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A Response to Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's Booklet on the Three Oaths

Hi Rabbi, one more e-mail. I wouldn't even know how to respond to the attached article, Do Not Ascend Like a Wall, by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. He gives 13 reasons why the Three Oaths don't apply to the State of Israel. Seems compelling, but you're the authority. Thoughts?

I'm posting Rabbi Aviner's text with my comments.

1. The wall fell by the permit of the Nations of the World
Thus wrote the Avnei Nezer: “That which I wrote in section 56 that there will be no oath if
permission is granted for all to ascend to Israel, since Rashi explained ‘together by force,’ and if it
is with permission it is not force.”

This is probably the most common Zionist argument. They base it on Rashi’s comment on the words of the Gemara, “The Holy One, blessed is He, made Israel swear not to go up as a wall.” Rashi says, “Together, with a strong hand.” They assume that this means with military force. Thus, they argue, it is allowed to establish a state with permission from the nations.

There is one commentator who understood Rashi that way: the Avnei Nezer. But it's important to realize that the Avnei Nezer was writing before 1910 (the year he passed away). He is concerned with the Three Oaths as they relate to immigration under the Turks. He does not discuss the question of founding a state.

Even if mass immigration with the permission of the nations is allowed, founding a sovereign state is a different story - it involves the oath against forcing the end of exile.

Also, Chazal say clearly that we will not achieve political independence until moshiach comes: "The only difference between the present era and the days of moshiach is our subjugation to the nations" (Shabbos 63a). The Avnei Nezer never permitted any kind of political sovereignty.

The Avnei Nezer wonders why all the great tzaddikim of past centuries didn't go to live in Eretz Yisroel, if doing so is indeed one of the 613 mitzvos. His answer is that the mitzvah cannot be understood as an absolute obligation on every Jew to go to Eretz Yisroel, for if they would all go, they would transgress the oath.

Then he says that if a Jew receives permission from the government to immigrate, he is obligated to do so, since if such permission were given for all Jews they would indeed be allowed to go, and it would not be a violation of the oath, which, as Rashi says, only prohibits going up "with a strong hand." Or, he adds, if permission were given for all Jews to come, it would be considered a "pekidah" - an act of Divine remembrance. (Responsa Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 454:52-56)

So, says the Avnei Nezer, the great tzaddikim of the past didn't have permission from the government, and that is why they didn't go. It's not that it was so hard to get permission back then. But today, when one decides to move to a certain country, one first approaches the local consul of that country to request official permission. That's not the way it was in the Middle Ages and before. One had to actually travel to Eretz Yisroel (or at least reach the borders of the empire controlling it) to ask permission to settle there. Therefore, one was never in the situation of being in his home country and possessing permission to settle in Eretz Yisroel.

Later (in Siman 456) the Avnei Nezer clarifies why he proposed the second explanation: that permission for all Jews to come would be considered a "pekidah": because according to his first explanation of Rashi there is a problem. The Gemara in Yuma (9b) says, “If you had made yourselves like a wall and all come up in the time of Ezra…” In that context, “like a wall” clearly means with permission, as the immigration in Ezra’s time was sanctioned by Darius, king of Persia.

Thus the Avnei Nezer backtracks and says that mass immigration, even with permission, is called going up as a wall and is thus prohibited under the oath.

At the same time, he says that when the government gives permission for all Jews to come, it's a pekidah, a sign of Divine remembrance. So when is legal mass immigration ever prohibited? Clearly there must be some types of permission that do not qualify as pekidah. For example, we just said a moment ago that in the olden days, those few Jews who traveled to Eretz Yisroel did so without having advance permission to settle there. If a large enough number of Jews did this together, it would be a violation of the oath, even if the government let them stay upon arrival. That's why the Avnei Nezer said that it can't be an obligation upon every Jew to do this.

In the case of Zionism, the permission given by the British just meant that those Jews who came legally under the British Mandate were not violating the oath. But in the end the British did not hand Palestine over to the Jews. They just pulled out of the country in 1948, leaving it to whoever would prevail in the war. That is not a pekidah. Fighting that war and taking over the country definitely fit the description of Rashi - "together, with a strong hand."

At this point Zionists invariably argue that the U.N. voted for a Jewish state.

But the nations in the U.N. who voted in favor of a Jewish state did not include the nation ruling over the land, the British. The British abstained in the vote and did nothing to help carry out the U.N. resolution. In the end, the Zionists did have to fight for their land, first against the local Arabs (Palestinians) and then against the surrounding nations. That is definitely "with a strong hand" and a rebellion against the nations. The fact that they had a recommendation to do so from other nations around the world who were not involved in the conflict means nothing halachically speaking. And the 1948 war was not a fight to defend a piece of land; it was a fight to get a piece of land.

Imagine that all the countries in the UN except America voted to give the Jews the state of New York for a country of their own. And the Jews held a meeting and declared independence in the state of New York. And then the U.S. army came to fight them. Would it then be self-defense to fight back against the U.S. army?

Furthermore, not everyone agrees that going up "as a wall" means by military means. The Avnei Nezer is the only one who says that. Others (Yefeh Kol, Ahavas Yonasan) understand it as any mass immigration.

Also, do not forget about the other oath, which prohibits forcing the end. Founding a state before the coming of moshiach certainly falls under that category. Even the Avnei Nezer only says that the oath against "going up as a wall" becomes permitted when the nations give it to us, which would mean that mass immigration is permitted according to him, but not founding a state.

Furthermore, the borders of the Jewish state proposed by the UN are a far cry from the borders actually conquered by the Zionists. The U.N.'s Jewish state was made up of a thin strip along the coast, the Negev desert, and a strip in the northeast. These three pieces are barely connected. And all of Jerusalem and its environs were to be deep within the Arab state.

At this point a Zionist would argue: the land was ownerless. The UN resolution gave it to the Zionists, who declared their independent state. Then, the following day, several Arab armies attacked the newborn state. So the war was not a war to take over Eretz Yisroel - they had already done that. It was a war to defend the Jews of Eretz Yisroel.

But this is specious reasoning. Think about it: If I walk into your house and declare it mine, and, when you resist me, I fight back, is that self-defense? Who is the aggressor? I am, of course. Declaring someone else's land mine is an act of aggression. True, here there was no sovereign power from which the Israelis took the land. The previous government was the British, and they left voluntarily. But my point is that self-defense is not defined by who attacks physically first.

There are actually three possibilities. 1) If someone attacks my house, which has always been mine, then he is the aggressor and I am just defending myself. 2) If I walk into someone's house and declare it mine, then I am the aggressor. 3) If there is an ownerless house and two people want it, the fact that one of them happens to be the first one to declare it his does not make his opponent the aggressor. They are both equally aggressors. This last case is the analogy that best describes 1948.

The UN resolution didn't make the Zionists into the defenders, because as I said, the UN was only making a recommendation. It wasn't their country.

Zionists sometimes argue that the Arab countries all agreed to the rules of the UN, and therefore although they voted against a Jewish state, it is as if they agreed to it. But even if that were true, it would be irrelevant because the bottom line is that there was a war and Jews would not have gotten control of the country without a war. Taking the land through war is prohibited by halacha.

To put it another way: If you think agreeing to abide by the rules of the UN amounts to agreement to give the Jews the land, so be it, but even if a ruling power really did agree to give the Jews its land and then later retracted its offer, and the Jews had to fight for it, that is “with a strong hand”.

And similarly Rabbi Meir Simchah of Dvinsk wrote: “Nevertheless at this time Divine Providence
causes, that in a gathering of the enlightened Kingdoms in San Remo, a command was
given that the Land of Israel would be for the Nation of Israel, and since the fear of the Oaths departed,
then the mitzvah of settling the Land arose to its place with the permit of the rulers.”

This letter by the Ohr Somayach was clearly written after the British had committed themselves to the terms of the Mandate. They were the ruling power, so their permission (for settlement, not a state) was enough to permit the oath against going up as wall, which, according to the Ohr Somayach, forbids only forceful immigration. But today’s State of Israel does not rest on British permission, since the British eventually issued the White Paper of 1939 and changed course. It rests on the U.N.’s recommendation. The nations in the U.N. who voted for partition were not the owners of Palestine, nor did the British commit themselves to enforce the U.N.’s decision in any way. They simply said that they were leaving on May 15, 1948, and whoever won the war would get the land.

And this is also implied in the Meharsha: “‘Do not ascend like a wall’ — and Nechemiah who
said: ‘And we will build the walls of the city...”? It was with the permission of the King.”

Rabbi Aviner seems to think that the Maharsha is saying that whatever the oath prohibits, one may do with permission from the king. The flaw in this reasoning is that rebellion against, or independence from the king is the very thing that the oath prohibits. So building a defensive wall, or any other action, undertaken with permission from the king is by definition permitted because it doesn't go against the oath. It would be like building a fence around a Jewish neighborhood in New York with permission from the American government. But declaring an independent state with permission from some of the kings around the world is definitely a violation of the oath.

It would help to quote the entire Maharsha and not just a few words of it:

Certainly every Jew is permitted to go up to Eretz Yisroel, but they must not go up with a strong hand and to build for themselves the walls of Jerusalem. When Nechemiah said, “Let us build the walls of the city and no longer be a shame” (Nechemiah 2:17), it was with the king's permission, as it is written (2:8). But Toviah, who asked Nechemiah regarding the building of the wall, “Are you rebelling against the king?” did not realize that it was being done with the king's permission.

So we see that it is not the building of the wall that violates the oath; it is the rebellion against the ruling power symbolized by building the wall.

In our times, city walls are quaint historic structures and they mean little in terms of defense. The Zionists did much more to declare their independence and fight for it. They certainly transgressed this oath according to the Maharsha.

The Maharsha is actually a proof against Zionism, because he says that the only time it is permitted to build a wall or other means of self-defense is if Jews live under a ruling power or empire, such as the Persian empire in Nechemiah's time, and the king gives permission. Then their self-defense does not show independence; it is nothing more than a police force against local bands of marauders.

And see Midrash Shir Ha-Shirim: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, made Israel swear four
oaths...’Do not stir nor awake the love until I desire’ the Kingdom delivered the sword from their
hands.” On this Ha-Rav Kasher wrote that the Nations of the World will give permission to the
Nation of Israel to protect itself and supply it with weapons.

This is not the regular Midrash Raba on Shir Hashirim, but rather a newly discovered midrash published by Rabbi Elazar Greenhut in Jerusalem in 1897 from a manuscript in the Cairo genizah. The translation given above is a bit garbled, and the Midrash actually reads, "You must not arouse or awaken the love between Me and you until the kingdom (hamalchus) desires to place the sword in your hands, as it says (Yechezkel 25:14), And I will take revenge on Edom through the hands of My people Israel." The word "kingdom" probably means Hashem's kingdom; thus the meaning is that Hashem will give the sword into Jewish hands in the days of moshiach in order to take revenge on Edom. In any case, the dubious origin of this midrash should disqualify it as a source on which to base an entire movement.

And see Kaftor VaFerach who explains that not ascending like a wall is in order to conquer,
which implies that with permission is permissible.

This is no different from Rashi, which we discussed above. The Zionists definitely did come "in order to conquer" (Hebrew: al menas lichbosh). They amassed a standing army of 50,000, bought up and manufactured weapons during the 1930s and 40s, in preparation for conquering the land. See above.

And many earlier authorities have already written that the permission of Redemption will be by
permit of the Nations of the World as in the time of Koresh, they are: Rabbi Moshe ben Machir,
Ramban, Radak, Rabbi Yosef Ibn Kaspi, Rabbenu Bachya, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, Maharibach,
Rabbenu Saadia Gaon, Rabbi Yehudah Chai Alkalai at length, Ha-Rav Tzvi Hirsch
Kalischer at length, the Gra and the Malbim.

The Ramban means the commentary on Shir Hashirim attributed to the Ramban (actually it was written by Rabbeinu Ezra, disciple of Rabbeinu Yitzchak, son of the Raavad). On Shir Shirim 8:13 he writes that the ingathering of the exiles will take place in two stages. The first stage will be the Ten Tribes. They will appoint a leader, Moshiach ben Yosef, he will conquer lands and kings, come to Jerusalem and build it. But he will die in battle. Then all the scattered Jews from the tribe of Yehuda will appoint one leader over them - Moshiach ben Dovid, who was with them in exile – and with the permission of the kings of the nations and with their help, they will go to Eretz Yisroel, as it is written, “And they will bring all of your brethren from all the nations as a gift to Hashem.” That kingdom will exist forever. And that is the meaning of the verse, “The word of Hashem G-d, Who gathers the dispersed of Israel: I will once again gather unto it, to its gathered ones” (Yishaya 56:8). “Who gathers the dispersed of Israel” – this refers to the Ten Tribes. “I will once again gather unto it” – this refers to Yehuda. The Torah also refers to these two gatherings when it says, “And Hashem your G-d will return your captives and have mercy on you; and He will go back and gather you from all the nations to which Hashem your G-d scattered you” (Devarim 30:3).

Apparently, Rabbi Aviner and other Zionists before him just saw the words "with the permission of the kings of the nations and with their help" and ignored everything else. But what Rabbeinu Ezra actually says is that the second stage of the ingathering will take place with the permission of the kings, and even that will happen under the leadership of Moshiach ben Dovid. (Vayoel Moshe 1:68)

Furthermore, the verse he cites as a source for the gentiles bringing the Jews up – Yishaya 66:20 – was understood by the Metzudos David as referring to the second stage of the ingathering, not the first.

The Metzudas David says there: “They will bring all your brethren – this means the Jews who are far away, who did not ascend with their brethren. The gentiles among whom those Jews live, when they hear about the great wonder that Hashem will do to the camp of Gog and Magog, will bring the Jews on horses and chariots as a gift to Hashem on His holy mountain.” In other words, this is talking about a period in which most of the Jewish people has already been gathered to Eretz Yisroel by Hashem. The nations will gather under Gog and Magog against the Jewish people in Jerusalem, as mentioned in Yishaya 66:18. Hashem will defeat them in a wondrous manner, as described in Zechariah 14:12. After word of this defeat spreads throughout the world (Yishaya 66:19), the gentiles will bring those few Jews remaining in exile to Eretz Yisroel as a gift to Hashem.

The same is stated by Rashi on Yishaya 27:12: "And it will come to pass on that day that Hashem will beat out [the Jews] from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt, and you will be picked up one by one, Children of Israel." Rashi says that the prophet is comparing the ingathering of the exiles to beating an olive tree and subsequently picking up the fallen olives. The owner does the beating and then he and others pick them up off the ground. Here too, Hashem will begin the ingathering process, as it says in the following verse: “And it will come to pass on that day that a great shofar will be blown and there will come those lost in the land of Assyria, and those cast away in the land of Egypt, and they will bow to Hashem in the holy mountain, in Jerusalem.” Later, anyone who finds one of you in exile will bring him up to Jerusalem as a gift.

The Radak on Tehillim refers to the same verse in Yishaya 66:18. On the verse, "Do not trust in noblemen, in a human who has no salvation" (Tehillim 146:3) the Radak says that even when humans do things, the salvation does not really come from them, but from Hashem. Thus Cyrus gave the command for the Jews to return to build the Second Temple, but it was really Hashem who inspired him to do so. And similarly, in the future redemption, Yishaya says that the gentiles will bring the Jews up from exile, but actually Hashem will inspire them to do so. Again, this means after moshiach has come and a portion of the Jews have come to Eretz Yisroel already. (Vayoel Moshe 1:68)

Tam Hakesef is a short sefer of drashos by Yosef Ibn Kaspi, a philosopher from the 13th century. It was published in 1913 in London "from the only extant manuscript", according to the title page. The publisher states openly that he published it to highlight the Zionistic words that appear on page 44: "Is there no longer any material in the hands of the Creator to create a man like Moses or less than him, who would come before kings and they would give it (Eretz Yisroel) to him? ... Or a king will arise and conquer Eretz Yisroel from the king of Egypt who is called the Sultan, and then make known throughout his kingdom that we should return to our land..." Even if the sefer is real, the author's status as a heretic (according to the Abarbanel and the Tashbatz, because in his commentary on Moreh Nevuchim he affirmed the eternity of the world, denying that the world was created by Hashem from nothingness) should disqualify it as a source.

The Rabbeinu Bachya is on Vayikra 11:4-7:
"Why is this nation (edom) called "Chazir"? For, it will eventually "lhachzir" the crown to its former glory. This means as follow. The two Temples were built by Jews... The third Temple, however will be built by Edom.. since they destroyed..

The version of the Tanchuma quoted by Rabbeinu Bachya according to which Edom builds the Beis Hamikdash is probably not the right girsa. He brings two other girsaos. The normative opinion in Talmud Bavli is that Hashem will bring down the Beis Hamikdash from heaven (Bava Kamma 60b, Rashi and Tosafos on Succah 41a). The Rambam says moshiach will build it. No one says that Edom will build it. If the girsa is correct, perhaps it means that in the time of moshiach, Edom will become subservient to moshiach’s kingdom and will bring him materials for the Temple.

Regarding the Gra, Rabbi Aviner reveals in the footnote that this is not a quote from the Gra himself but someone much later claimed that the Gra held this way.

The Chafetz Chaim wrote: “It is possible that the
future Redemption will be through natural means by way of The Holy One, Blessed be He, placing
within the heart of the Kings of the Nations to act beneficently with Israel and such was the
matter as was said about Koresh.

If you look this one up, you'll see that the Chofetz Chaim is not talking about a pre-messianic return to Eretz Yisroel like Zionism. He writes at length, with a parable in the footnote, about how all the nations will see the truth of the Torah and Hashem in the future era, like people wandering in the forest at night who realize in the morning that the road was just a few feet away. He says perhaps at that time, the nations will help us return to Eretz Yisroel.

And many great authorities of Israel saw an awakening from the Heavens in the Balfour Declaration
and they supported this endeavor, they are Rabbi Meir Simchah of Dvinsk, the Admor of
Sochatshov, Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the Chafetz Chaim and our master, Ha-Rav
Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohen Kook.

Reb Meir Simcha has been discussed above.
Reb Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld did indeed see the Balfour Declaration as a good sign, like a little cloud on the horizon after years of drought (Guardian of Jerusalem, p. 409). But he did not say that the oaths were no longer in force, or that anything more than immigration is permitted under the oaths. He just speculates that perhaps the Mandate will lead to the redemption.

He also stated that is dangerous to free ourselves from exile before the time:

Once there was a prince who excelled in all areas and was perfect in every way. He was also the only child of his father, the king, and his father loved him dearly. One day the prince became seriously ill. His father sent for the best doctors and brought them to his hospital bedside, where he stood together with him. Could one imagine that such a wise boy would ask his father and his doctors to free him from the hospital and send him home? And even if he did make such a foolish request, they would not grant it, despite their mercy and love for him. Leaving while not completely recovered would put his life in danger.

We, the Jewish people, are in such a situation. Hashem sent us into exile because of our sins. The exile is the Jewish people’s hospital. It is unthinkable that we should take ourselves power in our land before our healing process is complete. Hashem protects us and shields us while doling out to us the medicine of suffering in exact amounts. We are certain that when the time comes and our healing from our sins is complete, Hashem will not delay even one second, and He Himself will redeem us. Not so if we would hurry to leave the hospital – then a mortal danger, a perpetual danger would hover over us, G-d forbid. And even when we pray for our redemption, we only ask that our healing process be completely quickly – not that we should return to the King’s palace while still sick, G-d forbid (Mara D’ara Yisroel v. 1 p. 145).

He also said:

In the Torah, Hashem promised to give us Eretz Canaan. He promised that He Himself will give it to us, not that we would have to take it on our own by force. And the prophet (Yishaya 1:27) says, "Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to it through righteousness." The first half of this verse has the same numerical value as "Talmud Yerushalmi" and the second half has the same numerical value as "Talmud Bavli". This teaches that only by fulfilling the two Talmuds can Zion be redeemed from the hands of the gentiles - not through might and power. (Mara D'ara Yisroel v. 1 p. 145)

It is said that the Chofetz Chaim reacted positively to the Balfour Declaration. The relevant quotes are as follows:

In the winter of 5678 (1917-1918) when they told the Chofetz Chaim about the simcha that had spread in Jewish homes because of the Balfour Declaration, the Chofetz Chaim burst out crying and said, "What is the point of this simcha? Hakadosh Baruch Hu promised us, 'And you shall spread out west and east and north and south' – here is a sure promisory note, which Hakadosh Baruch Hu will pay up when the time comes. Now some people come and admit to a small part of Hakadosh Baruch Hu's promisory note, and everyone is happy about this declaration, and they see it as a sort of redemption. They are satisfied with a little... they don't wait for more... Oy, what has become of us…" and he continued crying. (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Parshas Bo, p. 99)

The Chofetz Chaim's son, Reb Leib, used to relate: "When the British government issued the well-known Balfour Declaration regarding Eretz Yisroel, the Chofetz Chaim saw it as an arousal from above regarding the redemption. At that time he quoted the comment of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh on the verse, 'a tribe will arise from Israel' (Bamidbar 24:17). But he said, I am afraid that the irreligious will ruin it, G-d forbid. He would said that many times there have already been times of favor, but those generations ruined it." (p. 101)

In the first quote, he laments that some Jews saw the Balfour Declaration as the beginning of redemption, and he stresses that the redemption will be much bigger. In the second quote, he calls the declaration an "arousal" but fears that the irreligious will ruin it.

In any case, he did not say that if the British were to say at some point, "Now we're going to help you set up a Jewish state" that it would be allowed to found a state. He certainly did not say that if the British were to leave and say, "You Jews and Arabs fight it out yourselves" (which is what actually ended up happening) that it would be permitted.

Even Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Kook, who is idolized today as one of the pioneers of religious Zionism, wrote clearly against founding a state through warfare. In his commentary on the Siddur, Olas Re'iyah, on the blessing after fruit from the Seven Species, Rav Kook quotes the Gemara in Berachos 41b, which says that if one has dates and pomegranates, he should make the blessing on the dates because although they are mentioned last in the verse (Devarim 8:8), they are closer to the word haaretz, "the land." He explains that, metaphorically, the first half of the verse refers to religious Jews who want Eretz Yisroel for its mitzvos and spiritual qualities. The second half refers to Jews who want Eretz Yisroel for its physical qualities and as a haven for Jews. A secular Zionist may be on a lower spiritual level than a religious Jew in exile who is not interested in settling the land, but since he is closer to Eretz Yisroel, his actions do more to advance Judaism's spiritual goals. However, we must "achieve this through love and peace, not to ascend as a wall and not to rebel against the nations of the world, but rather to increase our strength and inner boldness, even our physical strength, for this will lead us to our spiritual goal. Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, said Hashem."

According to this, Rav Kook held that there shouldn't be an army because Jewish settlement should take place peacefully. It was only his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who twisted his father's views to support militaristic, settler Zionism. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Kook would never have supported that approach. As much as he tried to reconcile Zionism and Judaism (to the point of writing some things that were condemned by all the gedolim of his time), he was honest enough not to ignore the Three Oaths or explain them away.

He simply didn't realize that the Zionism he supported was leading to military conflict. Most people at that time (he passed away in 1935) thought that the British would give the Jews Palestine as their homeland and there would be no wars. It was only with the Arab riots in the years 1936-1939 that this picture began to change. As a result of the riots, Britain revoked the Balfour Declaration and eventually left the Zionists to fend for themselves.

2. At the time of a Divine remembrance, the wall is nullified
If there is an indication that Hashem remembered His Nation, the wall is nullified since the verse
says “until I desire” — “do not stir nor awake the love until I desire” — and if there is an indication
[that the time is] “until I desire” there is no wall.

We do not try to figure out G-d's will from events of the world. In general, the events of our time are the greatest proof that the oaths do apply. We truly see today how the Tanach and the Talmud were written with prophetic spirit and they foresaw that there would be an attempt to end the exile by human means. This is the only attempt of its kind in history. If the oaths dont apply to this, what were they written for?

Thus wrote the Avnei Nezer, and according to his opinion it is possible that permit of the Nations
of the World is in and of itself a remembrance and nullified the wall.

This has been discussed above.

In the Talmud in Sanhedrin: Rabbi Abba said: “You have no Revealed End [clearer] than this, as
it says (Yechezkel 36:8): ‘But you Mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches, and
yield your fruit to My people of Israel; for they will soon be coming.’“ If so, the ingathering of the
exiles and the Land giving of its fruit in abundance by way of its agricultural settlement, this is
an exceptional sign of Redemption.

Actually, this Gemara about producing fruit means either in a miraculous way – new fruits growing every day, as we see in Shabbos 30b that they will do this in the time of Moshiach – or else it at least means like the way it was in the times of Tanach – see Rashi on Bamidbar 13:23 where he talks about the great size of the fruits brought back by the spies. But if they grow naturally like in the rest of the world – the more work you put into it, the more it grows – that is not a proof of anything.

Indeed the land produced regular fruit throughout the centuries of exile. We see that the Kesef Mishneh (Hilchos Terumos 1:11) tells the story of a practical dispute among the rabbis of his time over the issue of taking maaser from produce grown on gentile-owned land in Eretz Yisroel.

3. Violation of the Nations of the World of their Oath, Nullified All of the Oaths
In the Talmud in Ketubot, among the Oaths, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, made the idol worshippers
swear not to subjugate Israel excessively.” And it is written in the Shulchan Aruch: “Two
who swore to do something, and one of them violates the oath, the other one is exempt and does
not require a release [from the oath],”125 and since the non-Jews violated their oath, we are exempt
from our oath.

The first thing to note about this argument is that it is dependent on the other common Zionist argument that the oath only prohibits forceful conquest of the land. Then we could see the oaths as a kind of peace treaty between the Jews and the other nations. As long as the nations don't afflict us, we won't fight with them.

But if we hold like the Ramban, Yefei Kol, Ohr Hachaim, Rabbi Yonasan Eybeshutz and so on, who say that the oath applies to mass immigration even with the approval of the nations living there, then we are saying that the oath was not imposed on the Jews for the nations' benefit. It is a mitzvah between us and Hashem, and has no connection to the nations' oath.

Furthermore, there is another oath that prohibits forcing the end, which includes false messiahs and, according to Rashi, even excessive prayer. This is certainly not a sin against the gentiles but against Hashem Himself. Therefore everyone would agree that we must keep it whether or not the nations keep theirs.

Also, although the great destruction wrought by Germany is one of the worst our people have ever suffered, there is no reason to say that previous massacres such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the destruction of Beitar, the Crusades and the massacres of 1648 (Tach Vetat) did not constitute a violation of the gentiles’ oath. Why then did the Zionist idea sprout only in this most recent century? In previous generations not only was such an idea never entertained, but it was expressly forbidden by the greatest Torah sages of the time. The Amoraim lived after the Roman massacres and yet they recorded the Three Oaths in the Gemara as practical law. The Rambam knew of the early Crusades and also terrible persecutions in his own lands by the Muslims, and yet he warns the Yemenite Jews not to violate the oaths. The same is true of other Rishonim such as the Rashbash (siman 2) and the Rivash (siman 101), and more recent poskim such as the Avnei Nezer and Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who deal with the oaths as practical halacha.

Thus wrote the students of the Rashba that if the non-Jews subjugate Israel excessively, this
causes that Hashem awakens His love for Israel much earlier on account of His love for us.

The Shitah Mekubetzes in Kesubos 111a says in the name of the disciples of the Rashba: "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, what will you tell Him? That I am lovesick" (Shir Hashirim 5:8). The Jewish people is speaking to the nations of the world, after the Holy One, blessed is He, made the nations swear not to afflict Israel too much, lest they cause Him to arouse their love before its time, because the Holy One, blessed is He, cannot bear to see Israel in great distress and not save them, as the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 97b), "When the time to redeem them arrives, the Holy One, blessed is He, will raise up a king whose decrees are like Haman's and he will bring them to repent, and then immediately they will be redeemed."

Here it is clear that G-d will be the one to bring the redemption before its time, not us. Rabbi Aviner seems to be aware of this, as he writes, "this
causes that Hashem awakens His love..." It is strange that he brings this as a source for the interdependence of the oaths argument.

Similarly wrote Rabbi Shlomo Kluger.
And Ha-Rav Hillel Kolomeir: “Two who swore...and if the king and the government violated
the oath and pursues Israel and subjugates them, then Israel is also permitted to violate their

4. Ascending in Stages is Not Like a Wall
Rashi explained “‘Do not ascend like a wall’ — together by force.” If everyone therefore does not
ascend together but rather in stages, there is no wall.

Rabbi Avraham Yellin: “For as a wall is only all of Israel together, and not when hundreds or
even thousands ascend each time, since in the return from Babylonia when many tens of thousands
ascended together, and we say in Yoma 9b that they did not ascend like a wall."

It doesn't make sense that all the Jews should have to come literally at once in order to violate the oath. It is very hard for Jews who are living all over the world to come at once, like they did under Yehoshua. Coming as part of one organized movement is enough to be considered coming together.

Furthermore, if you agree with those who say that the oath prohibits only military conquest, then you are not interpreting Rashi’s words “beyad chazakah” to refer to mass immigration. Any military conquest would be forbidden, even if done by a small number of Jews.

And even if you say that to be forbidden, it has to be both: an armed conquest, done by a large number of Jews together, still you agree that what's being measured here is not the number immigrating at any given time, but the number fighting the war. If so, the Zionists by the end of 1948 had over 115,000 people in their army. That is more than 42,000, the number who came with Ezra and were called "not as a wall."

5. The Wall Only Surrounds Babylonia
Ba’al Ha-Hafla’ah wrote that the Tanach was strict that they should be in Babylonia in particular
as it is written “They are brought to Babylonia and there they will be until the day of My remembering,”
and not regarding other lands since the honor of the Divine Presence and the Torah are
there and not in other lands, and similarly what was written “I made you swear,” this is do not
leave the holiness that dwells in Babylonia.

The Haflaah says this only according to Rav Yehuda, who forbids even individuals from ascending to Eretz Yisroel. As you know, in Kesubos 110b there are two opinions. Rav Yehuda says it is forbidden for any individual Jew to go up from Bavel to Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Zeira says it is permitted, and the oaths only prohibit mass immigration. Rav Yehuda also agrees to the oaths, but he uses one of the oaths for the prohibition on the individual. The Haflaah asks how Rav Yehuda can go against the Mishnah (110b) according to which a husband can compel his wife, or a wife can compel her husband to move to Eretz Yisroel. He answers that Rav Yehuda only forbids a person to go from Bavel to Eretz Yisroel, but to go from the rest of the world to Eretz Yisroel is a mitzvah. In any case, as far as the other oaths Rav Yehuda also agrees that they forbid mass immigration to Eretz Yisroel from any place in the world.

6. The Wall Stands for Only a Thousand Years
Rabbenu Chaim Vital wrote: “‘I made you swear, daughters of Jerusalem...’, this great oath to God
was that they should not arouse the Redemption until that love will be desired and with good
will, as it is written ‘until I desire,’ and our Sages already said that the time of this oath is a thousand
years, as it is written in the Baraita of Rabbi Yishmael in Pirkei Heichalot..., and similarly in
the Zohar Va-yeira pg. 117...that it is one day of the Exile of the Community of Israel...”

Rabbi Chaim Vital was not referring to the Jewish people's oath not to end the exile with their own actions. He was referring to Hashem's oath and Hashem's decree of exile itself. Rabbi Chaim Vital was not the first to speak of this thousand-year limit to exile; it was written hundreds of years earlier in the Zohar Bereishis 117a that the decree of exile was “one day and no more”, as Scripture states, “All the day lonely” (Eichah 1:13). As we know, G-d’s one day is a thousand years (Tehillim 90:4). Rabbi Chaim Vital mentions this Zohar.

The Zohar Shemos 17a repeats this same prediction of 1000 years, and then adds, “And if it will be more [than 1000 years] that will not be due to a decree of the King, but because they do not want to repent to Him.” So we see that within 1000 years of the destruction of the Temple, even repentance would not have brought the redemption.

We see a similar concept expressed in the Talmud Avodah Zarah 9a and 9b, only the number is not 1000; it is 400 (according to Rabbi Chanina) or 172 (according to the Baraisa that holds the Days of Moshiach begin at the year 4000, and the destruction of the Temple was in 3828).

The inflexable part of the decree of exile – during which repentance does not work – is enforced by G-d’s oath. The Talmud mentions this oath in Bava Basra 74a, where G-d says, “Woe is Me that I have sworn, and now that I have sworn who can annul My oath?”

This is not to be confused with the oath in Kesubos, which G-d placed upon the Jewish people not to force the end of exile or go up as a wall. That oath is incumbent upon us, whereas the oath in Bava Basra is incumbent upon G-d, so to speak.

Rabbi Chaim Vital aggadically explains one of the oaths in Shir Hashirim to be referring to G-d’s own oath. Thus he explains the oath: “I swear to make the exile last ad shetechpatz – until the Jewish people repents completely and serves Me purely out of love.” Rabbi Chaim Vital then adds that this is only for 1000 years; after that the exile is no longer enforced by G-d’s oath, but can end anytime the Jews repent, even if they repent out of fear of punishment and desire for reward. After all, one who does mitzvos only to get the reward is also a good Jew, and that is considered repentance. But the extra-high level of serving Hashem out of love is so great that it could bring the redemption even before the 1000-year time frame.

In any case, Rabbi Chaim Vital is not touching at all upon our oaths, which are a Torah law like any other law and are not subject to any time limits.

7. The Oath is Ascending to Build the Temple
The Gra wrote that the meaning is not to merely ascend but to ascend to build the Temple.

That's talking about the oath "not to force the end." But as far as the oath not to go up as a wall, the Vilna Gaon agrees with everyone else that it means mass immigration and conquest.

8. When There is Power and Courage, There is No Wall
The Oath only applies at any time that there is not forcefulness in the hearts of the Children of Israel
to ascend to the Land.

This is a poor attempt to make the oaths, a Divine prohibition, into just good advice: when you have low morale, don't fight a war. Maybe the whole Torah is just good advice! It reminds me of Woody Allen's joke that some scholars believe that the Torah merely recommended not eating pork at certain restaurants.

9. The Issue of the Wall Remains as a Dispute in the Talmud
There are great Torah authorities who threw an ax at the whole issue of the Oaths, since there is a
discussion that disputes it in Massechet Yoma (9b). It is related there that Reish Lakish was
swimming in the Jordan River, and Rabbah bar bar Channah came and offered him a hand. Reish
Lakish said to him: “By God! I hate you,153 [Rashi: “All those who reside in Babylonia who did not
ascend (to Israel) during the days of Ezra and prevented the Divine Presence from returning to the
Second Temple”], as it is written (Shir Ha-Shirim 8:9), ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a
palace of silver, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar,’ if you would have
made yourselves like a wall, and all of you would have ascended in the days of Ezra, you would
have been compared to silver which is not subject to decay, but now that you ascended like doors
[Rashi — you ascended in parts], you are compared to cedar which is subject to decay.”

The Gemara in Yoma doesn't show that Reish Lakish disagreed with the Three Oaths, only that he held that they didn't apply to the Jews in the time of Ezra. Since that return to the Holy Land was initiated by prophets (Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi), it was not a violation of the oaths.

And the Pnei Yehoshua similarly wrote on this contradiction: “And one can say that they are
conflicting midrashim.”

That is because the Pnei Yehoshua learns that the Three Oaths took effect at the beginning of the Babylonia exile, after the destruction of the First Beis Hamikdash. That is when the verse "they will be brought to Bavel and remain there" was said. The permission granted by Koresh was not a real redemption, he says, and that is why the majority of Jews did not respond to it. They were waiting for the true redemption with moshiach. This is similar to the Ramban in Sefer Hageulah. Accordingly, he says, Reish Lakish must disagree with this Gemara in Kesubos. But Reish Lakish still agrees to the Three Oaths and would probably say that they went into effect after the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash.

10. The Teacher of the Oaths, Rabbi Zeira, Retracted Them
Thus it is related in the Midrash: “‘If it is a wall,’ if Israel would have ascended like a wall from
Babylonia, the Temple would not have been destroyed during that period for a second time.
Rabbi Zeira went to the marketplace to buy something. He said to the one who was weighing:
That was weighed very fairly. He responded: Do not depart from here Babylonian because your
ancestors destroyed the Temple. At that moment Rabbi Zeira said, are not my ancestors the same
as the ancestors of this one?! Rabbi Zeira entered the house of study and heard the voice of Rabbi
Sheila who was sitting and teaching: ‘If it is a wall,’ if Israel would have ascended like a wall from
the Exile, the Temple would not have been destroyed a second time. He said: The unlearned person
taught me well.”

From here, we see that Rabbi Zeira retracted from that which he said “Do not ascend like a wall.”
Thus wrote Ha-Rav Shraga Feivel Frank, and so too Ha-Rav Mordechai Attiah, and he adds
that this is the reason that Rabbi Zeira, when he ascend to the Land of Israel, fasted for one hundred
days in order to forget his Torah learning of Babylonia, which is something which we do
not find among even one of the talmudic rabbis who ascended to the Land of Israel. “Rather it is
possible to say in a hinted way, since Rabbi Zeira in Ketubot taught the issue of the Three Oaths,
and he knew through a Divine Spirit that a subsequent generation would come and place all of its

There are two flaws in this argument. Firstly, Rabbi Zeira was not the first Amora to teach the oaths. Rather, it was Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina, an early Amora from Eretz Yisroel! So much for the idea that the Sages of Eretz Yisroel didn't hold of the oaths.

Secondly, the idea that the Babylonia Jews should have all come up, which Rabbi Shila taught in the Midrash and Rabbi Zeira accepted, does not mean that there are no oaths. As we said above, Reish Lakish in Yoma 9b also voiced this criticism, yet this does not mean he disagreed with the existence of the oaths, only that he held they did not apply at the time of Ezra.

11. The Halachic Authorities Disagree with the Author of the Megillat Esther Not to Ascend
Like a Wall
1. Our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah wrote: “Obviously, the author of the ‘Megillat Esther’ with all
of his importance and holiness, can not be compared to the Ramban, who is called ‘the father of
Israel,’ and there are various laws in the Shulchan Aruch from him, while there is not even one
law from the Megillat Esther.”

The Ramban and others disagree on the Megillas Esther only insofar as that there is a mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel nowadays. But all agree on the oaths. The oaths prohibit mass immigration, but individuals who go are still doing the mitzvah.

Besides, even if the Ramban had disagreed with the Megillas Esther over the oaths, it would be illogical to argue that the halacha is like the Ramban because he was greater than the Megillas Esther. The Megillas Esther is not stating his own opinion; he is explaining why the Rambam left out the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel. So it's not the Ramban versus the Megillas Esther; it's the Ramban versus the Rambam.

And the Ramban clearly stated that we are commanded to conquer the Land, and he emphasized
and stressed again that this commandment exists in all generations.

Rabbi Aviner, do you really think the Ramban means we must conquer Eretz Yisroel in every generation, including during exile? Take a look further in the Ramban and you'll see that it's not so. He brings a proof from Chazal's statement that Dovid Hamelech was wrong to conquer Syria before completing the conquest of Eretz Yisroel, and he ends off, "So we see that we were commanded to conquer it in all generations."

Then he says, "And I say that the mitzvah of which Chazal speak highly, living in Eretz all part of this positive commandment, for we were commanded to take possession of the land in order to live in it. If so, it is a positive commandment for all generations, in which each one of us is obligated, even during exile."

We see clearly that the Ramban needed a second proof, from the fact that Chazal speak highly of living in Eretz Yisroel, that the mitzvah applies during exile. His first proof from Dovid Hamelech did not cover exile.

So why does he say "we were commanded to conquer it in all generations"? He is anticipating someone defending the Rambam, who does not count this mitzvah, by saying that the mitzvah was a one-time-only command to Yehoshua to conquer the land. One-time-only mitzvos aren't counted in the 613, as per the Rambam's third rule of counting mitzvos. The fact that the mitzvah applied to Dovid Hamelech proves that it was not a one-time-only mitzvah. To use the halachic terms, it is ledoros (for the generations) and not leshaah (one-time-only). And that is exactly what the Ramban means when he says we were commanded to conquer it in all generations - that it is a permanent mitzvah. But there are certainly times when the mitzvah of conquest is suspended, namely during exile. In this respect it is just like all the mitzvos relating to the Beis Hamikdash and the korbanos, which are considered permanent mitzvos, counted among the 613, yet they are suspended during exile.

In the end, the Ramban does prove that it's a mitzvah during exile too. But let's be exact: he proves that the mitzvah of living there applies during exile, not the mitzvah of conquering. You have to read the Ramban carefully. Up until this point, the Ramban calls the mitzvah lareshes, "to take possession" of the land. Now he makes an additional point: that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel of which Chazal speak is also part of this same mitzvah, "for we were commanded to take possession of the land in order to live in it." In other words, the real mitzvah is to live in the land, and conquering is only a hechsher mitzvah - a preparatory stage in order to reach the mitzvah. Writing tefillin is preparation for putting them on, but the mitzvah is only to put them on. If one has pre-written tefillin, he is under no obligation to write them. Building a succah is preparation for sitting in it, but the mitzvah is only to sit in it. If one has a pre-built succah he does not have to build another one. Similarly, from the fact that Chazal speak highly of living in Eretz Yisroel even during exile, the Ramban concludes that the real mitzvah is living there, not conquering it. Conquering in the time of Yehoshua and Dovid was only a preparation that made it possible to live there, but if one can live there without conquering it, he also fulfills the mitzvah. Therefore, even during exile when conquest is forbidden under the oaths, it is possible to live there and fulfill the mitzvah.

This fits very well with the words of the Ramban. And on the contrary, the Ramban actually sounds like he makes the unstated assumption that there is an oath that forbids conquest during exile. Otherwise, why does he have to bring another proof that the mitzvah applies during exile? What should be the difference between Dovid Hamelech's time and our time, if not the oath?

And the Ramban expresses no surprise that Chazal in their time speak only of the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel, not conquering it. He merely says that despite the suspension of the hechsher mitzvah of conquering, it is still possible to do the mitzvah itself, living there.

Also note his words: "It is a positive commandment for all generations, in which each one of us is obligated, even during exile." Why does he say "each one of us"? Because he knows that if the mitzvah were on the Jewish people as a whole, it would be impossible to fulfill it during exile without conquest. There is no way that any power ruling the land would allow the entire Jewish people to return to the land en masse - they would see it as a threat to their rule. They would only allow one Jew here and one Jew there to come. Therefore, the Ramban says, it is a mitzvah that whatever individual Jews can come and live there, should do so.

Furthermore, pay close attention to the Ramban's words: "And I say that the mitzvah of which Chazal speak highly, living in Eretz Yisroel, to the point that they said in Kesubos: Anyone who goes out of it and lives in Chutz Laaretz should be in your eyes as if he worships idols..." If you look in Kesubos 110b, the Gemara doesn't say "anyone who goes out of it." It says, "Anyone who lives in Chutz Laaretz is similar to one who has no G-d... is as if he worshipped idols." Why did the Ramban misquote the Gemara?

The answer is that there are really two different statements of Chazal: one in the Gemara, and one in the Toras Kohanim on Parshas Behar (Vayikra 25:38). The Torah says, "To give you the Land of Canaan, to be your G-d." Chazal comment, "Every Jew who lives in Eretz Yisroel accepts upon himself the kingdom of Heaven. And whoever goes out to Chutz Laaretz is as if he worships idols." Rashi quotes this in his commentary on the Torah. According to this statement, only one who is born in Eretz Yisroel and leaves it is considered as if he worshipped idols, but one who is born in Chutz Laaretz is under no obligation to move to Eretz Yisroel.

It is this statement that the Ramban means to quote. Based on this, it seems clear that the Ramban did not even mean that an individual who is able to move to Eretz Yisroel should do so. He meant that it is an optional mitzvah that one fulfills if he lives there, but is not obligated to go.

Although the Ramban says he is quoting Kesubos, perhaps he meant that the Gemara in Kesubos is to be understood like the Toras Kohanim, as only applying to one who is born in Eretz Yisroel and leaves. Or, it could be that the Ramban was inexact and really meant to quote the Toras Kohanim.

The Gemara in Kesubos, which seems to say that even those born in Chutz Laaretz are not allowed to stay there, could be understood in the context of the Tosefta Avodah Zarah 5:2, which says, "Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Jews in Chutz Laaretz worship idols in purity. How so? If an idol worshipper makes a feast for his son, and went and invited all the Jews in his city, even if they eat their own food and drink their own drinks and their own waiter waits on them, they are idol worshippers." Here too, the Gemara in Kesubos is talking about Jews who socialize with the gentiles, which has bad consequences even for those who are born in Chutz Laaretz.

Now, you may ask: is this how the poskim really understood the Ramban? The answer is certainly. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost posek of our time, writes as follows: "Regarding your question if there is a mitzvah nowadays to live in Eretz Yisroel, as the Ramban says, or if there is no mitzvah nowadays, as Rabbeinu Chaim says, quoted in Tosafos on Kesubos 110b: Most poskim hold it is a mitzvah. But it is obvious that this is not an obligatory mitzvah in our time, for if so, it would result in a prohibition to live in Chutz Laaretz because doing so would be violating a positive commandment, like wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzis, which is forbidden because it transgresses the positive commandment of tzitzis. But we only find a prohibition regarding one who lives in Eretz Yisroel, who is forbidden to leave with the intention of dwelling permanently in Chutz Laaretz - see Rambam Hilchos Melachim 5:9. And this prohibition is certainly not a negative commandment. Had it applied to the Jews of Chutz Laaretz, the Rambam would have written, 'It is forbidden to live in Chutz Laaretz unless there is a strong famine in Eretz Yisroel.' So we see that it is a Rabbinic prohibition, only for those who dwell in Eretz Yisroel. But as far as the Biblical positive commandment, it is not obligatory, only that if one lives there he fulfills the mitzvah. And in my Chiddushim I have written at great length about the words of Rabbeinu Chaim in Tosafos in Kesubos. Now, since it is not an obligatory mitzvah, you must definitely take into consideration the concern of Rabbeinu Chaim in Tosafos as to whether you will be able to keep the special mitzvos of Eretz Yisroel." (Igros Moshe, Even Hoezer 1:102)

In short, Reb Moshe says that even the Ramban only holds that there is an optional mitzvah nowadays to live in Eretz Yisroel. What makes it optional, if originally it was obligatory? Clearly the oaths. It can't be obligatory, because then all Jews would have to go and they would transgress the oaths.

And this is how the Ramban has been understood for hundreds of years. Rabbi Shlomo ben Shimon Duran, the Rashbash (1400-1467) wrote: "There is no doubt that living in Eretz Yisroel is a great mitzvah at all times, both during and after the time of the Temple, and my ancestor the Ramban (he was a sixth generation descendent of the Ramban) counted it as one of the mitzvos, as it says, 'You shall take possession of it and live in it,' and so is the opinion of my father the Rashbatz in his work Zohar Harakia. And even according to the Rambam who did not count it as a mitzvah, it is at least a Rabbinic mitzvah, besides the many other benefits of living there. However, during exile this is not a general mitzvah for all Jews, but on the contrary it is forbidden, as the Gemara says in the last chapter of Kesubos, that this is one of the oaths that the Holy One, blessed is He, made the Jews swear: that they not hurry the end and not go up as a wall. Go and see what happened to the children of Ephraim when they hurried the end! However, it is a mitzvah for any individual to go up and live there, but if there are considerations that prevent him he is not obligated." (Shailos Uteshuvos Rashbash, siman 2)

Similarly, Rabbi Shmuel Salant quotes the law that a wife may force her husband to move to Eretz Yisroel (Kesubos 110b), and then asks why – even according to the Ramban, he says, there is no obligation on every Jew to move to Eretz Yisroel, since this is one of the Three Oaths. He therefore explains that she can only force him to move if she is willing to move even without him. In that case, if he refuses to come along, he is not fulfilling his marital obligations to her, and he must divorce her. But if she wants to move only with him, then he has no obligation to move. In other words, the reason why he must divorce her if she is willing to move to Eretz Yisroel is not because his refusal to move to Eretz Yisroel is considered neglecting his obligations as a Jew. It is only because once she moves, he would be neglecting his obligations as a husband. (Printed in Tzefunos, year 3 issue 1, p. 46)

Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna also understood that the Ramban would not obligate conquest nowadays. He says that since the full mitzvah is conquering and we don’t do that today, we aren’t really doing the mitzvah when we live in Eretz Yisroel. What we are doing is preparation for the mitzvah, just like baking matza is a preparation for the mitzvah of eating matzah. (Yeshuos Malko, Yoreh Deah 66)

It has also been proposed by Rabbi David Smith (Derech Hachaim, p. 25) that the Ramban's intent was that even the commandment that a Jew should live in the land as an individual during exile applies only when living in the land is consistent with exile, that is, when a non-Jewish government rules the land. But living under a Jewish government such as the State of Israel might itself constitute a violation of the oath. The Ramban felt no need to mention this exception to the commandment because he did not foresee the rise of a Jewish government in the Holy Land before moshiach.

It's interesting that according to way we're learning the Ramban, the Megillas Esther's question on him falls away. The Megillas Esther brings Rav Yehuda's opinion in Kesubos 110b that even individual Jews are forbidden to return to Eretz Yisroel during exile, based on the verse, "They will be brought to Bavel and remain there" (Yirmiyah 27:22). If there is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel even during exile, he asks, then how could another prophet come and contradict the words of Moshe Rabbeinu? According to the way we're learning, however, the original mitzvah was to live in Eretz Yisroel, with conquest as a preparatory step. The Three Oaths forbade this preparatory step, and automatically the mitzvah was reduced to optional status - because if it had obligatory status, it would automatically lead to conquest. This is not considered Shlomo Hamelech overruling a mitzvah of Moshe Rabbeinu, because the Three Oaths are not directed at the mitzvah itself, only at the preparatory step. Now that the mitzvah is only optional, Yirmiyah Hanavi could come and forbid even individuals from going (according to Rav Yehuda) because they were not obligated in any case.

Finally, let me tell you that you cannot learn that the Ramban in Sefer Hamitzvos didn't treat the oaths as a real halachic prohibition, because then you would be faced with a contradiction in the Ramban's own writings. In Sefer Hageulah, end of Shaar 1 (p. 274 in the Chavel edition), he writes that the reason most Jews did not go up at the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash is that Jews were uncertain whether King Cyrus had meant to give permission for all the tribes of Israel to return, or only for Yehuda. And even if he had meant to give permission to all of Israel, they did not wish to force the end, for they knew that Yirmiyahu’s prophecy of a 70-year-long exile had only referred to those Jews living in Babylonia proper, not in all the 127 Persian states.

And Rabbi Yehoshua of Kotna ruled similarly based on the Ramban that even now there is a
mitzvah “to conquer the Land of Israel so that it will be under our control.

Look this up (Yeshuos Malko Yoreh Deah 66) and you will see that it was completely misquoted. Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna doesn't say that the full mitzvah of conquering applies today. He says that since the full mitzvah is conquering and we don't do that today, we arent really doing the mitzvah when we live in Eretz Yisroel. What we are doing is preparation for the mitzvah, just like baking matza is a preparation for the mitzvah of eating matzah.

And the Meiri wrote similarly that the conquering of the Land is an obligatory war like
the opinion of the Ramban.
And similarly according to the Rambam there is a commandment of conquering the Land
of Israel.

The Meiri and Rambam are not proofs because they are talking about the original mitzvah just as the Ramban was. There is no more indication that they hold conquering applies today, than there is indication that the Ramban himself holds this.

And even Rashi mentioned the issue of the possibility of Redemption with a [strong] arm
in the Second Temple Period. (Sanhedrin 98b)

Rashi means only if Hashem sanctioned such a redemption by sending prophets to carry it out.

12. The Wall is a Homiletic (Aggadic) and Not a Legal (Halachic) Issue
Our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah wrote: “Is it not revealed and clear that the Ramban knew the
holy words of our Sages in Ketubot 111a but here in his clarification of the law in Sefer Ha-
Mitzvot, he is not in the position of a mystic but as a master of the revealed law, and here he does
not bring into account these holy words of the midrash of our Sages.”

The question about learning halacha from aggadah is not really a question when you realize that there are two types of aggadah in the Gemora: 1) aggadah that explains the punishments, rewards, and mussar behind established halacha, and 2) aggadah that brings in a new halacha not mentioned anywhere else. For example, in Sotah 4b it says that anyone who is careless about netilas yadayim is uprooted from the world. That is type 1). We know from the Gemora elsewhere that one must wash netilas yadayim. The aggadah is just coming to tell us a punishment for an established law. Such aggados are not generally codified by the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch. In Berachos 5b it says that if two people are praying in a shul and one finishes first and leaves, they tear up his prayer, and it quotes a posuk. That is type 2): the prohibition on leaving one person alone in shul is not mentioned anywhere else in the Gemora; this aggadah is the only source. The halacha in this aggadah is therefore brought down by the Tur in Orach Chaim 90.

To prove more conclusively that novel halachos mentioned in aggadah are codified, take the tractate Berachos. Berachos contains 41 aggados that derive punishments from verses. 25 of those contain a law not mentioned anywhere else. Of those 25, 16 are codified by the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch. 5 are brought by the Magen Avraham, another halachic work. That leaves only 4 that are not codified, and for each of those 4 there is a special reason which would take too much time to go into now. The point is that halachic aggados – aggados from which a unique law emerges – do have to be codified, and when they are missing from the codes, there has to be a reason, just like we search for reasons every time the Rambam omits a law mentioned in the Gemara.

Here too, the Three Oaths are certainly aggadah but they contain unique halachos. The poskim (though not the Shulchan Aruch, who only brings the most relevant laws) do quote them as halacha.

And the Rambam: “The Nation was made to swear in the way of a parable and said ‘I made you

The Rambam uses the word "parable" because the entire Shir Hashirim is an allegory, in which G-d and the Jewish people are portrayed as a groom and bride.

Ha-Rav Kasher proves from this that this issue is not mentioned in the Rambam and Shulchan
Aruch which implies that it is not practical law.

The Shulchan Aruch is not a comprehensive sefer; he only brings down halachos that are relevant to us in our day-to-day life in exile. The real question is why the Rambam omitted the oaths.

The answer is that the Rambam did not need to include the oaths in his code because he describes the process of identifying moshiach (Hilchos Melachim 11:4), and the oaths are implicit in that process. He writes:

If a king arises from the house of David, studying Torah and doing mitzvos like his ancestor David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he forces all of Israel to walk in it and strengthen its weak points, and he fights the wars of Hashem, then he is assumed to be moshiach. If he does so and is successful and builds the Temple in its place and gathers the dispersed Jews, then he is definitely moshiach.

It is no coincidence that the things moshiach must do are the very things prohibited by the oaths. Fighting wars is prohibited by the oath "that they should not rebel against the nations." Gathering the dispersed Jews is prohibited by the oath "that they should not go up as a wall." Building the Temple is prohibited by the oath "that they should not force the end."

You may ask at this point: how then is moshiach allowed to violate the oaths?

The answer is that that is his job. The whole idea of the oaths is that we must not do moshiach’s job for him.

Some ask: how will moshiach know he is moshiach before he does these things? Even if he thinks he is, he is taking a big risk, because if he isn’t the real one these things are terrible sins.

The answer is that Hashem will certainly let him know he is moshiach before he begins the entire process. The Rambam's criteria are what we, the rest of the Jewish people, will use to identify him as moshiach.

We will watch him fight wars and understand that as a potential moshiach he is allowed to do this; at the same time, we will not join in his wars until we have more proof.

Alternatively, the Rambam’s list is to be fulfilled in order. The previous item on the list is that moshiach must force all of the Jewish people to follow the Torah. Only after he does so is he assumed to be moshiach with enough certainty that he is exempt from the oaths and can fight wars. According to this, we would be allowed to join in his wars.

In any case, only someone claiming to be moshiach may do these things; for anyone else they are forbidden. And if the person or group attempting these actions does not care about the prohibition and does them anyway, the Jewish people is forbidden to follow.

Some claim that the Rambam never says that for anyone else these things are forbidden. He is just telling us what moshiach must do so that we know he is the real moshiach and not an impostor.

But these three jobs are, by their very nature, things that can only be done once. Once the wars are fought, the Jews are gathered in and the Temple is built by someone other than moshiach, there is no room for moshiach to come and do those things over again. How then would he prove himself to be moshiach? Therefore, it's clear from the Rambam that just as someone may not claim to be moshiach without doing those things, someone not claiming to be moshiach may not do those things.

There is another interesting Rambam that sheds light on this question of why he left out the oaths. Before he begins listing the 613 mitzvos, the Rambam writes a long introduction in which he explains 14 rules by which he decided what counts as a mitzvah. At the very end of that introduction, he says that he will specify which mitzvos only applied in Temple times. But with certain mitzvos, it is obvious and unnecessary to specify:

It is known as well that prophecy and kingship have departed from us until we repent of our sins, which we continue to commit, and then He will atone for us and have mercy on us, as He promised us... and it is known that war and conquest of cities can only take place with a king and with the counsel of the Great Sanhedrin and the Kohein Gadol, as it says, "And before Elazar the Kohein he will stand." Since this is so well-known, I do not need to write regarding any positive or negative mitzvah that depends on sacrifices, Temple service, the death penalty, the Sanhedrin, a prophet, a king or an optional war, that it only applies when the Temple is standing, because that is obvious.

So perhaps the Rambam held that since he states that a king is the one who initiates a war (Hilchos Melachim 5:1-2), he did not need to mention the Three Oaths, which forbid the waging of wars - wars against the nations or for the conquest of Eretz Yisroel - since today there is no king and it is obvious that there can be no wars.

13. The Oaths are Divine Decrees and Not a Prohibition
Thus explained the Maharal who wrote: “That Hashem, may He be Blessed, decreed this matter
on Israel to be in a result He decreed that they should not rebel against the Nations to
leave from under their control...He decreed that they should not ascend like a wall which is ‘ingathering’ and it will nullify the scattering.” The Maharal does not use the expression of “He
made you swear” rather “He decreed” since thus was the order of reality established, and he also
explicitly wrote “The Three Oaths which are The Three Decrees.
Ha-Rav Kasher also explained the Maharal’s words that Hashem prevents us from ascending
like a wall, and when it is possible to ascend like a wall, it is a sign that the decree has been nullified.

When the Maharal says that the oaths are not technically oaths, but decrees, we must understand what the difference is.

There are many commentators who ask how the oaths had force on the Jewish people. We do not find that Shlomo Hamelech ever gathered the entire people and spoke the words of these oaths to them, so that they could reply “Amein”. And even if he did, an oath only applies to the people who took it, not to their descendents for all time. One cannot impose an oath on unborn people (Yoreh Deah 228:35). And certainly the gentile nations never accepted any oath, so how can the Gemara say an oath was imposed on them? We will discuss some of their answers later.

But it could be that the Maharal is answering this question by saying that the oaths are really decrees, that is, things Hashem causes to happen as part of a punishment. For example, Chazal sometimes say that Hashem “decreed” death on a certain person. Does that mean he is obligated to go and kill himself? No. It simply means that all his efforts to save himself will fail. Here too, in order to maintain the state of exile, Hashem decreed that the Jewish people would never be successful at gathering themselves or at rebelling against the nations. Any attempt to contravene the decree would meet with failure, as the Gemara concludes: “If you keep the oath, good; but if not, I will make your flesh ownerless like the gazelles and deer of the fields.”

Now Rabbi Aviner seems to be proposing that since Zionism succeeded, that is proof that the decree has ended.

But the history of Zionism is not over, and no one knows what will happen in the end.

Furthermore, you cannot say that the intent of the decree was that the Jewish people should keep trying to violate it until they chance upon the right moment. Look at the severity of the consequences of failure! It is certainly foolish to attempt something that will almost certainly lead to the failure expressed by the terrifying words of the Gemara, and called by the Maharal “a very, very dangerous thing.” The intent of the oaths was obviously that we should not make any such attempt. We should simply wait for moshiach.

Furthermore, it is important to realize that these decrees are not simply part of nature; they are part of the Jewish belief system. The Maharal understood the oaths not as regular prohibitions, like the commandments not to work on Shabbos or eat pork, but as part of the prophecy that Hashem sent us into exile and will one day redeem us. The commandments of the Torah are given to us and we have free will to obey or disobey them. The very existence of a commandment is proof that free will exists in that area. Free will is the only area of the world in which Hashem removed His control and allowed us to choose; thus our choice, right or wrong, does not contradict the principle of faith that Hashem controls the world. For example, someone who succumbs to temptation and eats pork may still believe in Hashem and all the Thirteen Principles of Faith. Even stealing is not tantamount to denial of Hashem's providence.

But one who violates the oaths, while not violating a specific law, is denying Hashem's mastery over the world and the truth of His promises. The oaths are not commandments given over to our free will. They are Hashem's decree of exile and promise of redemption.

As an analogy, if someone goes through a red light, he will have to pay a fine, but it will not be too severe, because even as he was breaking the law, he recognized the authority of the government and its right to make laws; he simply broke the law for his own convenience. But if someone takes his king's army and, in the name of his country, wages war on another country, he will be punished severely, because his crime shows that he does not recognize the king as the only one authorized to make such a decision. He may protest before the court and say, "Where in the lawbooks is there any law against what I did? I thought it was permitted." They will reply, "Didn't you know there was a king running this country? How could you have thought that you had the right to do it yourself? That is the height of treason against the king."

Similarly, the oaths are not a technical law on the books; they are the ultimate statement of Jewish belief that Hashem alone decides when we are to be exiled and when we are to be redeemed. You cannot decide to violate them and then use your temporary success to justify your decision.

Thank you once again Rabbi for taking the time to write me such a thorough and thoughtful response. Notwithstanding the halachic back-and-forth, I believe that one day people will look back on our time in sheer disbelief. They will talk about how the great majority of Jewish people actually tried to justify ending the redemption early - like the tribe of Ephraim - by their own hand. But unlike and far worse than Ephraim, they created a Jewish state that was built on the blood of millions of Jews that they - as Jews - caused to be tortured and murdred in the holocaust. The scope of the evil that zionists continue to perpetuate is almost impossible to believe, and we wonder why the redemption hasn't come. People will never be able to contemplate the scope of how incredibly dense we were as a people during these insane times. Thanks again Rabbi.