The Ingathering of Exiles Is Central to the Mission of the Jewish State

September 2, 2021 | Gershon Hacohen
About the author: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian fronts. Today he directs many of the IDF’s war-simulation exercises.

In a recent interview, Israel’s minister of Diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, stated that he does not consider encouraging immigration to Israel as one of his goals. Gershon Hacohen responds, calling calling Shai’s statement a “negation of the essence and purpose of Zionism.”

Returning to the Land of Israel is a national-religious obligation, and also obliges the Jews who already live here. A state, like intimacy and love, . . . needs to be nurtured and regenerated daily. A state is in a constant process of establishment—especially the Jewish state, where the ingathering of the exiles is its “yearning, destiny, and mission,” [in the words of David Ben-Gurion]. Being strong and prosperous is not an end in itself; the Jewish state must be strong and prosperous in order to accomplish its fundamental mission and destiny.

It is not for nothing that the term aliyah—roughly meaning “ascent”—cannot be accurately translated, as it does not exist in any other language. [It] is not equivalent to “immigration.” The Hebrew word aliyah refers to one thing only: Jews coming to Israel. . . . This is the context in which Jewish immigration and emigration are defined: there is one and only homeland, and a Jew living anywhere else is outside it.

Even during the aliyah of Ezra and Nehemiah, in the early days of the Second Temple, most Jews chose to remain in the Babylonian exile. As the [traditional festival liturgy states], “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land and moved away from our land.” Jews [still] pray three times a day: “May a great shofar sound our freedom and act as a miracle to gather our dispersed people.”

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