If someone has a good job in America and making Aliya means that he will earn significantly less money, what should be done in view of the obligation to live in the land (haaretz).
So too, what should be done if a spouse does not want to make Aliyah and objects?
While there is clearly a value in living in the land of Israel, the issue of whether there is an obligation to do so is actually a most complex one. The divergence of opinion ranges from whether there is ever any such obligation to live in the land or whether it is solely a meritorious good deed, for which one is rewarded, but still not obligated. Historical setting would also seem to be a factor in this regard with opinions arguing that it is obligatory in certain historical situations, such as when the Temples were existent, but not in other circumstances, such as when the nation is in a diaspora. (There are even some minority views which do not recognize any value in living in Israel in such circumstances but they are truly limited.)
A similar factor within this discussion is whether an obligation to live in Israel may solely apply to one already dwelling in the land. The halachic manifestation of such a view would thus be that one who is already living in Israel would not, except under certain specific circumstances, be allowed to leave Israel to dwell elsewhere (or, according to some, even to leave temporarily) but that one who is not living in Israel has no obligation to move there. The bottom line is, though, that, in terms of your question, how one should decide between a good job in America and an obligation to live in Israel is a non-starter; according to most views, there is no such obligation. The question should thus be: how does one balance the value of living in Israel with a reality that this will negatively impact on one’s financial standard of living?
This question is actually a subset of the broader question: how does one assess the observance of any Torah value which has a negative impact on one’s standard of living? In regard to obligations, the answer is much more straightforward; one, for example, cannot take a job that includes the violation of Shabbat even if it has higher wages. In general, though, how is one to balance such concerns when the observance of the Torah value is not as obligatory. For example, should one spend less hours at work – and thus earn less – in order to spend more time learning Torah? The answer, ultimately, is very personal and must take into consideration the effect upon others, such as family, and the effect on the overall nature of the person. Standard of living affects one’s psychological and physical well-being and, in this regard, is very personal. What is a luxury for one person is a necessity for another and, as such, it is important that one knows his/her individual needs as they are factors in decisions of this nature that must consider a person’s well-being. Of course, the observance of the Torah value itself – in this case, living in Israel -- must also be a factor in this balancing consideration. As such, in answer to the question of how one should balance the value of living in Israel with a higher paying job in America, it is a personal decision. One must consider the negative consequences of the lower standard of living on one’s family and oneself – including psychological impact – with the personal effect born of the value of living in Israel, and then make the decision that is wisest for the self in all regards. This is not a justification of luxury – and we hope that a consideration of Torah values would inherently challenge overt hedonism – but a consideration of our honest personal needs as a person. One must also consider how this may impact other Torah values such as Torah study or caring for parents.
Similar concerns as noted above also apply in the case of a spouse not willing to move to Israel. While the gemara in T.B. Ketubot 110a seems to simply state that a spouse can force another spouse to make Aliyah, it is obvious that the gemara does not mean that one can physically force another in this regard. The context is the marital relationship and what we are discussing here are the issues that must be considered when there is a disagreement between husband and wife in this regard. It again is personal and demands that a decision should emerge from the functioning state and desired status of the relationship.
What the gemara is thus informing us is that the value of living in Israel should simply be given great weight in such a discussion. The message is that two people, wishing to be together and facing such an issue should lean towards moving to Israel (although other value issues must also be considered) The question then ensues, though, regarding what should happen if one is willing to give up the relationship rather than move to Israel. The spouse wishing to live in Israel can, of course, still decide to not go in order to maintain the relationship and there is no problem with that. The bottom line is that it is personal. If, however, the spouse wishing to live in Israel still wants to go, in facilitating this desire, he/she may be granted greater rights in the divorce proceedings.
The bottom line is that in all these matters we must be sharply aware of the full spectrum of values lit by said situation and decide accordingly within the framework of Torah.
One of the most important and significant (and to me, inspiring) aspects of Judaism is that it is not binary, “either-or” – even when it comes to the mitzvot. So often, Talmudic discourse reflects a weighing of values that are not compatible: We know that a certain mitzvah is obligatory, and yet there is another mitzvah (or even a valid extra-halachic consideration, in some cases) that might challenge the need to immediately fulfill the mitzvah.
I should emphasize that such considerations are far from a recent trend, and far from exclusive to liberal Judaism; many of the Rabbis of the Talmud recognized the obligation to live in Israel – and yet the Babylonian Talmud is considered the more authoritative of the two (over the Jerusalem/Galilee-based Talmud).
This does not undermine the sanctity of Israel, nor the ideal of living there; however, there may be countermanding considerations – the good that one might do (for the Jewish People world-wide, even) through philanthropy… the closer consideration of sh’lom bayit (preserving the wholeness and peace of a household)… one’s very-real obligations to family and community who cannot realistically move to Israel….
Let me offer two ways of thinking about being a “full” Jew, while living outside of Israel:
The first is to consider the model of the tribes of Gad, Reuven, and half of Menashe, who according to the Book of Bemidbar (Numbers) in the Torah, petitioned Moses to claim Land OUTSIDE of the borders of Israel proper. Moses agreed – provided that they travel into the Land to make sure their brethren could securely settle the Land. In this model, we who live outside of Israel must ask ourselves: What can we do, what MUST we do, to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of those who ARE fulfilling the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land? What respect must we give them and their struggles, what pause must we take before criticizing their near-impossible decisions of how to live morally surrounded by antagonistic (even terroristic) neighbors? Do we know best, sitting in our (generally) more comfortable, more secure Diasporic settings? How must we support those in Israel?
Secondly, with each mitzvah that I am not currently privileged to fulfill – whether by circumstance or personal failing on my part – I engage the mantra of “not yet”: That is, I do not say, firmly and for all time, I do NOT DO that mitzvah; rather, I remain open to the possibility, the potential, for that mitzvah to be operative in my life. Even if it is unlikely that it will ever happen, even if I myself have standing obstacles to its fulfillment that (I believe) will always supersede the feasibility of this mitzvah, I keep it “on the shelf” – as a possible, idealized “maybe.” I say, “I do not yet live in Israel. I may never fulfill this mitzvah – perhaps, for very good reasons. Yet it is not ‘off the table,’ because it is a mitzvah.
Of course, all of this assumes that we genuinely go through these mental and emotional struggles. Living in Israel IS an ideal; it IS a mitzvah. We should take that seriously – and just as we would take the considerations of business, family, and spouse seriously, we deserve to expect that consideration from our counterparts as well. In this sense, if in your heart it is a desire to live in Israel, then a spouse, or others, should be able to acknowledge and honor the challenge, perhaps even the sacrifice, you are making – as a statement of love and dedication (and obligation) to those outside of Israel. We can hold up BOTH values as sacred – the obligation to be in Israel, AND the considerations that keep us (as yet, or ever) from fulfilling that mitzvah. In this way, we can be imperfect, but striving, Jews, who balance multiple value systems and very real considerations in aspiring to a halachic life imbued with meaning.
I hope that this helps as you weigh your own values.
What a wonderful question - and it tugs at my own heart-strings since I too have pondered the idea of aliyah for many years. Let me state outright that aliyah is indeed a mitzvah and a joyous opportunity. It has been the dream of Jews for two thousand years to rebuild Israel – and this dream of returning still fills our prayerbooks, our theology, our poetry, and our art.
As a Reform Jew, I am committed to the idea that we can live full Jewish lives anywhere in the world, but I do recognize the special nature of living in the land of Israel. If your heart pulls you toward aliyah, then yes, you might have to make financial adjustments to make it happen. As the joke goes…the way to make a small fortune in Israel is to start with a big one. But Israel is a country with growing job opportunities and a healthy economy - and whatever adjustments need to be made to your income will hopefully have been worth it. Of course, aliyah is not as easy as we might imagine. Moving to Israel can be a daunting prospect – emotionally, spiritually, and politically. Finances are only one piece of the equation.
To your second point – regarding a spouse that objects to making aliyah – that answers the first point. Without your spouse’s support, it is not the right time to make aliyah. When you go, it should be to build a new life in Israel together. I personally have counselled people in this exact situation. If the spouse is not on board, then the discussion is over. Any more than if you decided to move to another city in the US – it would need to be a joint decision. If the timing is not right, then you should stay put.
Of course, if you do have a good income and have the luxury of visiting Israel on a regular basis, then you should do so (if you do not already.) Also, you may consider purchasing an apartment there for more frequent trips. There are also many people in need of financial assistance to make their own trips to Israel – and you can support them through congregational or Federation scholarships. And financially supporting Israel from abroad is a wonderful mitzvah – whether through buying bonds, or trees, or supporting projects in Israel. Tzedakah that helps keep Israel strong is a powerful statement of love.
I am thinking about the biblical tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Menashe. After wandering in the desert for many years – heading toward the Promised Land – they asked Moses for permission NOT to move there. They wanted to stay on the east side of the Jordan River since they liked that land for their livestock. They were granted permission to stay outside the land – only AFTER they helped to secure the land for the rest of the tribes. It was only after Canaan was conquered, that they could return to the east side of the Jordan.
What a powerful message! That while living inside the land is preferable – we may indeed live outside the land - only if we commit ourselves to defending and supporting her first. That is what drives part of my Zionism. The timing may not be right for me to make aliyah, but – like the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Menashe – I am spiritually committed to protecting her for those who do live there.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey, and may Israel remain a joy in all of our hearts.