Thursday, July 4, 2013

Leaving Israel to visit the graves of righteous people

A few weeks ago, I received a request to publicize a website which lists the graves of righteous people, "throughout Israel and the world."

Visiting the graves of righteous people, and praying to Gd there, is an ancient Jewish practice. Of course, the standard objection to visiting graves is the concern for praying to the dead, as opposed to asking their aid for our prayers to Gd; this topic has been done to death, so to speak. But there is another issue, for Israelis: leaving Israel in order to visit a grave.

Here is a partial translation from a responsum of Rav Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidbiru 12:28) on the topic; I find the arguments he cites fascinating.

[The translation was done by R' Ezra Goldschmiedt, an avreich in our Beit Midrash, for an issue of Toronto Torah several weeks ago.]

...And here is the place for me to point out concerning those who have begun to travel from the Holy Land to visit graves of righteous ones in foreign lands, that this is an insult to the Land of Israel and to the holy forefathers, the tannaim and amoraim, giants of Israel who are buried here. The custom was that people would come here to visit, particularly from nearby lands, and they did not go elsewhere to visit those buried there! This is certainly so for us, who merit to dwell in the field of G-d! 

Also from the perspective of law that one may not leave the Land of Israel to travel outside the Land of Israel, I find no allowance for this.

Also, every trip is associated with great loss of  Torah study and with financial expenditures which could have been used to sustain the poor. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz has already explained that when they say (Avot 2:1), "Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards," that speaks of when both [possibilities presented] are mitzvot. In a moment of [improper] inclination and desire to tour, every individual must consider with himself whether his intent is only for the sake of heaven.

Further, all of [these considerations] are not worth [this compromise], even when one's intention is that the non-Jews should [be induced to] guard the graves of the righteous...

It seems that there is in this [desire] an inappropriate mixture with outlooks that have not been received from Sinai, and which men have fabricated from their hearts. In such a case we believe that the Torah will never be replaced!

The original Hebrew is available here.


  1. One has to wonder about people for whom the grave of a Rebbe in a godforsaken corner of the Ukraine where Jews only knew hardship and misery is more spiritual than standing in Yerushalayim near the Har HaBayis. Yechezkel HaNavi has a scene in which he sees people in the Azarah bowing to the east, their backs to the Heichal. Is this so far off?
    Most of the Rebbeim people leave Israel to visit spent their lives wishing they could be in Eretz Yisrael and now their followers leave Israel for their sake?

    1. See, that's the thing. You see only the hardship and misery that was there, not the outpouring of Torah and avodah and chassidishkeit and mesiras nefesh. (R. Nachman himself indeed wanted to be buried in Uman because there are buried there some 30,000 Jews who were killed al kiddush Hashem by the Cossacks.)

  2. From Chief Rabbi Lau’s book, Light of the World (Oro shel Olam), page 380:

    A student in the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Jerusalem, approached his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and asked him the question: May I leave my Torah studies in the yeshiva to go [for a short visit] and pray at the graves of tzadikim (righteous people,) in the Galil (Northern Israel?)

    Rav Auerbach answered, “It is better to say in yeshiva, and study Torah”

    The student replied, “Isn’t there a time I could go to visit the graves of tzadikim? Doesn’t Rav Auerbach go and pray by the graves of tzadikim?

    Rav Auerbach answered, “In order to pray at the graves of tzadikim, one doesn’t have to travel up to the Galil. Whenever I feel the need to pray at the graves of tzadikim, I go to Mount Herzl, [the national cemetery for fallen IDF soliders in Jerusalem], to the graves of the soliders…who fell “Al Kiddush Hashem” for the sanctification of G-d.

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    Joel Rich