Settling the Land of Israel

The Sages teach (Sifri, Re’eh 53): “The Mitzvah of settling the Land
of Israel is equal to all of the other Mitzvoth in the Torah.” This is
due to the fact that, in addition to its own inherent value, the
Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel serves as a foundation for the
healthy national existence of the Jewish people. Such an existence
allows the Jewish people – a people whose task it is to spread faith
in God and the Divine word – to bring about the perfection of the
entire world. It is for this reason that the Prophets of Israel
prophesized at length regarding the settlement and burgeoning of the
Land of Israel; the poets crowned her with a thousand crowns, and all
of the great rabbis longed to reach her soil.

This Mitzvah also embodies the principle of unity and love among the
Jewish people because it is fulfilled by the people and for the
So central is the commandment to settle the Land of Israel, that the
Torah instructs us to risk our lives in order to conquer and hold on
to the Land (Minchat Chinukh 425). The Torah even permits violating
certain aspects of Sabbath in order to hold on to her – even if just
to purchase one house (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 307:5). In extreme
cases the Torah even allows for divorce in order to fulfill this
commandment (Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 75:4).

Religious Zionism

The commandment to settle the Land of Israel – i.e., that the Land be
in our hands, and not left barren – has always served as the
foundation and underpinning of religious Zionism’s approach to Aliya
(Jewish immigration to Israel), settlement, defense, and state. It
lies behind our viewing today’s events as the “first flowering of our
redemption” as foreseen by the Prophets. True to this philosophy, all
religious-Zionist educational institutions educate toward love of the
nation, the land, and the state; they advocate sharing the burden of
military service, economic and social responsibility, and
participation in all aspects of Jewish life, and in the entire Jewish
world. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the “Chatam Sofer” (on
Sukkah 36): Any action or enterprise that serves to advance Jewish
settlement in the Land of Israel is included in this Mitzvah.

Joining Forces with Irreligious

With the appearance of modern Zionism, an intense dispute arose
between Rabbis. The debate centered on the question: Is it permissible
to join forces with irreligious elements of the Zionist movement?
Because of the great importance of the Mitzvah of settling the Land of
Israel, and despite the great difficulties involved, our prestigious
and eminent Rabbis concluded that such cooperation was indeed
necessary; this was the path that must be taken in order to settle the
Land and harbor the Redemption of Israel. This was the position taken
by renowned Torah authorities such as Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Reines, Rabbi
Hertzog, Rabbi Amiel, Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Adaya, Rabbi Ratah, Rabbi
Charlap, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and others.

Prohibition against Uprooting

It is clear, then, that participating in any sort of action that aims
at violating this great Mitzvah – a Mitzvah that guides our every step
and for which we are willing to sacrifice so much – is forbidden.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory, thus
ruled that it is forbidden to hand over portions of the Land of Israel
to non-Jews, not to mention uprooting a Jewish settlement for this
When, in time, the question arose as to what ought to be done in a
situation where a ruling of the Israeli government clashes with the
essential commandment to settle the Land of Israel, it was declared
that there is clear and unquestionable preference for the law of the
Torah. Eternal, never-changing Torah commandments take precedence over
any type of government decision, which, by its very nature, is given
to change.

This principle holds true not only regarding the commandment to settle
the Land of Israel; it is the case concerning all of the Mitzvoth of
the Torah. It is forbidden to follow the law of a king or government
that negates the word of the Torah. Then Chief Rabbi of the Israeli
Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren zt”l, publicized this ruling and,
despite the rebuke of the Chief of Staff, refused to reverse it. (The
precedent for this ruling can be found in Sanhedrin 49a and in Yad,
Hilkhot Melakhim 3:9).
Clearly, it is preferable to do everything possible via the Knesset,
the Government, and the public, in order to prevent the emergence of a
ruling which negates such an important Mitzvah. Yet, if this is not
successful, it becomes necessary to stand in adamant, passive
opposition to the Government ruling – a ruling which, in the words of
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, is “null and void in comparison to the eternal
law of the Torah.”

Yet, even if we accept the fact that not all Knesset members
understand the Halakhic prohibition involved here, how can anyone even
consider commanding a Jew, for whom the Mitzvah to settle the Land of
Israel is so central, to destroy a settlement and to displace its
residents? How is it possible to order a Jew to uproot with his own
hands the very foundation of his faith? Could their hearts be so hard?
Would they even command a person to dislocate his own parents? Are
they not ashamed to command a person to assault that which is most
dear to him?

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