I have always wondered why the Rebbe—whom I personally consider the most righteous Jew in our times—didn’t move to Israel, or even visit once?


Before addressing the question, it is important to note that there was perhaps no stronger advocate and defender of Israel than the Rebbe. Over the years, countless Israeli government officials—including generals, presidents and prime ministers—sought his blessing and advice on subjects ranging from societal issues to military strategy.

Additionally, there is no question that the Rebbe was personally responsible, directly and indirectly, for tens of thousands of Jews finding their heritage and moving to Israel. Moreover, the Rebbe personally sent dozens of shluchim, emissaries, to settle in the Holy Land.

It is also important to note that since the Rebbe assumed leadership in 1951, he never took a day off or even left New York.

Now, you are not the first to ask this question. In fact, many asked the Rebbe himself, both in writing or personally. As you can imagine, the Rebbe’s answers were not all identical. Here is a sampling of the Rebbe’s responses, both in his own words and as recollected by others.

JEM/The Living Archive
JEM/The Living Archive

Why Didn’t the Rebbe Move to Israel?

Here is a letter written by the Rebbe in 1983:1

Mr. ______

Scottsdale, Arizona

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of you letter, in which you write that you are concerned and puzzled, and urgently request a reply—as to why I do not go to Eretz Yisroel.

With all due respect, I do not understand at all what you will gain by having an answer to this paramount question.

Moreover, in as much as Hashem created everything according to His design, and knowing that nothing is superfluous, it would be a waste of one's time and effort if it were not used productively to the fullest extent.

On the other hand, a Jew’s primary mission in life as the Rabbis express it, “I was created to serve my Master,”2 and this service is carried out by strengthening and spreading Yiddishkeit, first of all in one's own life, and then in one's surroundings, bearing in mind that the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha is the Great Principle of the Torah.3 Thus, if one should squander one’s time and energy on extraneous matters, instead of using them in fulfillment of one's life’s task, it would be an obvious waste and a disruption of the whole Divine order.

According to my information, the city in which you live is one where there is a great deal of room to work for the strengthening of Yiddishkeit, insofar as Jews are concerned, as well as for the promotion of the so-called Seven Moral Laws with all their ramifications, insofar as gentiles are concerned, for they were given by G‑d to the children of Noah, i.e. all humanity. This is why I am all the more surprised at your question.

Inasmuch as you write that you are very puzzled, and do request an answer, I will not evade giving you one—all the more so since the answer is quite simple. Indeed, it is already implicit in what was said above about the first duty of a Jew, and of any human being, to fulfill his mission in the place where he lives, and only after he has done everything expected of him locally, to consider whether he should go to another place to carry on his mission there. Obviously, one should not abandon “the front” before making sure that everything is in order.

I am using the expression “the front” advisedly. You surely know what is happening around you—the very same thing that is happening wherever Jews live, especially where they are a small minority—in terms of alienation from Yiddishkeit, loss of Jewish identity, intermarriage and outright assimilation. It is the duty of every Jew to do his or her very utmost to combat the forces that are threatening the very foundations of our people—first and foremost where he find them in his immediate surroundings.

With blessing,


A Captain of a Ship

After the Yom Kippur War, (future Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon asked the Rebbe why he didn’t act like a commanding officer who marches ahead of his troops. If the Rebbe moved to Israel, he reasoned, many Jews would follow him.

The Rebbe replied that in many instances, it is actually forbidden for the commanding officer to go first, as in the case of a captain of an endangered ship. The captain is the last to leave the ship. Only after everyone has been evacuated safely is the captain permitted to leave the ship.4

This was consistent with the advice the Rebbe often gave to others as well.

Ariel Sharon meeting the Rebbe
Ariel Sharon meeting the Rebbe

In 1973, Moshe Ishon met the Rebbe. Here is a translation of his recollection of their conversation:

Moshe Ishon: But still, when will we merit seeing the Rebbe in Israel?

The Rebbe: The day will come. I hope it is not too far off.

Moshe Ishon: What about the chassidim, do they have to wait until the Rebbe leaves to live in Israel?

The Rebbe: Any chassid who comes to ask about going to live in Israel, who isn't involved in education or in the rabbinate, is advised to go, and we give him our blessing for his move. The problem is for those who have vital roles in the community, and if they leave, everything will crumble. They are compared to ships' captains in stormy seas; the captain is always the last to abandon ship. First, he must save the passengers . . .

Why Not Visit?

We’ve addressed why the Rebbe didn’t move to Israel—but why didn’t he even visit the Holy Land? Here is a video of Israeli businessman Yosef Yakir posing this question to the Rebbe in 1991:

Yosef Yakir: Finally, honored Rebbe, may you live long, I ask you personally, in the name of all the Jews in the land of Israel—come to visit us. Fulfill the fourth mitzvah in the Maimonides’ Book of Commandments, “settling the land of Israel.”5 For a week or two, I ask you sincerely. It will help to bring us all to complete teshuvah, complete redemption, and perhaps hasten the coming of Moshiach.

The Rebbe: If you would write to me a halachic responsa that according to Jewish law, I would be permitted to afterward return to the United States, not to abandon the Jews here, then I would evaluate the validity of the argument to see if it is indeed a proper conclusion according to Jewish law. But to abandon all the Jews here, more than three million people! And it’s not just the American Jews. Some of the Russian Jews are settling here now in the United States, and when they come here, the ground must be prepared so they can continue in their Judaism. And this will be much more difficult to solve if I am in one place and they are in a different place.

And also, I wish it were so that people would listen to me when I am close by. But if I were to be in a different land—even in Israel—they would not listen to my voice. . . . [Also, seeing me return from such a trip, people] would say to themselves that living in the United States is better for them, and “proof” is that I left the United States and I regretted it. . . . It will not interest them that I “regret” it because there are still [more than] three million Jews here who request help in all things possible.6

To give some background on why it would be problematic for the Rebbe to leave the Land of Israel following a visit, let’s take a look at Maimonides:

It is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel for the Diaspora at all times except to study Torah, to marry, or to save one's property from the gentiles. After accomplishing these objectives, one must return to the Land of Israel.

Similarly, one may leave the land of Israel to conduct commercial enterprises. However, it is forbidden to leave with the intent of settling permanently in the Diaspora unless the famine in the Land of Israel is so severe that a dinar's worth of wheat is sold at two dinarim . . .7

To be sure, there are exceptions to the rule, and the Rebbe himself sent people to Israel for short periods of time. Nevertheless, for whatever reason the Rebbe was either being strict with himself or felt that the leniencies would not apply to him.

Another interesting point in this conversation is that the Rebbe was concerned that people would think that he left Israel because he felt that the United States was better than Israel. This may be related to the Talmud’s statement regarding the incident of the 12 spies who returned from Israel with a negative report, that one has to be very careful not to speak negatively about the Land of Israel.8

The Chief Rabbi Asked the Rebbe

Interestingly enough, the Previous Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson—did in fact visit and then leave the Land of Israel. Perhaps the following will shed some light on why he did so:

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who served as Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983, related that on four consecutive occasions when he visited the Rebbe, he asked why the Rebbe didn’t visit Israel, and each time the Rebbe revealed more of his rationale.

The first time, the Rebbe replied that since he became Rebbe, he never left “Lubavitch,” a reference in this instance to New York. However, the Rebbe assured his visitor that if he were to leave, the first place he would visit would be Israel.

The second time Rabbi Goren visited, he reiterated his request, and the Rebbe explained that once he was in the Holy Land, it would be problematic to leave.

The third time, the Rebbe explained that the previous rebbes of Chabad never visited Israel, seemingly because Heaven prevented them from going.

Rabbi Goren records that when he told this over to some chassidim in Israel, they were surprised, as it is known that the Previous Rebbe did in fact visit Israel in 1929. Rabbi Goren waited impatiently an entire year for the opportunity to ask the Rebbe this question. When he finally got the opportunity to visit the Rebbe again, the Rebbe was waiting for him at the door, and while still at the door, the Rebbe remarked, “You are certainly wondering about what I said, that I decided not to visit Israel because the six previous Chabad rebbes didn’t visit, and yet, my father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, did in fact visit Israel and prayed at the graves of our forefathers in Hebron.”

The Rebbe continued that in the course of a rebbe’s work, there is need to pray at the resting place of his predecessor(s). After the Previous Rebbe had to leave Russia, he was no longer able to visit any of the gravesites of the preceding rebbes, all of whom were interred in the USSR. Finding no other way, he traveled to Israel to pray at the gravesite of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Since the Rebbe’s predecessor was buried in nearby Queens, the Rebbe concluded that he did not have the same reason to break with precedent and travel to Israel.

Rabbi Goren writes that he was able to tell that this was indeed the reason why the Rebbe didn’t visit Israel, and he therefore stopped “bothering” the Rebbe with this question.9

Of course, we all pray for the day when we all will return to the Land of Israel with the coming of the Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days!