After years of horrible dating experiences, you finally find The One. She’s (or he’s) pretty, funny, smart, a dynamo in the kitchen, and even with your impossibly high standards, she’s (you get the idea) everything you’re ever been looking for in a spouse.
Well … almost.
As it turns out she doesn’t want to make aliyah. Or vice versa, she does and you really don’t. For some reason, this little detail got overlooked by both of you and/or the shadchan never bothered checking. While there are many factors one considers in dating, aliyah is unique. There are significant halakhic, hashkafic, and practical considerations, and there is little room for compromise. You’re not choosing between city and suburban life, but living in Israel or not living in Israel.
At any rate, you’ve now got a choice to make. Do you marry the girl of your dreams and give up aliyah, or go ahead with your life and take a chance with the dating game for however long it might take?
Naturally, there’s not going to be a definitive answer to the question. But for those who are facing this dilemma, perhaps we can help sort through some of the factors to consider.
People who consider aliyah usually do so for religious reasons. For some it could be an issue of maintaining Jewish culture in the Jewish homeland. Others may want to raise a family in a primarily Jewish society. But for the majority of aliyah minded people, there is an inherent religious value if not an actual obligation to live in Israel.
Then again, many also consider getting married to be a religious obligation.
Although the gemara clearly values, encourages, and perhaps mandates both being married (B. Yevamot 61b, B. Kiddushin 29b) and living in Israel (B. Ketuvbot 110b-111a), it is not explicit as to their exact halakhic status.
However, the Talmud does discuss the instance when one must choose between living in Israel and being married. Commenting on the Mishnaic statement “everyone (must) go up to Israel” (M. Ketuvot 13:11), the Talmud elaborates should a spouse refuse to make aliyah, we force him/her to change his/her mind. Since both husband and wife have an equal obligation to live in Israel, either’s opposition to fulfilling their obligation is considered grounds for divorce, to the extent that if it is the wife who refuses to make aliyah, she loses her ketuvah (B. Ketuvot 110b). Thus it seems that regardless of the halakhic nature of marriage and aliyah, living in Israel would supersede being married.
For some, this passage alone is enough to end the discussion – and the relationship. Once the gemara decides that one is more important than the other, then there should be no question that someone should not continue a relationship at the expense of aliyah. However, while this is certainly a plausible position to take, it is not necessarily the only conclusion.
First, the gemara in Ketuvot discusses an immediate ultimatum; one is going, and the other refuses. Dating on the other hand is about potential future plans. As most people should realize, life is unpredictable – especially when considering the wants and needs of someone else. Long-terms plans can change drastically, and even if one does desire to make aliyah in the future, there is no guarantee that he/she actually will (or will be able to).
Furthermore, the gemara states that refusal of aliyah is grounds for divorce, but it does not say that one must divorce his wife.1 Though it would not seem to be the ideal situation, the aliyah-minded spouse could theoretically change his/her mind in order to preserve the marriage.
Finally, if the relationship is serious enough such that marriage is imminent, then it may be possible to argue that one ought to get married in spite of the aliyah question. If we follow the assumption of Rambam that getting married is a mitzvah de’oraita (Ishut 1:2), then one ought to perform this mitzvah as soon as possible under the principle of mitzvah habah l’yadcha al tachmitzena (Mechilta R. Yishmael Bo 9). The gemara discussed someone who was already married, and has already fulfilled his obligation. Of course, this logic would not apply to divorce’s, nor would it apply to women since they only have the obligation to make aliyah, but not to get married.2 But if it’s the guy who wants to make aliyah, then he would be confronted with fulfilling one mitzvah now, at the possible expense of fulfilling another mitzvah at a later date.
There are other sources to consider as well. According to Rambam, someone who already lives in Israel may leave to find a wife – provided he returns at some point (Melachim 5:9). Although the situation is temporary, one may suspend the obligation of living in Israel for marriage. This dispensation is consistent with the Talmudic insistence that a person should only marry someone who is hogennet (suited) to him (B. Kiddushin 70a, B. Bava Kamma 80a).
To be clear, I am not endorsing any position on the matter. The point is that the answer is not as simple as some may make it out to be, since there are several possibilities for understanding religious texts – including many I haven’t mentioned. This is a case of competing religious interests, both of which are essential to Jewish life and uncertainty is understandable.
Even if you’re inclined to follow one halakhic argument over another, you may be too overwhelmed by the intense emotions involved to make a rational decision. As difficult as it may be, I would suggest that a logical step would be to examine your own situation.
- Personal dating experience – How has the dating process been going? Are you very unique or picky such that your dating pool is smaller than others? Have you had difficulties finding someone compatible? If you’ve had a particularly hard time dating and/or are older, you may be more reluctant to end a rare positive relationship.
- Why do you want to make aliyah? – This is a tough but fair question. I know that people make aliyah for a myriad of reasons. You need to figure out what yours really is as opposed to what could be parroting other people’s beliefs.
- Why doesn’t s/he? – The common reasons why people don’t want to make aliyah usually involve money, culture, and family, but of course there can be others. We’ll get to how to deal with them in the next section, but first you have to really know how the other person feels. It’s possible that there is also a deeper discrepancy of values or expectations which can by masked by aliyah. Which brings us to…
- Is aliyah an issue or the issue? – Is aliyah really the only issue which is holding up your getting married? Even if you are aware of other issues in the relationship, you may not realize how much they matter or if there are more deal-breakers involved than just aliyah.
Once you have a good idea about yourself and your relationship, you should be in a better position to make a decision.
How to Deal
My personal sense is that how one deals with aliyah is really not that much different then other conflicts in a relationship.
- Be honest – Both with yourself and with each other. Say what you mean and mean what you say, and trust that the other person is doing the same. Know how you’re really feeling and be open and communicative. Don’t silently conform to the other person if something is bothering you.
- Avoid wishful thinking – Don’t assume that the other person will just change his/her mind and come around to how you’re thinking. It may happen, but you can’t assume that it will.
- Avoid guilting – Aliyah is difficult. It’s hard to make a go of it even when you want to, let alone when you’re just going along for the ride. Furthermore, there are legitimate reasons for not making aliyah and staying in galut doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad Jew.
- Know when to let it go – Talking about aliyah is a good thing. Harping on it for two years straight isn’t. If you want to keep the relationship positive, you can’t keep bringing it up every day. If you do decide to stay in the relationship, you may want to come to a mutual understanding about how to deal with it in the future. Other than that, make a decision, stick with it, and move on.
I found myself in such a relationship not too long ago, and I noticed that people were quick to offer advice telling me to either ignore aliyah or to break up and move to Israel. Of course, it’s easy for someone comfortable in middle-class America to think that aliyah isn’t all that important. It’s also easy for a benei akivanick who got married at 20 to think that you could just find someone else.
Ultimately, whatever you decide has to be your decision. It’s your life and you have to live it and be comfortable with your decisions. If aliyah is that important to you, don’t ignore it. If it’s that much of an obstacle, don’t fool yourself into thinking it will just take care of itself. If you truly think that the best thing for you is to get married, then go ahead.
Although we’ve focused on the person in the relationship who wants to make aliyah, most of this would apply to the other person as well. If you’re the one who doesn’t want to make aliyah, you’d also have to deal with your feelings and come to some arrangement. Maybe it’s something you could consider doing, perhaps even on a trial basis. Again, all this would depend on your personal situation.
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer. Even if you’re thinking long-term, there are never any guarantees. Not all couples who want to make aliyah succeed, and some don’t even get a chance to try. Other people have made aliyah because of their spouses and have thrived. Then again, not all marriages last either. As with any major decision you have to make, the most you can do ever do is make the best honest judgment that you can based on whatever information you have at that time.
And have faith that everything will work out in the end.
1. This was pointed out to me by another Rabbi when I was personally addressing this issue.
2. Although the Talmud asserts that it’s better for women to be married (B. Kiddushin 7a), and that women wish to be married more than men do (B. Yevamot 113a), it does not prescribe an obligation.