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Parsha Mitzvot: Vayechi: Rabbi Yom Tov Zahalon – The Right To Leave Israel

Relevant to the question of whether Jacob’s family was obligated to immediately return to Israel, I quote the following Responsum of Rabbi Yom Tov Zahalon (1557-1638): Question: This concerns the intelligent young man, Reb Mordechai, the Ashkenazi who came from Germany, having left his father and mother and his birthplace to settle in the Holy Land, the glory of Israel, in Safed, may it be forever established. Amen. Now life hems him in (“The place is narrow for him.” and he cannot get settled,(The phrase is from Kiddushin 50a) for he does not find peace alone, and he cannot find a wife. Therefore his health is impaired. He asks us whether he is permitted to leave Israel; for he fears he might fall into sin (remain unmarried). Now, with the mercy of God, I will answer according to the subject that I find merit for him, and would permit him to emigrate.

Answer (Selections): Thus we have concluded that it is permissible to go outside of Israel to marry. Now this Mordechai, since he is going to marry, is of course permitted to go. Yet so far it seems that this permission is conditional, namely, he must return after he marries unless, to be sure, his wife’s parents make the premarriage condition with him that he shall not take her out of her native land. Then he is naturally free of the obligation to return.

In fact, after going more deeply into the matter, it seems justified to say that the opinion of the Tosafot and Rambam that an emigrant must return, applies only to one whose dwelling place and that of his fathers has been in Israel. Such a person is forbidden to leave, excepting only to marry; and he must then return. But this man, Mordechai, who came from a distant land to the Holy Land, had intended to find here a wife and a home. Now, since he could not get settled here, then his very coming to Israel was based upon a condition that was not fulfilled.

This Mordechai, I can tell you, I brought him to my house, with God’s help, and he ate at my table. He served me and I found no evil in him. On the contrary, I saw him eager to study the Torah and to serve scholars. (Responsum #85)

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