Question. Why do some rabbis prefer living in the Diaspora to Israel?
Answer. They know that the Talmud says that if you live outside Israel it seems that you have no God (Ket. 110b). Tosafot to that passage says that some people are reluctant to make Aliyah because it is hard to keep the commandments that only apply in the Land.
Some say that Maimonides deliberately omitted settling in Israel from his list of commandments, and a number of authorities say that unless you are sure of a livelihood in Israel you might be better off in the Diaspora (this view is quoted by Rabbi Jakobovits in one of his books).
Most Diaspora rabbis would probably claim that they are needed in Diaspora countries in the interests of Judaism, but as soon as possible they will put Aliyah on their agendas.
Question. Is it halachically permissible for my shule to require every member to give a set amount to a certain cause?
Answer. Giving charity is a great mitzvah, but generally speaking it is up to the individual to decide how much to give.
There are guidelines in halachah, for example in the Sefer HaChinnuch, which advises,
“Do not let miserliness or meanness rule over you, but open your heart to the qualities of generosity and compassion”.
However, if an individual makes a vow or pledge to donate a certain sum, the commitment has to be honoured; the Torah says,
“Observe and perform the utterance of your lips” (Deut. 23:24).
If all (or the majority of) the citizens of a place – or by extension all the members of a congregation – vote in favour of a charitable donation towards which every individual is to contribute, the decision is binding upon them. The reason is not only that democratic decisions have halachic authority but that everyone benefits from them.
It is possible that when the wheel of fate turns, someone who is rich today will be poor and in need of charity. In addition, it is good for a community to systematise its welfare work and not leave everything to the whim of the individual, which generally leads some needy people and families to fall between the cracks.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com