Is buying or being charitable more important in fulfilling Yishuv Eretz Israel?

The following question and answer were presented in this past week’s dvar Torah sheet from Eretz Hemdah.  It caught my eye because of the dualing values of planning on moving to Israel vs. being financially capable of supporting Israel from afar.

Ask the Rabbi by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have enough money to buy an apartment in Israel but I do not plan to live there in the near future. I could also use the money to help support people or programs in Israel. Which is the preferred way to fulfill yishuv Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: According to almost all opinions, there is a mitzva in our times to live in Israel (yeshivat Eretz Yisrael), with significant discussion about whether it is from the Torah (Ramban, Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 4) or rabbinic (see discussion in Rav Yisraeli’s Eretz Hemdah I, 1:4). In all likelihood, one fulfills this mitzva by being a permanent resident of Israel, not a tourist or even a landowner who visits often (Shut Hamaharit II, 28). Some even say that the living must be a normal, healthy inhabitation (see different applications in Shut Harashbash 2, Eretz Hemdah op. cit. and Amud Hayemini 22). In any case, none of the options you mentioned would be a full-fledged mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael.

There is a second part of the mitzva, which the Ramban (op. cit.) calls kibush (conquest), i.e., to bring Eretz Yisrael under Jewish control. While doing so by military conquest in our times was hotly debated due to the Three Oaths (see Ketubot 111a and many contemporary sources), it is all but unanimous that it is a mitzva to obtain control by buying land. This is the basis for the famous leniency for yishuv Eretz Yisrael of having a non-Jew draw up on Shabbat a contract for land in Israel (Gittin 8b). However, this applies specifically when a Jew buys land in Eretz Yisrael from a non-Jew (Rashi, ad loc.; Rambam, Shabbat 4:11; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:11). Similar logic may apply to buying land or building a home in areas where Jewish settlement is not a given. However, buying a home in Rechavia is unlikely to contain that element of the mitzva. Acquiring a home from a Jew in order to enable aliya is a hechsher (facilitation of a) mitzva of yeshivat Eretz Yisrael, as are steps to strengthen the ability to remain in the Land (Shut Harashbash 1).

The matter of supporting the poor in Israel is not brought in the poskim as a mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Rather, the Sifrei derives from the pasuk dealing within the tzedaka priorities (relatives, neighbors, etc.) that the poor in Eretz Yisrael have precedence over the poor elsewhere. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 251:3) paskens this precedence, while the Rambam does not mention it, for some reason. Thus, if one wants to give money to the Israeli poor, he may use ma’aser money, which he should not do for a personal mitzva like buying an etrog or, for that matter, a home in Israel. Helping someone else buy a home in Israel so that they could afford to make aliya is helping them with their mitzva and, according to the accepted opinions, is a legitimate use of ma’aser money (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, F-4).

Just because something is not a full-fledged mitzva does not mean that it does not have value. It is certainly laudable to want to connect oneself to Eretz Yisrael by owning a home here. It is something he does for his Jewish self and from his own funds. Supporting different projects here may be at least a partial fulfillment of yishuv Eretz Yisrael and can use tzedaka funds.

Practically, concerning your dilemma, it makes a lot of sense to combine the elements as follows. One can buy a home and hope to some day move into it (making aliya easier) or have their children move into it. It is proper to rent it out in the meantime (rental subsidies for the needy are a wonderful form of tzedaka). In this way, not only would Israeli society gain from the infusion of funds, but you would avoid the phenomenon of absentee homeowners (especially in Yerushalayim; see link-  www.lightson.jerusalem.muni.il). These fine Jews unwittingly raise housing costs and drive Jews out of town, thereby hurting the day-to-day economy, exacerbating the national housing shortage, and harming demographics (including for municipal elections).

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