Close up picture of a red herring head

Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.

For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.

Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.

Let me ask you something:

Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?

I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s explore another example.

Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:

Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.

Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Do we agree with him?

What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:

Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!

Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.

[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].

Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.

Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?

If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.

Come listen to the Purim Megillah!

Come join us for the Pesach Seder!

Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!

Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?

Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?

That doesn’t sound right to me.

Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.

But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.

I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.

But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.

And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.

So what changed?

Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.

I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)

So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:

I realized this is what God wants.

And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.

There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.

The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.

So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?

Is that considered ‘lecturing’?

Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:

Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.

But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!

Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?

And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?

If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.

This is Judaism 101. This comes from

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.

Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:

“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”

Can you see the problem, here?

Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)

So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.

It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.

I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.

I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.

Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.

So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”,  it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.

4 replies
  1. Rivka Levy
    Rivka Levy says:

    Rachel, I love you too.

    I totally, 100% understand where you are coming from, and it sounds like a very testing situation that only prayer can resolve. (Email me your hebrew name, if you want, and I will add you to my list.)

    BUT – the problem here is that you can’t totally close down the discussion of moving to Israel because it’s (understandably) so hard for you to hear it. There are other people out there, other Jews, who perhaps have an easier path to moving here (although let’s be clear that it’s not ‘easy’ for anyone) and who need to have full information in order to make the right decision for themselves and their families.

    The spiritual benefits of being in Israel – even when we’re alive – are tremendous. No-one is arguing about that. I agree if someone can’t come (who genuinely wants to come), then that is God’s plan for them, and that it’s a very hard situation to be in, and the cause of a lot of suffering.

    But that suffering itself is valuable – it’s an atonement, a kapparah, for our sins. Is it nice? NO! It’s horrible. But if we are due some suffering anyway, God forbid, let it be because we want to make aliyah and can’t, and not some other way, lo alenu.

    Life is not meant to be easy.

    I know you are genuine about wanting to move, but many people are just looking for excuses to stay in their comfort zones, not just about Israel, but on so many different levels. As soon as we start dismissing mitzvot, and start closing down the discussion about what God really wants from us, it plays straight into the yetzer hara’s hands.

  2. Rachel Erman
    Rachel Erman says:

    But the simple truth is, people don’t like being bullied, and so this method very rarely works. I’ve heard of people who were very turned off by the Chabad tactics, for instance. An acquaintance of my husband, who lived in the States, for instance, was so tired of being bullied to enroll his children in a Jewish school that he chose to became Christian – just so that they’d leave him alone. Of course, it’s a very extreme example, but it shows that when you bully people even for the noblest ends and best causes, it might be unsuccessful at best and backfire at worst. You need to think of some other way to get people to observe mitzvos.

    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      I agree with you that people don’t like being bullied. I disagree that stating information about neo-Nazi groups in the US or sharing authentic Torah sources about what’s going to happen before Moshiach comes, like the war of Gog and Magog, is ‘bullying’.

      I write about many other things here on the site, not just making aliyah. In fact, it’s only recently I’ve started writing more about this topic – because that’s the direction God is sending my writing in – and I’m trying to be nuanced and helpful. Also, much of what I’ve been writing has been prompted by emails I’ve got from people in chutz l’aretz telling me how dire the situation is getting there, in so many different ways.

      So I think it’s possibly more accurate to say ‘people don’t like the truth’. Or, ‘people don’t like mussar’. Or, ‘people don’t like to leave their comfort zones, and re-examine their assumptions of what God really wants from them, and how much spiritual work they really need to do’. And that applies to so many things that I’ve run into ‘resistance’ about when I write about it, from anti-depressants and ‘broken brain’ science being a bunch of baloney, right through to kids just being our mirrors, the world being 6,000 years young, and Rav Berland being framed for crimes he didn’t commit.

      There is no ‘bullying’ going on, at least not on my website. I understand totally how hard all this stuff is, and that it really may not be possible for everyone to move, given their own tikkunim, circumstances, level of emuna and inner strength. But Chazal taught us, that even though we can’t complete the task, we also can’t totally ignore it and pretend it’s not relevant any more. This is a struggle many of us have with many mitzvot. Should I totally give up on trying to avoid lashon hara just because I fail at it every single day? Of course not! Am I ever going to be able to avoid lashon hara totally, 100%, 24/7? Of course not!

      So, I still try, I still acknowledge that there is work to be done, and I don’t start justifying and pretending that all the bad stuff I’m still doing is really OK, or that all the positive mitzvahs that I’m still not doing don’t matter and aren’t important. That is the path of self-deception and lies, and it leads to a very bad place emotionally and spiritually.

      So there is no bullying going on here. All there is a sharing of useful information.

      • Rachel Erman
        Rachel Erman says:

        I’m not accusing you of bullying, chas v’shalom. There is no bullying going on on your website, that’s for sure. The word “bullying” comes from the title of your article, after all. But you spoke very positively about actively encouraging people to do mitzvos, and my point was that in this one must be very careful. If someone feels (maybe wrongly) that he is being bullied, he is not going to listen, however right is the cause.


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