 14a with respect to the prohibition to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed. The Gemara there states that the mishna (ibid. 13b) that permits a person arriving in Eretz Israel from overseas to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed was not taught in accordance with the position of Rabbi Yehuda. For Rabbi Yehuda maintains that a person arriving from overseas must not shave, because he had earlier left Eretz Israel without permission. The Gemara there concludes that if he had left "to roam" [Rashi: "to roam in the world and see it, and he returned on Chol Ha-mo'ed"], all agree that he is forbidden to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed; and if he had left for nourishment ["to find food"], all agree that he is permitted to shave. The disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages is limited to the case where he had left in order to earn money for which he has no pressing and immediate need.
The Gemara does not discuss the foundation of the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel, and therefore we must clarify two points:
1) Is in fact a person forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz, or is the Gemara's discussion restricted to the issue of the allowance to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed in a case where a person arrives from Chutz La-aretz after having left Eretz Israel for one reason or another?
2) Assuming that one is indeed forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz, what precisely is the prohibition?
The Rosh cites the view of the Ra'avad that this talmudic passage is in fact dealing with the issue of the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel. He arrives at this conclusion based on an analysis of the Gemara in the Yerushalmi:
It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yuda: One who comes from abroad is forbidden to shave. Rabbi Yuda is consistent with his own position, for Rabbi Yuda says: One is forbidden to set sail on the Mediterranean. If so, a kohen who left Eretz Israel, since he left against the wishes of the Sages, he should be forbidden to shave. A certain kohen came to Rabbi Chanina. He said to him: What is the law regarding leaving for Tyre to perform a mitzva – to perform chalitza or levirate marriage. He said to him: The brother of that man left [Eretz Israel]. Blessed be the Omnipresent who smote him! And you wish to do as he had done?! (Yerushalmi, Mo'ed Katan 3:1).
The Ra'avad understands that the Gemara hangs the question regarding the allowance to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed on the question of the allowance to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz.
This is also the normative ruling of the Shulchan Arukh:
These may shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed: Someone who was released from captivity and did not have time to shave before the festival… And similarly someone who arrived from overseas on Chol Ha-mo'ed, or he arrived on the day before the festival, but did not have time that day to shave, provided that he had not left Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz to roam.
It isn't clear from the Shulchan Arukh that there is a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz, as it is clear from the Ra'avad.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Shevitat Yom Tov 7:17-18) rules:
One must not shave or launder clothes on Chol Ha-mo'ed, a decree lest a person wait until Chol Ha-mo'ed, and on the first day of Yom Tov he will be disheveled. Therefore, anybody who is unable to shave or launder clothes on the day before Yom Tov is permitted to launder clothes and shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed. How so?… And someone who arrives from abroad, provided that he had not left to roam but rather for business, and the like…. These may shave and launder clothes on Chol Ha-mo'ed.
We see then that we are not dealing here with a problem of leaving Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz in itself. The Rambam apparently understands the Gemara's distinction between one who leaves for "nourishment" and one who leaves "to roam" as a distinction regarding the level of duress, which impacts upon the allowance to shave on Chol Ha-mo'ed. If he was compelled to leave by circumstances beyond his control (where he leaves for nourishment) – we allow him to shave. But if he left for pleasure (to roam) – this does not fall into the category of duress and there is no allowance to shave. The Rambam's view stands in opposition to the Ra'avad's view and his understanding of the aforementioned Yerushalmi.
The Griz in his commentary to the Rambam is even more far reaching regarding the allowance. He cites the Vilna Gaon who understands that according to the Yerushalmi's conclusion, there is no prohibition whatsoever to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz. The entire discussion there is restricted to a kohen who is governed by a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel owing to the impurity decreed on the lands of the nations. Regarding the problem of roaming, which is mentioned in that Gemara, the Vilna Gaon understands that it is not restricted to a kohen, but the problem is one of possible danger, and not a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel.
Even if we accept the Ra'avad's position that there is indeed a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz, we must still understand the nature of the prohibition.
One might have suggested that we are dealing with a matter relating to the sanctity of Eretz Israel or with a cancellation of the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel, but this is not the implication of the Gemara. Immediately following the story in Ketubot regarding the levir, the Gemara states:
Just as one is forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Bavel, so too one is forbidden to leave Bavel for the other countries.
The Rambam codifies this ruling as law, and even brings a source for it:
They shall be carried to Bavel, and there they shall they be. (Yirmiya 27:22)
The Rambam understands that this law is a Scriptural decree, and that the verse is merely an asmakhta. The Lechem Mishna (ad loc.) cites Rashi who maintains that this is not a Scriptural decree, but rather a prohibition to leave a place of Torah for a place of less Torah.
This issue is also dealt with by the Sedei Chemed. He assumes that there is a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel, and his entire discussion relates to the question whether this prohibition is by Torah law or by rabbinic decree.
In order to say that this is a Torah prohibition, we must find a source. It may be suggested that we are not dealing here with a prohibition, but rather with the cancellation of the positive commandment regarding the mitzva of settling Eretz Isarel. The question then arises regarding our time, when the sanctity of Eretz Israel is only by rabbinic decree, whether the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel is also only by rabbinic decree (not because fundamentally it is only by rabbinic decree, but because circumstances set it on the rabbinic level).
Regarding the mitzva of settling the land of Israel, there is a difference of opinion whether it depends on the sanctity of the land of Israel, or whether it does not depend on the sanctity of the land, so that even according to those who say that the sanctity of Eretz Israel is today only by rabbinic decree, the mitzva of settling the land still remains at the level of Torah law. Most Rishonim understand that the land was first sanctified during the days of Yehoshua, but nevertheless we find that the Ramban criticized the patriarchs for leaving Eretz Israel during years of famine. That is to say, there is a mitzva to settle the land of Israel even when there is no sanctity in the land of Israel. This is also the position of the Kaftor va-Ferach, that even if today the sanctity of Eretz Israel is only by rabbinic decree, the mitzva to settle in Eretz Israel remains by Torah law.
In contrast to the positions of the Ramban and the Kaftor va-Ferach, the Avnei Nezer says that the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel is based on logical argumentation, and thus it is only by rabbinic decree. So too if we understand that there is a similarity between the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel and the prohibition to leave Bavel – the prohibition is clearly only by rabbinic decree.
The Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim (5:9) rules:
It is forbidden to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz le'olam ("forever").
This ruling can be understood in two different ways:
1) A person is only forbidden to leave Eretz Israel if he has no intention ever to return, but a person who intends to return to Eretz Israel does not violate the prohibition.
2) There is always a prohibition to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz.
This point is discussed in the Gemara in Avoda Zara (13a). The Gemara there says that a kohen is permitted to leave for Chutz La-aretz, even though he will contract ritual impurity, in order to learn Torah or to take a wife. The Tosafot (ad loc.) say that this allowance exists only when he intends to return, for then there is no prohibition of leaving Eretz Israel (which falls upon every member of Israel). The allowance discussed by the Gemara relates exclusively to the problem of contracting the impurity decreed on the lands of the nations. The Tosafot seem to have understood the matter in accordance with the first understanding of the Rambam suggested above.
This understanding of the Tosafot also fits in with the Yerushalmi in Mo'ed Katan cited above. There too the Tosafot would say (in contrast to the explanation offered by the Ra'avad) that the entire discussion relates to the laws applying to a kohen and the prohibition falling upon him not to contract the impurity decreed on the lands of the nations (as the Vilna Gaon explains the view of the Rambam). But as for an ordinary Jew, if he intends to return to Eretz Israel, there is no prohibition for him to leave for Chutz La-aretz.
We have seen, then, three understandings of the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel:
1) There is no prohibition whatsoever (the Yerushalmi can be understood in this manner).
2) The prohibition only applies when the person leaves with no intention to return (Tosafot).
3) The prohibition to leave Eretz Israel applies in all cases (Ra'avad).
As we have seen, the Rambam can be understood as agreeing with any one of these three possibilities.
In the continuation, the Rambam codifies several allowances to leave Eretz Israel:
… except to study Torah or to take a wife or to rescue from a non-Jew, and he will return to Eretz Israel. And similarly he may leave for business. But to reside outside of Eretz Israel is forbidden, unless there was a strong famine there… And even though it is permissible to leave, it does not reflect a quality of piety. For Machlon and Kalyon were two great authorities of the generation, and they left [Eretz Israel] because of a great trouble, and they became liable for destruction before God. (ibid.)
According to a simple understanding of the Rambam, the prohibition applies even when the person intends to return, and then we need special allowances – to take a wife, to study Torah or for business. According to this, when the Rambam writes, "le-olam," he means that in all cases one must not leave Eretz Israel (except for the particular cases governed by the allowances). Those who understand the Rambam differently have difficulty explaining this part of his ruling.
As we have seen, the Tosafot (above) understand, based on the Gemara, that even a kohen enjoys certain allowances to leave temporarily for Chutz La-aretz. But whereas regarding a kohen the prohibition is clear, and if he wishes to go to Chutz La-aretz, he needs a special allowance that sets aside the prohibition, regarding an ordinary Jew it is possible to understand the allowance to leave Eretz Israel in a different manner: We are not dealing with a special "allowance" (a "matir"), but rather with a restriction of the prohibition. Regarding the mitzva of sukka, the law is that a person must dwell in a sukka, but this does not mean that he must be found in the sukka at all times, but rather he must dwell there (i.e., perform acts that give expression to "dwelling" – sleep and eat), and then the sukka is regarded as his fixed domicile. A sukka is not a jail, but rather a home, to which a person returns after a hard day's work and which is his residence even when he is not there. It seems that this is the way to understand the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel, and so the allowance to leave is not a special allowance ("matir"), but rather it is part of the definition of the mitzva. In other words, short excursions to Chutz La-aretz are not defined as leaving Eretz Israel.
The Gemara in Ketubot (cited above) seems to imply that the leaving itself is problematic, but it may be argued that the Gemara there is defining what is considered a significant leaving.
The idea of "intention to return" can also be understood in two ways. According to the simple understanding, this does not mean that even if a person has in mind to return in sixty years, he is permitted to leave Eretz Israel, but rather that basically the person's place of residence remains in Eretz Israel, and he is only leaving temporarily. If we understand the allowance to leave Eretz Israel as a "matir," which allows a person to cancel the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel – we may perhaps be able to speak about longer periods (if the person's reason for leaving is justified). But if we understand the permitted leaving as something that does not contradict the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel (our second understanding), a person's residence in Eretz Israel must be constant, and thus the allowance to leave can only be for a limited period of time.
Regarding the lists of reasons for which it is permissible to leave Eretz Israel, we saw that the Gemara, and later the Posekim, rule that leaving for business is permitted, but to roam is forbidden. The Rambam brings more well-defined cases, but does not relate to the Gemara in Mo'ed Katan. The question arises then what is the foundation of the allowance to leave for business purposes, and what is its scope. It seems that the allowance to leave for business purposes is an allowance to leave for something that is necessary but unavailable in Eretz Israel. What is the law, then, about leaving Eretz Israel for something that cannot be attained in Eretz Israel, but is not that necessary? Is that called to roam or for business? Rav Yisraeli says that any need is permitted. But this too is unclear, for how do we define "need"? Even a spiritual need or only a physical need? The Magen Avraham in his comments to the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) understands that seeing a friend is regarded as a need that allows a person to leave Eretz Israel for Chutz La-aretz. Some have added that seeing a friend is a mitzva, and therefore permits leaving Eretz Israel.
It seems reasonable that for things that have value, but are not a mitzva – e.g., to participate in cultural events in Chutz La-aretz, or to see landscapes that cannot be found in Eretz Israel – one is permitted to leave Eretz Israel. For if we permit a person to leave Eretz Israel in order to earn money, even if he is not currently suffering from hunger (that is to say, he leaves for luxuries), it is inconceivable that he should not be permitted to leave Eretz Israel for a cultural need!
This shiur was delivered in the Yeshiva by Rav Lichtenstein on Yom Ha-atzmaut, 5762. This version was not reviewed by Rav Lichtenstein
 In his Pesakim on Mo'ed Katan, no. 1.
 Hilkhot Melakhim 9:12.
 A priori, we can distinguish between the prohibition to leave Eretz Israel and the prohibition to leave Bavel, but the Gemara implies that they are based on the same principle ("just as one…").
 Sedei Chemed, Asufat Dinim, ma'arekhet Eretz Israel.
 Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De'a, no. 454 discusses this issue.
 A discussion of this issue may be found regarding places that were sanctified with the first sanctity but not with the second sanctity. The Ramban in Gittin discusses the city of Akko, regarding the contradiction between the fondness shown to the place, as part of Eretz Israel, and the fact that regarding the law of "befanai nikhtav" it is considered as Chutz La-aretz. The Ramban suggests two ways to resolve the difficulty, but it follows from his words that a distinction can be made between the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel and the mitzvot dependent on the land.
 Many Acharonim struggled with the question what is the Rambam's position on the matter. See Rav Kook's Responsa Mishpat Kohen, no. 147.
 Responsa Eretz Chemda, I, no. 1, 10.
 The notion of "need" arises in various contexts ("okhel nefesh" and others).
 If indeed this is permitted, the category of "to roam" becomes severely restricted.