Living Outside Israel – Living Outside the Community
I would like to hear your opinion on this matter, based on halakhah.
My family and I live in a small Jewish community in North America. We left jobs and family to move to an observant community and to live within an eruv. We have lived here for almost two years, and the cost is high. We are from a small town, and are much more accustomed to rural type living. We cannot afford to live in a house with even a small yard here in the community. We like the community, but don't feel happy living in the city in an apartment without even a yard for our kids to play in.
We are considering moving 30 mins. drive away, so we can still be involved in the community but live in a cheaper and more rural area. I discussed it with our local rabbi and he told me it would be harmful to our spiritual growth to do this.
What I want to know is this: do we have an obligation according to halachah to live in a Jewish community where we can walk to schul every Shabbat? We can still be involved in the community if we live outside the city, it will just mean that we won't be able to walk to schul on Shabbat and Yom Tov and that I will have to drive in for minyan on other days. We can possibly stay with friends within the community on an occasional Shabbat or for Yomim Tovim.
1. The communal aspect of Judaism is very important; it is therefore proper to try to live in an area where a functioning Jewish community exists. It cannot be denied, however, that sometimes this is either not possible or problematic, whether it be for financial or other reasons.
2. I take it that you prefer living in a rural or semi-rural setting as opposed to a big city. Hazal apparently held a similar view, stating that living in a large city is “not conducive to good health” (TB K’thuboth 110b). On top of the physical health benefits of living outside the city, there are psychological and spiritual benefits as well. Some, and perhaps many, people feel that life in the big city is unnatural, disquieting and/or spiritually stifling. People who feel this way should know that their feelings are legitimate; they should not try to convince themselves that it is not so, and nor should others.
3. Rav Hirsch z’l in his Tora commentary (Wayiqra 25:34) expands upon the Tora ideal: a nation in which most of the population lives in towns (not cities) surrounded by agricultural land with which they maintain a connection. R. Yisshaq Abarbanel z’l (B’reshith Chap. 11) sharply criticizes industrialized living and goes as far as to claim that the sin of the people of Bavel was that they actively sought to create such a civilisation. Rav Kook too was keenly aware of the negative aspects of life in the modern city (Ma’amare HaR’aya pp. 183, 285).
4. One cannot claim that according to Halakha you must remain where you are, nor can it be denied that there are significant advantages associated with a move out of the city. But that’s now. What concerns me is your long-term plan. You have children. I am unfamiliar with the facts regarding Jewish education in your present location, but I wonder about your children’s long-term Jewish education.
5. Rambam z’l writes (MT M’lakhim uMilhamoth 5:7) that it is permissible for a Jew to live anywhere on earth with the exception of Egypt. Rambam (ibid. 5:15) goes on to say that a Jew should always do his utmost to live in the Jewish homeland, Eress Yisrael. This is not Rambam’s position; it is the Tora’s position. (I quote Rambam merely as a convenient reference work which is familiar and available to most people including over the internet, e.g. mechon-mamre.org). Some Jews, including many Orthodox Jews, prefer to ignore the plain and unambiguous intention of the Tora and the Hakhamim, adducing all sorts of arguments, mostly spurious, in order to justify themselves. I believe you know better.
6. Your long-term goal should be ‘aliya to EY. You need to plan ahead and work towards that goal. In the meantime, you should reside where you feel comfortable, where you can save money and lead a Jewish life even if it means not being able to attend schul every Shabath. May HASHEM bless you and grant you the wisdom to make the right choices so that you and your family may succeed in this great endeavour.