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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Leaving Eretz Yisrael for a Trip

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: May one leave Israel for a short trip to, for example, enjoy Hashem’s creations that can be seen abroad?


Answer: (We will not distinguish between Biblical/historical Eretz Yisrael and the State of Israel’s borders, although the matter deserves discussion). This issue of leaving Eretz Yisrael has been written about in many contemporary works, since we have been blessed with the ability to live Eretz Yisrael in our own state. We will go from an introduction, to classical sources, to halachic indications.

There are three possible halachic issues with leaving Eretz Yisrael, which themselves can be explained in different ways: 1) Uprooting oneself from fulfillment of the mitzva to live in Eretz Yisrael. 2) For a kohen, not being contaminated by the Rabbinic-level impurity of chutz la’aretz. 3. Violating an (apparently) lower-level prohibition of leaving. In some of the sources, it is not clear which issue is on the table.

The gemara in Ketubot (111a) both says that it is forbidden to “leave Eretz Yisrael for [even] Bavel” and tells of Rabbi Chanina telling someone not to leave to perform the mitzva of yibbum. However, these sources are likely referring to leaving permanently, which is worse not only cumulatively but because he uproots the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael, which by leaving for a short time likely one does not do. Rabbi Yochanan was reluctant to let Rav Assi go to greet his approaching mother (Kiddushin 32a). Eventually, he agreed, stressing that Rav Assi should return. It is possible that the issue was that Rav Assi was a kohen (see Mishpat Kohen 147). The gemara in Avoda Zara (13a), which explicitly addresses a kohen, says he may not go out without special justification. The examples given are to learn Torah in a qualitatively better way than in Eretz Yisrael, to get married, and to adjudicate with a non-Jew. Tosafot (ad loc.) says that only these mitzvot are important enough to justify leaving (the She’iltot disagrees) and that even so, the permission was only to leave temporarily. A final gemara (Moed Katan 14) we will cite is about  permission to shave on Chol Hamo’ed after returning from a trip to chutz la’aretz (according to the Ra’avad, accepted by the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 531:4). Shaving is not permitted if the trip was improper. The guidelines are that it is permitted to go for livelihood and forbidden to go “lashut” (we translate as going for the sake of travel). There is a machloket if he went to make money that he did not need, and we rule leniently (ibid.). Apparently, a temporary trip (how long is unclear) can be wrong, but it is not very hard to justify it.

The most prominent post-Talmudic source is the Rambam (Melachim 5:9), who seems to take guidelines from several gemarot. He says that it is permitted to leave to marry, learn Torah, and adjudicate but he must return. Then he adds that one can also go temporarily to engage in commerce. While there are slight variations, the consensus among poskim of the contemporary era (including Rav Kook, Mishpat Kohen 147; Rav Yisraeli, Eretz Hemdah I:10; Yechaveh Da’at V:57; Shevel Halevi 5:173) is that it is permissible to go abroad for any significant reason (that is no less important than commerce). What this entails seems subjective and may depend on a posek’s philosophy. The Magen Avraham (531:7) mentions to see a friend, and presumably taking part in his significant simcha is at least as important. The Shevet Halevi says there is room to be lenient to see the wonders of Hashem’s work in nature, especially if one approaches that properly. Rav Lichtenstein (Har Etzion site) says that cultural enrichment is no less important than business opportunities. In Bemareh Habazak (IV:140, based on Rav Yisraeli), after stressing the feeling one should have for being in Israel, we gave, as examples of legitimate reasons, educational trips and family vacations that do not have a viable alternative in Israel.

While there are too many sources and scenarios to analyze exhaustively, we hope our survey is useful.

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