Arutz Sheva spoke to prolific author and film maker Tzvi Fishman about his aggressive initiative to persuade Diaspora Jewry to come home to Israel.
Anyone following your campaign to stir Diaspora Jewry to make Aliya is familiar with your aggressive style of presenting the argument: You reject the possibility of Jews adopting national, ideological, and cultural treasures of their host countries and claim that only Israeli national symbols have any relevance to a Jew, and you do not seem to recognize legitimacy in leaders and institutions that seek to perpetuate Diaspora Jewish life.
The two communities of Jews inside and outside Israel have been likened by teachers of Kaballah to Yaakov’s two wives Leah and Rachel. The beloved wife had trouble conceiving while the hated wife gave birth to more than her share, Rachel alluding to the Jews in Israel with all of their material hardships while Leah corresponds to the well-off Diaspora communities.
If so, perhaps the meaning is that everyone is where he needs to be according to the Divine Plan and his own unique soul-root, and therefore Diaspora Jews are doing what they are supposed to be doing until world events change the model. Maybe instead of disparaging them we should continue the government policy of keeping close connection while strengthening communities everywhere?
"To clarify some of the points you mention, yes, I maintain and I think most Torah scholars in Israel agree that a Jew’s immersion in foreign cultures is detrimental to his or her spiritual well-being. For example, in the Shema, Hashem commands us to teach the Torah to our children, saying, 'speak of them'. Rashi explains that from the moment a child can speak, the father should converse with him in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, and teach him Torah, and if not, it is tantamount to burying him (Deuteronomy, 11:19). This isn’t the acerbic and aggressive Tzvi Fishman talking – this is Rashi. The idea is that if you first introduce your child to a different language and culture, you sever him from a pure and holy connection to G-d, withholding from him the reward of a long life in the Land of Israel.
"Likewise, if a Jew believes that George Washington is the founding father of his nation, and that Washington D.C. is his nation’s capital, and that the Star Spangled Banner is his or her national anthem, then that person is going to have a distorted Jewish identity, and an incomplete understanding of Torah, forgetting that his essential self is in being an Israelite who has been expelled, in punishment, from his one and only eternal Homeland. But if he is raised as a good, loyal American, or Frenchman, or loyal citizen of the queen, why live in Israel? Let him say, 'Next year in Brooklyn! 'Next year in London!' 'Next year in Berlin!' Our Sages teach us otherwise. In line with Hashem’s command that we live in the Land of Israel, and His Divine Game Plan that we shall one day return, repeated over and over in the Book of Deuteronomy, and in the visions of the Prophets of Israel, our Sages teach us to yearn for Jerusalem, and to set Jerusalem and Zion over our highest joy. The Land of Israel and not the Galut.
"As far as your reference to Kabbalah is concerned, the Zohar is foundation of the Kabbalah, and the Zohar’s focus is on the Redemption of Israel and on our revival in the Land of Israel. The Exile is a curse. It was never intended to last forever.
"The notion of continuing to strengthen Jewish communities in foreign countries after the establishment of the State of Israel is absolutely absurd. Just look how assimilation is destroying our ranks throughout the Diaspora. Intermarriage has already reached 60-70%. The interaction with non-Jews and non-Jewish cultures is decimating Am Yisrael. Only mass Aliyah can prevent it. A Jew can’t sit in a Glatt-Kosher ghetto in Lakewood and Brooklyn and say, 'Everything's hunky-dory with us.' If the anti-Semites don’t teach him that he doesn’t belong in America, then the coronavirus will. There is absolutely no future for the Jewish People in the Diaspora. There was never meant to be. The root of our souls in Eretz Yisrael, where our Nation was born, in Hevron and Jerusalem, and not in Miami Beach, Coney Island, or Beverly Hills!
"Not having the Land of Israel for nearly 2,000 years, we invented a new Torah of the Galut in order to survive, with philosophies spouting that not only was it okay to be hated minorities in other people’s lands, but that it was the Divine Plan that we remain there ad infinitum, in order to teach the Goyim how to be better people. That’s an invention that arose when we lost hope of returning to Israel, when we were impotent and lacked the means to go home.
"But the model that you mention has changed. Let the worshipers of Galut open their eyes! 'Who is blind but the servant of Hashem?' All of those exile philosophies have crumbled now that Hashem has given us our own State of Israel and miraculously resurrected the dry bones of Ezekiel’s prophecy and turned Israel into one of the most powerful and developed countries in the world, where more Torah is learned than in all of the scattered Jewish communities throughout the world globe, with more yeshivot, and Talmudei Torah, and Torah giants, and the Israel Defense Forces, filled with Jewish soldiers to guard us from enemies and from the ravages of plagues.
“Now therefore hearken, O Israel, to the statutes and to the laws which I teach you to do, that you may live and go in to POSSESS THE LAND….” (Deuteronomy, 4:1).
“I have taught you statutes and laws that you should act accordingly IN THE LAND whither you go to possess,” (Idid, 4:5).
“And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and laws that you may do them IN THE LAND into which you go over to possess,” (Ibid, 4:14).
“But you shall go over and possess the GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 4:22).
“Thou shall therefore keep His statutes… that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, that you may prolong thy days ON THE LAND which the Lord your G-d gives thee” (Ibid, 4:40).
“I will speak to thee all the commandments… which thou shall teach them that they may do them IN THE LAND which I gave them to possess” (Ibid, 5:28).
“That you may prolong your days IN THE LAND which you shall possess,” (Ibid, 5:30).
“Now this is the commandment… that you may do them IN THE LAND which you go in to possess,” (Ibid, 6:1).
“That you may increase mightily IN THE LAND that flows with milk and honey,” (Ibid, 6:3).
“And thou shall do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with thee, and you will go in and possess THE GOOD LAND,” (Ibid, 6:18).
“He brought us out of Egypt that He might bring us in, to give us THE LAND which He swore to our fathers,” (Ibid, 6:22)."
In a perfect world it all sounds compelling, but is it fair to sweepingly characterize all of Diaspora Jewry as frivolous sleepers? So many of them have dedicated their lives to strengthening Torah in their communities and doing acts of kindness; so there are more yeshivot in Israel: Since when are Jews impressed with quantitative superiority? Does it not say: "The Jews went into exile; the Shechina went with them"? Perhaps the purpose of their sojourn in those lands is meant to be hidden from us until such time as the Master of History decides to gather in every last one?
"It is true that I often employ exaggeration as a stylistic technique to emphasize the horrendous fact that assimilation is devastating Diaspora Jewry in far greater numbers than the plague of coronavirus. It is also true that there are many Jews who sincerely want to make Aliyah, but who, for justifiable reasons, are prevented from doing so. These are the people who, when they wake up in the morning, rush to their computers to click on the Arutz Sheva website to see what’s happening 'ba’Aretz'.
"But it's also true that there are tens of thousands of Diaspora Jews, maybe hundreds of thousands, who could move to Israel but don’t, either because they have fallen in love with Gentile lands, or because they never learned the Torah in its true illumination, but only the Torah of the Galut, which is a truncated Torah, dealing only with the 'four cubits of Halakha' applicable to Jewish life in Exile, and filled with twisted interpretations caused by the polluted spiritual atmosphere found outside the Land of Israel in the impure lands of the nations – or because they were falsely taught that we have to remain in Galut until the Moshiach flies out from the sky like Superman to whisk the Jews away to Israel. Our Sages teach that the Exile is the greatest Bitul Torah that there is. They teach that the Torah was cast into darkness with our decent into Exile. The Prophet Ezekiel proclaims that the greatest Desecration of Hashem in the world is when Jews live in foreign Gentile countries.
"You point out that the Shechinah followed the Jews into Exile, but you don’t mention that the Shechinah cries out in anguish for being there, in a place of impurity and spiritual filth, and that pious Jews rise at midnight to recite the Tikun Hatzot, the Midnight Lament, in mourning over the pain of the Shechinah in its imprisonment in Brooklyn, Boca, and Beverly Hills. You don’t mention the teaching of our Sages that living outside the Land of Israel is like living without G-d, and that it is preferable to live in the Land of Israel in a city filled with idol worshipers than to live outside the Land in a city filled with pious Jews. You don’t mention the words of the Rambam, in his famous 'Letter of Forced Conversion' to the Jewish community in Yemen:
“'Those who seduce themselves and say they will stay in their places until the king Mashiach comes to the lands of the West, and then they will depart and go forth to Jerusalem – I don’t know how the decree of destruction will be stayed from them. Rather, they are transgressors, and they cause others to sin…. For there is no set time for the coming of the Mashiach on which to depend, saying that he is close or far. The obligation of the commandments is not dependent on the coming of the Mashiach. Rather, we are to busy ourselves with the Torah and precepts, and to strive to fulfill everything we can… However if a man will stay in a place where he sees that the Torah is waning, and where the Jewish People will be lost with the passage of time, and where he cannot stand by his faith, and he say, “I will stay here until Mashiach comes and survive where I am,” this is nothing but an evil heart and a great loss, and a sickness of reasoning and spirit. This is my opinion, and Hashem knows the truth.'
"Let’s face it. Which Jewish community in the Diaspora does not face the potential danger that the Rambam describes in his letter, that with the passage of time, both Judaism and Jewish life will be threatened – if not by assimilation, then by anti-Semetic attacks or by COVID-19 pandemics? Just as the once-flourishing Jewish communities of Spain, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Russia were all wiped out, can any intelligent person believe that history will not repeat itself in today’s Diaspora as well?
"Today, throughout America, many of the once-prominent Jewish neighborhoods are slums. Buildings that once housed synagogues have been converted to churches. Assimilation in America is around sixty-five percent and rising. Seventy percent of the Jews there say they have no connection to Judaism at all. While a few isolated conclaves of Torah exist, what is their future?
"Our history tells us the answer, time and again. In contrast to this, the greatest concentration of Torah and Torah scholars in the world is in the Land of Israel. In our time, we have witnessed the miraculous rebirth of the Israelite Nation and the Land, in fulfillment of the words of our Prophets. With our own eyes, we have witnessed the ingathering of our exiles from all over the world. We have witnessed booming technological, industrial, and stunning agricultural growth. Jewish sovereignty has been reestablished in the Holy Land. We have Jerusalem back in our hands, and it is once again the most beautiful city on earth. All of these things are aspects of Mashiach and Israel’s gradually unfolding Redemption. All of this is happening now. Hashem hasn’t waited for the Moshiach to come – why should the Jews of Brooklyn?"
You mention the problem of leadership in your writings. How can we reconcile questioning rabbinic leadership with Deuteronomy 17:11: "You must follow the Law that they teach you and the judgement that they declare to you; you must not turn aside...to the right or to the left", that their decisions must be accepted even when they appear mistaken or illogical? (Rashi on that verse.) Although this commandment relates specifically to the Sanhedrin, it also applies to the religious leaders in every generation. (Chinuch 495; Chayei Adam 127:1) By definition, don't their decisions represent the will of G-d?
"With all of the great reverence due to Torah scholars, it is important to understand that Torah scholars can occasionally err.
"The fourth chapter of the Book of Leviticus deals with special kinds of sin offerings. Situated between the offerings of a High Priest who sins, and a king who sins, are the laws of the sin offering for the entire congregation. Tractate Horiot of the Gemara explains this as a case where the majority of the Torah scholars of Great Sanhedrin make a mistake, and because of their error in deciding a law, a majority of the congregation transgresses. Here, the Torah itself recognizes the possibility that Gedolim can err.
"We also have to recall the tragic sin of the Spies in the wilderness, who were all righteous men, Torah scholars, and the leaders of their Tribes. For their refusal to make Aliyah, and for leading the congregation astray, Hashem called them rebels. Their sin was so severe, the entire generation of males was punished with death. The Gaon of Vilna (not Tzvi Fishman) teaches that the taint of this sin continues to exist in the Nation, even amongst Torah scholars: 'The sin of the Spies hovers over the Nation in every generation… and in the time of Mashiach, the Sitra Achra attacks the guardians of Torah with blinders. Many will fall in this great sin of, "They despised the cherished Land." Also many guardians of the Torah will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies, that they have been drawn into the sin of the Spies by many false ideas and empty claims, and they support their claims with the already proven fallacy that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been refuted by the Torah giants of the world, both the early and later authorities.' (Kol HaTor, Ch.5).
"Of course, we should be very careful before deciding that a Torah scholar is mistaken. The opinions of a Torah scholar are generally correct, and therefore, in case of a doubt, we should adhere to his rulings. You cite the Torah’s injunction to follow the Torah scholars of one’s era. The Jerusalem Talmud explains the matter in a different light than Rashi, stating: 'Can it be that if they tell you that right is left, and that left is right, that you should listen to them? Rather, it comes to teach us to go right and left only if they tell you that right is right, and left is left,' (Horiot, 1:1). If a Jew in the Diaspora has a question about the mitzvah of Aliyah today, he or she can rely on the leading Gedolim in Israel, all of whom say that the mitzvah of living in Israel is a Torah commandment in our time. Unfortunately, leading up to the Holocaust, many Jews followed the injunction of their Rabbis not to go to Israel because of the irreligious nature of the Zionist leadership, only to be shot in the head by the Nazis or perish in gas chambers."
What sort of response have you received?
"Baruch Hashem, many olim have told me in letters, comments to blogs, and in person that my essays and books inspired them to make Aliyah. Not everyone appreciates my style of writing, but there are people who are wavering this way and that, and who need a push to enter the sea of uncertainty involved in changing one’s life. While most people resent having a hammer smashed on their heads, there are other thick-skulled souls who would remain catatonic all of their life without it."
Would you like to let us in on future plans?
"Presently I'm about to publish a novel about a big celebrity lawyer from Manhattan who comes to Israel for the engagement of his baal tshuva son who lives on an 'illegal' hilltop outpost in the Shomron.
"After that, I hope to write part four of my Tevye in the Promised Land series. If I succeed in raising the budgets, I’d like to make a few patriotic, Zionist movies as well.
"At the same time, I hope to blow up the Jewish Agency with several tons of literary dynamite, and initiate a new aggressive approach to Aliyah recruitment, send spirted shlalichim for short commando operations to the Diaspora, to wherever Jews are found, to conquer the Chabad Houses and ship all the Jews off to Israel, along with special elite 'Yassam' units to parachute into Brooklyn, Lakewood, and Monsey, to drag the Jews off by their peyos to transport planes waiting to fly them the Ramon Airport in the Negev and a new Olim City which they will build with the sweat of their soft, pampered hands."