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    Being religious in Israel – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it really necessary to be religious in Israel, when living in the land is enough evidence of being Jewish?

    A. The argument seems to be that in the Diaspora you need religion and the commandments in order to preserve Jewish identity – but in Israel who can be unaware of their Jewishness?

    This totally contradicts the view of our teachers and commentators, who say that not only must you keep the commandments in Israel but only there can they be observed fully.

    Indeed, Rashi’s commentary on the second paragraph of the Shema says that in the Diaspora the mitzvot are really a rehearsal for the time when we will be living in Israel.

    This interpretation is based on the warning that if we disobey the Divine commandments we will rapidly perish from the land; this is followed by the words, “Therefore place these My words on your heart and soul; bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be frontlets between your eyes” (Deut. 11:17-18).

    Rashi, basing himself on the midrashic work known as Sifrei, explains, “Place these My words” means, “Even if you go into exile, keep your identity by means of the commandments… By means of tefillin and mezuzah, ensure that these things are not new to you when you return to the land”.

    In other words, the real place to perform the mitzvot is Israel and everything else is practice or rehearsal.

    The vision of Zion sustained us because we dreamt of the homeland as the place where we would be able to follow Judaism freely and fully. Now that Zion is achieved our proud task ought to be to live by and through the mitzvot.

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