The Gemara says in Kesubos 110b: Rabbi Zeira avoided meeting Rav Yehudah, because he was planning to go up to Eretz Yisroel, for Rav Yehudah said: Anyone who goes from Babylonia to Eretz Yisroel transgresses a positive commandment, as it says, “They will be brought to Babylonia and there they will stay until the day I revisit them, said Hashem.” (Yirmiyahu 27:22) Rabbi Zeira held that that verse refers only to the vessels of the Temple. Rav Yehudah [surely agrees to this, but forbids going to Eretz Yisroel based on] another verse, as it says, “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, with the gazelles and the deer of the field…” (Shir Hashirim 2:7) Rabbi Zeira holds that that verse means that Israel may not go up as a wall. Rav Yehudah [surely agrees to this, but forbids an individual to go to Eretz Yisroel based on] the second time the verse “I adjure you…” occurs (ibid. 3:5). Rabbi Zeira uses that verse [and the last remaining “I adjure you”] as the basis for the statement of Rabbi Yossi bar Chaninah: To what to these three oaths refer? One, that Israel should not go up as a wall. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured the nations not to subjugate Israel too much. Rav Yehudah [surely agrees to this, but derives the prohibition on an individual from the extra words] “if you arouse” and “if you wake up.” Rabbi Zeira needs [those extra words] for the statement of Rabbi Levi: “To what do these six oaths refer? Three we have already explained, and the rest: that they [the prophets] should not reveal the end, that they should not make the end more distant, and that they should not reveal the secret to the gentiles. “With gazelles and the deer of the field” – Rabbi Elazar explained: Said the Holy One, blessed is He, to Israel, “If you keep the oath, good, but if not, I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and the deer of the field.”
Now, if the Gemara concludes that Rav Yehuda’s prohibition on the individual immigrating to Eretz Yisroel is really derived from the oath, why does Rav Yehuda say, “Anyone who goes from Babylonia to Eretz Yisroel transgresses a positive commandment” – he should say “transgresses the oath”!
The Rif in Ein Yaakov (Rabbi Yoshiahu Pinto of Morocco) resolves this by saying that once we have the oath, we know that the positive commandment “They will be brought to Babylonia” refers to the Jews themselves and not just to the Temple vessels. Look there to see how he explains this. And other commentators give similar answers, with various explanations.
Now, this explanation works well to explain why Rav Yehuda still holds that one who moves to Eretz Yisroel transgresses a positive commandment even according to the Gemara’s conclusion. But we are still left with the question of why Rav Yehuda does not mention the oath. After all, one transgresses the oath as well, and an oath is more severe than a positive commandment, so Rav Yehuda should have mentioned it. Why did he ignore the severe prohibition and mention only the moderate one? [This question will be answered at the end of chapter 79.]
Furthermore, Rav Yehuda’s statement that one who moves to Eretz Yisroel transgresses a positive commandment occurs in two other places in Shas: Berachos 24b and Shabbos 41a, and in those places the oath is not mentioned at all! It simply says that one transgresses a positive commandment.
There are many other questions and problems on this subject, and we need not list them all, for when we explain the subject many of the questions will be answered automatically.
Now, the Rif in Ein Yaakov asks how Rav Yehuda’s prohibition is consistent with the Gemara earlier in Kesubos 110b, “One who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel is like one who has no G-d.” So how could Hashem have commanded us to stay in Babylonia? His answer is that one is only considered like one who has no G-d if he leaves Eretz Yisroel on his own initiative, but at the destruction of the Temple the Jewish people were forced to leave; Hashem exiled them to Babylonia and decreed that they must stay there. We will return to this later.
However, it seems that a stronger question could be posed from the anonymous Mishnah on 110b: “Either spouse can force the other to move to Eretz Yisroel.” Doesn’t Rav Yehuda’s prohibition contradict this Mishnah? Why does the Rif only ask from the statement “one who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel is as if he worshipped idols,” which is only a Baraisa? Furthermore, the Rif’s distinction – between leaving Eretz Yisroel on one’s own initiative and being forced out – will not help for the Mishnah. The Mishnah says explicitly that one may move to Eretz Yisroel and even force his or her spouse to do so! And a Baraisa is even more explicit: “If the husband want to move to Eretz Yisroel and the wife does not want, we force her to move, and if she refuses, he may divorce her without paying the kesuba…”
After writing the above, I found that the Haflaah also wonders how Rav Yehuda could go against an anonymous Mishnah. His answer is that Rav Yehuda understood the Mishnah to be talking about moving to Eretz Yisroel from places other than Babylonia. Similarly, we find that Rashi at the beginning of Gittin explains the term medinas hayam (“the overseas country”) to refer to all places in the world outside of Eretz Yisroel other than Babylonia, despite the fact that there is nothing in the term to indicate this.
[In passing we should note the Zionist Rabbi Shlomo Aviner claims that the Haflaah says that the Three Oaths only forbid mass immigration from Babylonia (see Sources for a photocopy of this claim). The truth, however, is that the Haflaah is only talking about Rav Yehuda, who forbids individuals from going to Eretz Yisroel. This prohibition, says the Haflaah, only applies to Babylonia. Thus this statement of Rav Yehuda is identical to his second statement on 111a, which says that leaving Babylonia is forbidden. The Kesef Mishneh, in fact, understands the Rambam to be saying the same thing - see Vayoel Moshe Siman 9. According to this understanding of Rav Yehuda, the main issue is leaving Babylonia, not going to Eretz Yisroel. But the Haflaah never spoke about Rabbi Zeira's opinion, which is that returning en masses to Eretz Yisroel is forbidden under the oaths. Since according to Rabbi Zeira the main issue is Eretz Yisroel, it makes no difference which country one is coming from.]
Now I find the Haflaah’s answer very difficult, because on the contrary, from Gittin we see that this answer cannot apply to Kesubos. For Tosafos (Gittin 2a) says that the Mishnah in Gittin went out of its way to use the term medinas hayam instead of the more common chutz laaretz (“outside the Land”) because chutz laaretz would have included even cities just over the border such as Rekam and Chagar (the first opinion in the Mishnah in Gittin is that an agent of the husband outside Eretz Yisroel bringing a get to his wife in Eretz Yisroel must testify that the get was written and signed in his presence only when bringing it from far away, not from border towns like Rekam and Chagar. Rabban Gamliel disagrees and says, “Even when bringing a get from Rekam or Chagar, the agent must testify.”) , whereas medinas hayam implies only faraway lands, as in the Mishnaic law that begins, “If a woman’s husband went to medinas hayam and later witnesses came and testified that he died…” (Yevamos 87b) and similarly the law that a borrower may excuse himself by saying, “I paid you back in the presence of so-and-so and so-and-so, and they went to medinas hayam.” So we see that whenever the Mishnah uses the unqualified term chutz laaretz, all lands outside of Eretz Yisroel are included, even the most nearby cities. Tosafos uses the example of Rekam and Chagar, the subject of the dispute between the first opinion and Rabban Gamliel, but certainly they would agree that the term chutz laaretz also includes Babylonia, and only the term medinas hayam excludes it, as Rashi states. The general rule is that medinas hayam means faraway lands and therefore excludes Babylonia, which is near Eretz Yisroel, and other nearby places.
But in Kesubos, where the Mishnah and the Baraisa speak simply of maalin (forcing one’s spouse to move to Eretz Yisroel), it refers to moving from anywhere in the world, near or far, even Babylonia.
Furthermore, the Gemara earlier asks what the word hakol (anyone) in the Mishnah (“anyone can force his/her spouse to move”) comes to teach, and the Gemara replies that it comes to teach us that one may even force one’s spouse to move from a nice house outside of Eretz Yisroel to a low-quality house in Eretz Yisroel. Now, if there were any shadow of a doubt as to whether the Mishnah refers even to moving from Babylonia, then Rabbi Zeira, who disagrees with Rav Yehuda and permits individuals to move from Babylonia to Eretz Yisroel, should have said that the word “anyone” comes to teach that even someone in Babylonia may force his/her spouse to move. The fact that the Gemara does not say this shows that even without the extra word “anyone” the law of the Mishnah applies to Babylonia just as it applies to the rest of the world.
So we are back to the question of how Rav Yehuda can go against an explicit Mishnah and prohibit moving from Babylonia to Eretz Yisroel.