Every year, thousands of Jews travel to Uman where the founder of the Breslov hassidic dynasty Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is buried, with some 30,000 visiting the site last year. Nachman is seen as a saintly figure for his spiritual and mystical teachings, and the mass pilgrimages to his grave have dramatically increased since the end of the Communist era and the opening up of Eastern Europe.
In a letter published on Monday, however, Stern observed that the current generation is uniquely privileged to live in the Land of Israel and to be able to visit all the holy sites in the country, including the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Mount Meron.
“But, behold, I hear of a massive organization of journeys to the burial sites of the righteous in non-Jewish lands, and not just on a weekday and for a vacation, but on Rosh Hashana, as if there, in particular, our prayers will be strengthened on the Day of Judgment,” wrote Stern.
He added that despite claims that Nachman had said those who visit his grave on Rosh Hashana would be blessed, he was sure that the hassidic master did not mean those who were living in Israel.
“No one should even think that he meant to say that people living in the holy land, the Land of Israel, where there is more blessing than any other place in the world [should go to his grave],” said Stern.
“The Land of Israel is holier than any other land and there is no better place for prayer in any part of it, and especially at the burial places of the patriarchs and the holy sages of the Talmud, needless to mention the Western Wall.”
Stern is not the first prominent rabbi to criticize the mass exodus of religious Jews, principally but not only Breslov hassidim, to Uman for Rosh Hashana.
The late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, one of the most revered arbiters of Jewish law in recent times, said on more than one occasion that men should stay in Israel and celebrate Rosh Hashana with their wives and families.