כ״ז בניסן ה׳תשע״ז (April 23, 2017)

Bava Batra 91a-b: The Prohibition Against Leaving Israel

Must a person live in Israel? Under what circumstances can someone leave Israel to live in the Diaspora?

Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that a person can only leave Israel if basic foods double in price. Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai teaches that this is only true if he cannot afford to purchase food at that price, but if he can afford the inflated prices, then he should not leave Israel. In a similar vein, Rabbi Shimon interpreted the story in Megillat Rut as teaching this lesson. According to Rabbi Shimon, Elimelekh, Maḥlon and Khilyon – the father and two sons who left Israel in a time of famine – were among the leaders of their generation. Their punishment and death is attributed to their decision to abandon Israel during a difficult time. This helps explain the passage (Rut 1:19) that describes the city of Beit-Leḥem as being shocked by Naomi’s return, as Rabbi Yitzḥak interpreted – the people saw her return as a poor widow who had lost her sons as proof that the decision to search for a better fate in the Diaspora was a bad one.

The Gemara qualifies this ruling with the statement of Rabbi Yohanan who taught that as long as someone can support himself and purchase food he must remain in Israel, but if someone cannot earn a livelihood, he is not bound by this ruling.

The Rashbam presents the basis for this law as being connected with the mitzvot ha-teluyot ba-aretz – the commandments that can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. If someone leaves Israel, he has lost his ability to perform those commandments. Rashi (in Gittin 8a) appears to suggest that there is an inherent problem with leaving Israel for the Diaspora, irrespective of the mitzvot ha-teluyot ba-aretz, a position that has support in many statements throughout the Talmud.

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