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    Returning to Egypt – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why did Jews go back to Egypt when the Torah prohibited this (Deut. 17:16)?

    Map of ancient Egypt

    A. Not once but three times were Israel told not to go back to Egypt. The other two references are Deut. 28:68 and Ex. 14:13.

    Maimonides says clearly, “It is permitted for a Jew to settle anywhere except in Egypt” (Hilchot M’lachim 1:1). But Jewish communities did settle there, and Maimonides himself lived in Egypt and was the court physician.

    The Radbaz (1479-1573) says the ban applies only to permanent settlement; Maimonides, he argues, did not mean to stay but had to remain because of his court post. The Maharshal (17th century) says the ban operates only when the Jewish people are a free people in their own land; until then we have to live wherever we can.

    Maimonides himself might have felt that being an eminent person in Egypt might allow him to influence the rulers to facilitate a Jewish return to Israel.

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