Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Municipal Rabbis’ Manifesto Against Selling or Renting Apartment to Non-Jews in the Land of Israel

Recently a large number of Israeli municipal rabbis published a "manifesto" that forbids the renting or selling of flats to non-Jews in the land of Israel (Palestine). The publication of the manifesto has caused a public uproar, with the group being attacked by secular and liberal religious Jews on the one hand, and by Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, the leader of the "Lithuanian" school of haredi Jewish, on the other.

The manifesto, its publication and the response (which is not over yet) are all worthy of separate and detailed discussion. But here I will make a few points.

The manifesto, though authored and signed by rabbis, is not formulated as a statement of Jewish law, even the sort of statement that would be on a pashkivil/poster in orthodox neighborhoods. There are few citations of halakhic authorities, and no hint of disagreements or divergences within the literature. There is a confusion between two separate prohibitions, lo tehanem (lit. "You shall show them no mercy," but understood by the rabbis as "You shall not give them any resting place in the land"), and lo yeshvu (lit., "they shall not dwell in the land.") There is no recognition that some rabbinic authorities don't view these prohibitions as applying nowadays for various reasons. As Rabbi Elyashiv (or his personal secretary pointed out), the leniency allowed by Rabbi Abraham ha-Kohen Kook that allows Jews to sell land the land to Arabs in the shmittah year, once a major dispute between religious Zionist rabbis and the haredim, assume that neither prohibition applies today (at least not in their full force) And there are arguments brought in the manifesto that have never been adduced in serious halakhic discussion before (e.g., "selling an apartment to a non-Jew lowers the price of the surrounding houses and causes monetary loss to Jews"; one could make the same argument to prohibit selling apartments to religious Jews in secular neighborhoods.)

This manifesto should be compared with one signed by leading haredi rabbis who opposed the Gaza disengagement five and a half years ago.

We wish to make manifest our opinion – the opinion of Torah (daas Torah) -- that it is forbidden to sell land or a house in the Land of Israel to a gentile, even one who does not worship idols or an Ishmaelite (Arab), even where there is a great loss or emergency, for it is the opinion of all the early authorities that it is forbidden to sell land in the Land of Israel to a gentile who did not accept upon himself the seven Noahide commandments

Nissim Karelitz, Aharon Yehuda Lebi Steinman, Michal Yehuda Leifkowitz, Hayim Kanievsky, Zalman Nahman Goldberg

Note that the phrases introduced by "even" betray the halakhic complexity of the issue, although the last sentence overstates the case. In any event, it should be pointed out that the above haredi rabbis were reacting to a different circumstance – the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and not the sale or rental of flats to Israeli citizens. Still, this was a fairly unusual proclamation, solicited by the opponents of the withdrawal, and, as far as I know, unprecedented in other Israeli withdrawals. The relevance of lo tehanem to territorial compromise has been debated by everybody dealing with the subject. Rabbi Elyashiv himself was sympathetic to the rabbis opposing the disengagement, and his own position in the current case is hardly a liberal one. He, too, apparently forbids the sale of property to non-Jews if it can be done discreetly, but fears that the blowback to the public declaration will endanger Jews in Israel and abroad. The hard-line position of the haredi rabbis has its halakhic ancestry in the well known responsum of the Hazon Ish against Rabbi Kook's leniency. The Hazon Ish labored to build an extremely strong brief against any sort of leniency in selling land in order to allow secular Zionist pioneers to work the land. It had nothing to do with the question of renting or selling flats to Arab residents of Israel.

What we have in the manifesto is not a halakhic document but a political/philosophical document that draws on certain Jewish precedent to give it weight. One can find similar documents authored by Muslim authorities, or simply tribalist bigots like the segregationists in the American South, or xenophobic politicians and legislators in today's Europe (and in Israel). The voice may be the voice of Jewish tradition, but the underlying philosophy is that of tribalistic bigots everywhere. Take away the halakhic rhetoric and you will have the view of most Israeli Jews, who will not countenance a blanket law forbidding the sale of property to Arabs, but who will favor laws that allow communities to decide whether they want to accept Arabs as residents. The fact that advantaging your own kind means disadvantaging the other is not recognized by most Israelis, secular or religious.

The publication of the manifesto is interesting in its own right because its signatories are public officials, supported by the state. In my opinion, this should be the focus of the public response. Public officials have been disciplined in the past for voicing public opposition to the first Lebanese war; government employees are expected not to call to disobey laws that forbid discrimination in housing. As for the Jewish religious response, one should expect these rabbis not to be invited, honored, or included by the moderate orthodox. When the Orthodox Union, for example, publishes the sermons of such rabbis on their website, they should be called on it by the few liberal orthodox Jews left in that movement. Of course, this will have little effect, because of the downhill slide of much of modern orthodox Jewry into what one may call "Kahanism lite."

As for the response- well, I suppose we should be thankful that most of the Israeli public (though agreeing with much of its discriminatory attitude towards gentiles) is still not ready to accept a blanket proclamation of this sort.

But, once again, serious Jews should ask themselves – what do we have to blame for this perversion of Judaism, and why it is so deeply entrenched in the Jewish state?

And the answer is simple. Take an intensely nationalist movement and interpret in the most ethnic way imaginable; then force the establishment of a state against the wishes of the inhabitants; give educational autonomy to the most illiberal elements of society; allow them to become drunk with the power over the Arabs; foster parochialism, narrow-mindedness, and religious chauvinism, take away the influence from gentile society and the fear of goyyim, and you have this extremely unattractive thing called "Israeli Judaism," or at least a large part of it.

Has Israel been good for the Jews? Maybe. Has it been good for Jewish religion?

Hizhakta oti – you made me laugh.


Shmuel said...

Excellent post, Jerry. The reasoning behind this and similar "psakim" indeed appears to be extremely weak - even clutching at straws like "the poor of your city take precedence", arguing that one may not rent to non-Jews as long as there may be Jews in need of rentals.

The interpretation of "lo tehonem" as applying to all non-Jews in perpetuity (or even considering all "Arabs" as being "at war with us") leaves so much to be desired as to lead to one possible conclusion: "What we have in the manifesto is not a halakhic document but a political/philosophical document that draws on certain Jewish precedent to give it weight".

The reasoning of "not being influenced by their ways" is equally surreal, and detached from modern Israeli reality - except for the part of Israeli reality marked by prejudice and bigotry, that is.

Halakhah has always been influenced by contemporary ideas and circumstances. The influence exerted on Halakhah by Jewish power and privilege within an ethnocentric polity has not been for the better, and has affected (infected?) non/anti-Zionist as well as Zionist decisors.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you saw this:

"If this is the concern in Israel, then a ruling can be worded appropriately. Indeed, I can’t see why selling to a non-religious Jew — who will ignore a beis din‘s rulings — is any different than selling to a gentile. Nor can I see why selling to a respectable gentile is problematic. A prohibition, if necessary at all, can easily be worded in terms of maintaining neighborhood safety rather than race or religion. Homeowners should respect their neighbors and not rent to dangerous people, regardless of race or religion, who will make the neighborhood less safe."

Jerry Haber said...

Thanks, Nathan. I read Gil's post and left a comment. Here we have a stark contrast between an orthodox Jew in the diaspora -- and Gil Student is deeply orthodox -- and his Israeli counterparts. As the European influence (and not just European, but rather gentile influence) wears off on Judaism, it becomes closer to radical Islamic fundamentalism. See the end of my post.

Unknown said...

And this reaffirms your orthodox beliefs?- Perhaps what is not working is not only Israel, but the fact the halakhic process has gone off the rails and can't adjust to Jews in the majority or Jews in a liberal democracy. Not only will Zionism emerge badly scarred if at all, from the state of things in Israel, but halakhic Judaism as well.

Eyal said...

as a cultural/secular/borderline atheist Jew, this is the only approach that would make my kids and your kids consider themselves the same Jews. Kol Hakavod.