That we, Am Yisrael, on the brink of our exile, vowed to Hashem that we would not return en masse to Eretz Yisrael before the geula – whereby the Mashiach would ingather us home (kibbutz galuyot) – that is undisputed.
What is disputed is only whether the vows are still valid and in effect.
[And for a sneak-peek of this summary explanation: Most Torah Sages have concluded that the vows have expired].
Since the central passage involved derives from Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, a preliminary note is needed about just that. Song of Songs – written by the wisest of all men, King Solomon, who toured the world on a flying carpet, who could control the winds (what enabled him to fly his carpet), and who could even converse with animals – is 100%-proof Kabbalah. Not a single world of Song of Songs can be taken or understood without the kabbalistic context and interpretation, as each word is in pnemiyut jargon.
All sefarim are considered “kodesh” whereas Shir HaShirim is “kodesh haKodashim”. Outwardly, it is ostensibly a love story. In truth, though, it is an encoded summary, though detailed description, of THE greatest love story of all time – that between Am Yisrael and HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu, Hashem. It is very literally THE Song of (all) Songs – it is the story of our developing connection with HKBH and our up-coming geula (bimhera beyamenu).
Torah is Hashem’s wisdom and is the blue-print by which He created His creation – all of creation. This blue-print also maps out the grand master plan Hashem has of His creation, Machshevet HaBeriya, which culminates with the geula with His Chosen People, Am Yisrael. With all his wisdom, King Solomon was privy to all history from the beginning of time to its end. And, thus, in Song of Songs, he summarizes each step and the overall process of Hashem’s ultimate plan and goal.
Is it any wonder, then, that the very first thing we recite in the Kabbalat Shabbat service Friday evening is Song of Songs, and in its entirety? Shabbat, the 7th day that is a taste of The World to Come, corresponds with the “7th Millennium” – i.e. the geula.
Back to the vows. Song of Songs is comprised of eight chapters, four of which make reference to the vows, and five of which make reference to “daughters of Jerusalem” (who took the vows). Thus, the vows are a very weighty matter.
In Tractate Ketubot 111a there is a fairly long segment (relative for the Talmud) that discusses the verse “and I swore you [in], daughters of Jerusalem, in armies and does of the field” (Song of Songs 2:7 and 3: 5). Our Sages explain that just before our exile from the Land of Israel, Hashem swore Am Yisrael in with three vows: (1) “shelo ya’alu Yisrael bechoma” (literally, that Israel shall not go up as a ‘wall’ but where our Sages specify that the meaning of “bechoma” is “together by a strong hand” – i.e. by force), (2) that Yisrael would not rebel against the nations of the world, (3) that the idolaters would not subjugate Israel too much. These are the main vows – the “Three Vows”.
The Gemara goes on, however, where Rav Yehuda continues the verse “if you awaken and if you arouse the love…” to enumerate three additional vows, including not revealing the time of our “ketz” (redemption/coming of Mashiach) and not to put farther off the “ketz”. Rabbi Elazar then says that HKBH, Hashem, said to Israel ‘If you observe this vow, good; but if not, then I will allow your flesh as the armies and does of the field.’
The single word “bechoma” of Vow no. 1 includes within it issues of mass/group aliya to the Land of Israel, assuming control or government over the land, and police and army/military forces.
The Midrash on Shir HaShirim 2: 7 enumerates four vows, since the two sections (“if you awaken” and “if you arouse”) appear twice (2: 7 and 3:5 – thus 2×2) in identical verses. These four are included in the six vows totaled that the Gemara enumerates.
There is, then, a massive split in how this passage is understood. The two interpretations that are referred to the most, though, are those of the Admor or Rebbe of Sochaczew, Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain, and the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. The various understandings that all our Sages conclude are usually based on, or at least include, the following interpretations:
The memre preceding the above-mentioned passage, beginning at the bottom of 110b states: “Rabbi Yehuda said, ‘All who go to Eretz Yisrael from Bavel (Iraq) violate the positive mitzva…” To this Rebbe Zeyra answers (Tractate Ketubot 111a) that that only refers to returning the Kelim of Beit HaMikdash to Israel – that they should only be returned after the geula. And, thus, according to Rebbe Zeyra, the vows refer only to the kelim. [What this means is that, despite all his walls and security, the Pope will eventually lose his grip over the church’s theft of our kelim. What has not worked by diplomatic requests to the Vatican’s idolatrous Pharaoh to Let Our Kelim Go (and whereby the Pope has hardened his heart, as did Pharaoh), will have to be left to Hashem to take care of – and, not to worry, He promises He will!]
The GR”A, the Gaon of Vilna, states that the vows refer only to rebuilding Beit HaMikdash.
The Rav Chaim Vital wrote that the vows were valid only for a thousand years from the destruction of Beit HaMikdash.
Some based their argument that since the goyim most definitely outdid themselves in subjugating Am Yisrael, and thus broke their part of the vows (Vow no. 3), as per the Halacha regarding mutual honoring of vows in the Shulchan Aruch, then Am Yisrael is no longer obligated of their vows either.
These earlier interpretations were in fact backed up and followed up in practice by mass aliya headed by communities’ rabbis, or Rebbes. Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid brought 1,500 people from Poland to Israel in 1699. The holy Ohr HaChayim, Rabbi Chayim Ben-Atar brought 30 people from Morocco in 1741. The holy Ba’al Shem Tov, the Besh”t, sent chassidim to make aliya, among them Rabbi Avraham Gershon of Kitov (who came in 1747). And, in 1764, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Premishlan (who came with 29 of his family) and Rabbi Nachman MeHaRodenke (Rebbe Nachman of Breslev’s grandfather) made aliya. In 1778, 300 chassidim came from Russia, including Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and Rebbe Avrohom of Kalisk. Students of the GR”A came to Israel in three groups, one in 1808 and two in 1809. And the list B”H goes on. [The Ba’al Shem Tov himself tried to make aliya. And reading the full account of his attempted trip is highly recommend – how he got heavenly sign that it wasn’t yet time for him, how his boat capsized, and the events that occurred when he and his daughter Adel spent Pessach in Istanbul].
Back again to the vows. There is a psak halacha by both the “Avnei Nezer” and the “Ohr Sameach” that if permission is granted so that aliya is not by a show of force, then the prohibition by the vows is annulled. This was especially noted with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain, aka the Sochaczew Rebbe, aka the “Avnei Nezer” goes on to state that such granting of permission means that aliya is not “bechoma”, and thus it signals the end of galut and the end of the vows.
The Balfour Declaration caused a huge buzz in the Torah world. The “Chafetz Chayim”, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen, is quoted by his son in the latter’s book as having said upon hearing news of the Balfour Declaration that it is a kind of “etaruta d’leila” – arousal from above – regarding the geula and that he hoped the et ratzon has arrived.
Rabbi Yosef Chayim Zunenfeld put it this way: “Assume that for two thousand years there was no rain and then suddenly a light cloud came in to view. Everyone would get all excited and cry ‘Just maybe after all?!’ Isn’t that [Balfour] declaration and subsequent mandate at least such a light cloud?”
On the other hand, as the Satmar Rebbe pointed out, such a light cloud isn’t quite a rain storm. Hope yes, but not actual relief from the drought. And, on the issue of the Three Vows, the (original) Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, is usually the first to be mentioned, since he maintained that the vows are still valid and in effect and thus the establishment of the State of Israel is a violation of these vows.
He is also usually of the first to be mentioned regarding this whole issue because of his magnum opus VaYoel Moshe, or Yalkut Amarim (anthology) VaYoel Moshe, since it is actually comprised of three highly scholarly and comprehensive treatises on the Three Vows, Settling the Land of Israel, and the Holy Tongue. The volume just on the Three Vows is 170 pages, or 261 pages if you include all his indices. VaYoel Moshe is pretty much considered the standard against which all other statements and explanations of the Three Vows are measured.
The (original) Satmar Rebbe emphasized the importance of settling the Land of Israel bekedusha, in purity/holiness, in order to observe Torah and perform the mitzvot, especially those that are dependent on being in Eretz Yisrael. He criticizes all Israeli policies that negate and violate Torah. However, he does go on to note the importance of supporting the Torah-observant Jews living in Aretz.
It appears from his writing that there is an implied acceptance (along the lines of “bedi’avad”) of the fact that the State was established, but that because the law of the land, including that of government and army, are not according to Torah, he sees correct to completely disassociate from the State. There is the impression that if the law of land were revised to be that of Torah, that the governing of the country and the military were only according to Torah, that he would allow the association and participation in them, even though Mashiach has not yet arrived.
P.S. Since this question or issue always comes up within this discussion, I’ll will add an additional note:
How I Understand the Neturei Karta
I’m not Eliyahu HaNavi, but I see the Neturei Karta as an Erev Rav cult – just one of the many, along with the Women of the Kotel, JStreet, BDS, BTS, Betzelem, the Reform, and so on.
The NK do pretty much what the Christian church has done, namely, take Jewish-Torah principles, try to hijack them and then pervert them, and then try to call it their own. It’s important to remember the original Jewish principles, though, and not then think that they are theirs.
The way I understand their sick and twisted Erev Rav “logic” is they take the Three Vows and say that any Jewish government and/or army in Eretz Yisrael is a violation of the vows. That is, Jews are not allowed to control the land until Moshiach. They, then, volunteer to subjugate themselves to a non-Jewish rule on the land. Btw, while I believe there are Erev Rav within the Satmar circle(s), the Satmar Rebbe never wrote that we must undo what is built and/or voluntarily subject ourselves to any goy. As I already wrote, he gives a clear implication that if the rule/g’ment and army are kashered here and function only according to Torah, then “bediavad” he accepts them.
With regard to the NK lunacy, their argument is easily and massively refuted by many aspects of Torah, beginning with pikuach nefesh and “and you shall guard your souls well” all the way to chilul Hashem. But, I’m not going to go argue with them.
We are definitely still in galut, and therefore this kind of Erev Rav histrionics is expected.
And because we’re in galut, Yids just shouldn’t go play with the bear.