Rabbi Outside of Israel or a Simple Jew in Israel

Rav Aviner's lunch-time talk at the Yeshiva

on the 6th anniversary of the Aliyah of Rabbi Mordechai Tzion,
who had served as Rabbi of Kehilat Ohr Tzion in Buffalo, NY



Question: Which is preferable – being a Rabbi outside of Israel or a regular Jew in Eretz Yisrael? 


Answer: Which is preferable – Davening Shacharit with a Minyan, or davening by oneself and attending a Torah class?  It is certainly preferable to Daven with a Minyan, since this is the basic Halachah.  Learning Torah is a worthwhile addition.  The Torah does not state how much Torah a person is obligated to learn, but rather that one is obligated to establish fixed times for learning.  Therefore, a person must first be a normal Jew and Daven with a Minyan and then climb to higher levels and attend classes (see Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:51.  Piskei Shlomo vol. 1, p. 55).  Making Aliyah is a Torah Mitzvah incumbent on each and every Jew (Pitchei Teshuvah, Even Ha-Ezer 75:6 in the name of the Ramban).  This means that is it not enough for a certain percentage of Klal Yisrael to make Aliyah: each and every Jew is obligated to do so.  If he does not make Aliyah, he violates a severe positive Mitzvah.  There is no obligation, however, to be a Rabbi.  This is a worthwhile addition.  Therefore, a person must first be a normal Jew and make Aliyah and he then can climb to higher levels and become a Rabbi.

Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld and Maran Ha-Rav Kook both held that a working person in Eretz Yisrael is preferable to a Torah scholar outside of Israel.  In the book "Ha-Ish Al Ha-Chomah" (pp. 157-158), it is related that Rav Zonenfeld's grandson, like many yeshiva students, was in a difficult financial state but had a great desire to continue learning Torah.  He received an offer from one of the famous cities in Czechoslovakia to become its Rabbi, which would solve both of his problems.  He went to discuss the matter with his grandfather.  Ha-Rav Zonenfeld lovingly looked at his grandson and said to him: "According to my opinion, it is preferable to be a working man in Eretz Yisrael than a Rabbi outside of Eretz Yisrael" (the offer fell by the wayside).  Similarly, it is told in "Le-Shelosha Be-Elul" (Vol. 2 #32) that one of the students asked Maran Ha-Rav Kook about traveling to America to become a Rabbi, and Rav Kook did not agree. He said: "It is better to arrange a business here in Yerushalayim than a Rabbinate in America" (And this is what the student did, and he succeeded).


In Igrot Le-Re'eiyah, amongst the additions at end, is a letter (#28) to Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah from the Rav of Kutna, Rabbi Yitzchak Yehudah Trunk, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna.  He and Rav Tzvi Yehudah were together in jail after being arrested in Germany during World War One for being Russian citizens.  Ha-Rav of Kutna requests: Can his honor help me make Aliyah?  I fear assimilation.  I know that I am G-d-fearing, as is my son and grandson, but what will be with my great-grandson?  At that time is was almost impossible to make Aliyah without a livelihood.  One would literally starve to death.  He writes: I am a Rosh Yeshiva, Rav of a City, and an Av Beit Din.  If his honor can find me a job as an elementary school teacher, I will come right away.  It is preferable to be an elementary school teacher here than an important Rabbi there.


One can raise a difficulty: If this is so, why didn't the Amoraim make Aliyah?  The Gemara in Megilah (16a with Rashi) was already surprised: Why didn't Ezra make Aliyah with Zerubavel?  The Gemara answers that as long as Baruch Ben Ner (Ezra's teacher) was alive, he did not make Aliyah.  And it is explained in Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah (5:5) that Baruch Ben Ner did not make Aliyah because he was elderly and ill.  In Shut Terumat Ha-Deshen (Pesakim #88), it is explained that the Torah scholars remained in Exile in order to learn and teach Torah.  After all, it is permissible to leave Eretz Yisrael to learn Torah (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:9), and all the more so to remain outside of Israel to do so. 


If so, this appears to be the opposite of all that we said before: that it is preferable to be a regular Jew in Eretz Yisrael then a Rabbi outside of Eretz Yisrael.  But this is not the question we asked.  We did NOT ask if it is preferable to be outside of Israel and learn Torah or to be in Eretz Yisrael and not learn Torah at all.  Rather we asked whether it is better to be a Rabbi there or to be here and not be a Rabbi, but still to learn Torah.  During the time of the Amoraim, it was impossible to learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael.  How then was Rabbi Yochanan here?  We truthfully do not know…  We know that Rabbi Yochanan and Ilfa learned in Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and did not have anything to eat.  They decided to leave Yeshiva for business.  On the way, they sat under a delapidated wall, and Rabbi Yochanan overheard one angel saying to another that they should push the wall on to them, as they were leaving eternal life for temporal life.  Rabbi Yochanan asked Ilfa if he heard what was said, and he did not.  He said: If that is so, it is meant for me, I am returning to the Yeshivah (Taanit 21b).  It was almost impossible to survive.  What did Rabbi Yochanan eat?  How did he survive?  We do not know.


The Gemara (Gittin 6b) relates that the Sages said to Rav Yehudah that one who makes Aliyah from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael "gave children for a harlot's fee" (Yoel 4:3).  In other words, one who was here did not make enough to support his children.  People made Aliyah and left their families behind, and the family suffered.  But now – Baruch Hashem, it is possible to learn Torah here.  Most Rabbis who make Aliyah will not function as Rabbis here since there are many Rabbis here.  In general, it is extremely difficult for a Rabbi from outside of Eretz Yisrael to become a Rabbi here.

Perhaps you will say that if all the Rabbis make Aliyah, there won't be any Torah learning outside of Israel.  I once attended an RCA – Rabbinical Council of America – conference.  I happened to be in America, and they invited me to come as an observer.  Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter gave a class on whether it is preferable to make Aliyah or to be a communal Rabbi.  He gave a long class and concluded that it is preferable to make Aliyah (Rav Schachter also wrote this is Moreshet vol. 1, 1.  Although see Nefesh Ha-Rac, pp. 98-99).  At the end, he humbly said: "I don't know what I am doing here".  I innocently said: "If Ha-Rav abandons his community, they won't have a Rabbi?"  He said to me that for every Rabbi in America, there is a line of Rabbis waiting to take his place... (see if this is indeed a condition in Shut Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah #454 and Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:465, 3:281).


We are not discussing Gedolei Yisrael who have made calculations as to whether to stay in the Exile or make Aliyah.  For example, Maran Ha-Rav Kook offered to help Ha-Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski set up a Rabbinate in Eretz Yisrael, but he wrote that it was difficult for him to abandon the orphaned generation in his area and the Yeshivot (Chayei Ha-Re'eiyah, pp. 3870388.  See Shut Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah 225, 227 that many places in the Exile are like a sinking ship and one must save the passengers. The captain cannot abandon the ship).  Similarly, Ha-Rav Tzvi Hirscher Kalisher writes that Ha-Rav Akiva Eiger wanted to make Aliyah at the end of his life, but his students told him that if he abandoned the country, the generation would be lost, and this is indeed what happened after his death (Shivat Tzion, Kitvei Hagartz"ah, letter #2).  And we have heard that Ha-Rav Schachter himself once met the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira, and related all of his different responsibilites, and Ha-Rav Shapira told him that he was obligated to remain in America.


A Torah scholar from America once asked Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: Should I make Aliyah now, or is it preferable to continue in education in America, where I have command of the language, am familiar with the youth and can have more success?  Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah answered him: "Make Aliyah, and then ask me."  This is in fact what happened: the Torah scholar made Aliyah and then came to ask.  Rabbenu answered that the home of every Jew is Eretz Yisrael.  When a person is established here, there is room to consider the possibility of leaving for a few years in order to spread Torah and be involved in education (Masmi'a Yeshu'ah, p. 243).


Therefore, quite simply, it is certainly preferable to be a regular Jew in Eretz Yisrael than a Rabbi outside of Israel, as is says in the Yerushalami (Nedarim 6:3): "The Holy One Blessed Be He says: A small group in Eretz Yisrael is more beloved to me than the Sanhedrin outside of Israel".