May a Jew Travel For Pleasure?

Over the years I’ve gone through some fascinating travel books. Not only guidebooks like Lonely Planet and such, but also books that address the essence and spirit of travel and explain how best to maximize the experience irrespective of where you decide to go.

Some of my favorites:

  • “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”  and the sequel “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer” by Rolf Potts.
  • “Traveler’s Tool Kit: How to Travel Absolutely Anywhere!” by Rob Sangster
  • “The Four Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss
  • “The Road Junky Travel Handbook”,
  • The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton, and other books.

I’ve seen a few good travel films too on the essence of backpacking like “A Map for Saturday” by Brook Silva-Braga.

One thing they have all have in common is to encourage travel for the sake of the journey and not to arrive somewhere in particular. They see travel as a way of life, to explore the world, meet with people and cultures, taste (literally and figuratively) what life has to offer. It is also an inner journey to know oneself on the way and develop one’s potential. Some might call it a “geographical cure” (like driving from New York to L.A.) to find insight or inner peace on the way.

As I read those books I too get a craving to travel more. G-d has given us a beautiful world, so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to do, and why not see all that I can while I can still do it? Call it Wanderlust or whatever. I have it, and travel books just make the feeling grow and grow…

traveling for pleasure | The Wandering Jew by By François Georgin (http://www2.ku.edu/~sma/almanac/peri8.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Wandering Jew
Then a little voice in my Jewish head begins to ask questions. I start to wonder about the value of travel for travel’s sake as a Jew. Is it good thing, is it bad or is it neutral?

(As a byline there are Rabbi’s who divide every act into two types; a “Mitzvah” – a positive action or an “Aveira” – a negative action AKA a “sin”. There are no neutral actions. Anything that doesn’t make you grow spiritually will pull you down. There are also Rabbi’s who accept the philosophical possibility of a neutral act. It can be good or bad and it can be neutral).

Is travel for travel’s sake and for pleasure a good thing or a bad thing for a Jew to do or maybe it’s neutral and it all depends on where you go, what you do on the way (and with whom…)?

I’d like to divide the answer into 3 parts:

  1. Traveling to the Land of Israel
  2. Traveling abroad from the Land of Israel
  3. Travel for the sake of travel

Traveling to the Land of Israel

Traveling to Israel whether for business, family, pleasure or whatever is a definite YES. It’s an absolutely awesome Mitzvah to visit the Land (and even better to live there permanently, but we won’t go into that now…). The Talmud states that every step we take walking around in Israel is a fulfillment of God’s Will. So if your Wanderlust takes you to the Holy Land, don’t hesitate for a moment (as long as passport and money is in order).

Leaving the Land of Israel

Leaving the land of Israel has specific Jewish Laws governing it. According to the Halacha (Jewish Law), one may not leave the Land of Israel just for pleasure alone. One may only go (even temporarily) for very good reasons:

  • To earn a living
  • To study Torah
  • To find a spouse

In reality, there is a bit of flexibility in this rule as one may also travel abroad for physical and mental health reasons, to visit one’s parents, to visit the grave-sites of Rabbinical figures and close family members, to visit the sites of the Holocaust and basically to fulfill a Mitzvah abroad.

CIA WorldFactBook-Political world

In my humble opinion this extra list gives a broad range of freedom of choice. After all, living in Israel might be a Good Deed, but it can also be challenging at times. Stresses pile up politically, socially &  personally, at work, at home, in the family and in marriage. Sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered, to take a break, disconnect from the day-to-day hassle and go abroad for a few days or weeks to clear the mind and soul.

We covered so far 2 out of 3 of the travel categories, and now we get to the issue of:

Traveling for Pleasure

Climbing the Kilimanjaro | traveling for pleasure
Climbing the Kilimanjaro

In my humble opinion when one travels to get rid of stress or any of the reasons mentioned, its pretty clear that travel can be good. But what about going on a 6 month backpacking journey across the Asian Continent? What about climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain in Tanzania (it’s the highest peak in Africa and takes over a week of heavy walking, including Shabbat, to make it to the peak)? How about kayaking the 7000 km route of the Amazon River or sailing across the Pacific?

To be honest I’m still struggling with the idea and haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. On one hand maybe a 6 month trip is good for the body and soul, but on the other hand…..

What’s your opinion?

To be continued…