Three dozen top Israeli rabbis, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, threw their support Tuesday behind a religious ruling barring Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews — an indication of growing radicalism within the rabbinical community at a time of mounting friction between Israeli Arabs and Jews.
Top Israel rabbis: Don't sell property to non-Jews
JERUSALEM (AP) — Three dozen top Israeli rabbis threw their support Tuesday behind a religious ruling barring Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews — an indication of growing radicalism within the rabbinical community at a time of mounting friction between Israeli Arabs and Jews.
The action by the clerics — who are chief rabbis in some of Israel's largest cities and influential among the devout — quickly fueled charges of racism. It was also likely to deepen the feelings of alienation growing between Israel's majority Jews and minority Arabs, and widen the schism between secular and religious Jews.
The religious opinion first became a focus of controversy last year when the chief rabbi of Safed — a town in northern Israel that has a large concentration of devout Jews — urged that it be applied specifically to Arabs.
Nitai Morgenstern, an aide to Safed's chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliahu, said the town has "a problem of a lot of people renting and selling to Arabs, and that destroys the city's social fabric."
Recently, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews asked other chief rabbis to express their support for the ruling to prove it has widespread backing, Morgenstern said Tuesday. Thirty-seven rabbis signed it and The Associated Press obtained a copy of the ruling with their signatures attached on Tuesday.
Morgenstern said he understood how this attitude could cause friction with the Arab minority, which accounts for one-fifth of Israel's population of 7.6 million.
"But people have to see the other side," he said.
Amit Cohen said he and other Safed residents led the campaign to win other rabbis' support because clerics are "simply fed up with the fact that rabbis have to fear issuing or discussing religious rulings."
"Rabbis rule on the basis of existing texts," Cohen said. "But lately, rabbis are afraid to rule on the basis of what is written because they are afraid of the reaction from the media and the government."
The director-general of Israel's chief rabbinate, Oded Weiner, said the rabbinate hadn't seen the rabbis' action and wouldn't comment on it.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "condemn the incitement expressed by the rabbis and take disciplinary action against those who are employed by the state."
"It is unthinkable that they would use their public status to promote racism and incitement," the group said in a statement. Taxpayers pay the salaries of Israel's 126 municipal chief rabbis.
A Netanyahu spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.
Arab-Jewish relations took a major turn for the worse 10 years ago at the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising against Israel. Thousands of Israeli Arabs rioted for days in solidarity with the Palestinians, and Israeli police killed 13 Arab citizens while trying to quell the unrest.
Israel's ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, led his Yisrael Beitenu party to large gains in last year's parliamentary elections by playing on the perceived disloyalty of Israel's Arabs. He and other lawmakers have proposed a series of bills seen as discriminating against Israeli Arabs, including one that would allow small communities to exclude them.
Israeli Jews have increasingly been questioning the loyalty of Arab citizens, who legally enjoy the same rights but tend to be poorer and discriminated against in state funding and job opportunities.
Meanwhile, some members of the Arab minority have become radicalized by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are openly speaking about turning the Jewish state into part of a binational state that would be home to Israelis and Palestinians both.
Salah Mohsen, spokesman of Adalah, an advocacy group for Arabs in Israel, said the rabbis' action was "not surprising" and blamed Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party, which wants to redraw Israel's borders to exclude large Arab communities.
Rabbi David Rosen, the interfaith adviser to Israel's chief rabbinate, described the rabbis' action as "disturbing" but said he did not think that the majority of the country's rabbis would agree and called it a product of the lingering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
"The rabbinate as a whole isn't xenophobic or hostile to Arabs," Rosen said. "As long as the conflict goes on here, it's logical to assume that the attitudes of all sides will harden, which is deeply regrettable."
Sociologist Menachem Friedman suggested the ruling could also be applied against impoverished African migrants, such as Eritreans and Sudanese, whose influx has raised concern of many in Israel.
The government estimates that about 13,000 Africans will illegally enter Israel this year, joining more than 20,000 others who came between 2006 and 2009. Some are economic migrants and others are asylum-seekers.
Their growing numbers have created a great dilemma here with some saying that a state founded in the wake of the Holocaust shouldn't turn away people escaping persecution. Officials say they threaten to dilute the country's Jewish character and are working to stem the influx.
Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid and Daniel Estrin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.
The JTA reports that those rabbis signing the letter include:
the chief rabbis of Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Letzion, Carmiel, Gadera, Afula, Nahariya, Herzliya, Nahariya and Pardes Hannah. Top national-religious Rabbi Shlomo Aviner signed the letter, as did Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, son of the Shas Party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Top haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv also signed.
But see the 12-9-10 update below where Ha'aretz has Rabbi Elyashiv opposing the ban.
Ynet puts the number of rabbis who signed at 50:
50 municipal rabbies: Don't rent flats to Arabs
Leasing land to non-Jews blasphemous, anyone violating ban may be ostracized, rabbis say
Kobi Nahshoni • Ynet
Dozens of municipal rabbis signed a manifest ordering a halachic ban on selling or renting land and apartments in Israel to non-Jews.
The document, which was endorsed by more than 50 national-religious and ultra-Orthodox rabbis working in municipalities across Israel, is slated to be disseminated through the religious press and fliers handed out in synagogues over the weekend.
The signatories include rabbis Dov Lior, Shlomo Aviner and Ya'akov Yosef. Most rabbis are public servants working in municipalities and cities across Israel including Eilat, Ashdod, Herzliya, Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, Naharia, and Holon.
The signatures were collected by a kolel student from Netanya who chose to appeal to municipal chief rabbies following the uproar caused by Safed rabbi's call not to rent apartments to Arab students in the city. He approached the public servants and not yeshiva heads in order to emphasize that the ruling does not reflect a political view but rather a standard halachic ban.
The statement quotes a variety of halachic passages referring to the issue and notes that in some cases persons renting apartments to non-Jews could be ostracized.
"The neighbors and acquaintances of the seller or renter must warn him personally first and later they are allowed to make this matter public, distance themselves from him, avoid commercial ties, and so on," the statement reads.
The rabbis presented various justifications for the ban, including fears of intermarriage and blasphemy. The statement added that sellers bear responsibility for the physical and spiritual outcomes of their actions.
'Lives on the line'
The document further warned that whoever rents apartments to non-Jews is causing great damage to his neighbors as "their way of life is different than that of the Jews." Among non-Jews one can also find enemies who may endanger the lives of Jews, the rabbis said.
Their statement suggested there was no difference between a person who rents out an apartment to a non-Jew in Israel and a person who does so within Jewish neighborhoods abroad.
The organizers have yet to obtain the signatures of senior haredi rabbis but enclosed a statement issued by leading rabbis five years ago. Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky, Nissim Karelitz, and Aharon Leib Shteinman said at the time that land or homes in Israel cannot be sold to gentiles.
Update 12-8-10 – According to Ha'aretz, Rabbi Shteinman did not sign this time:
Leading Haredi rabbi refuses to endorse letter forbidding the rental of homes to Arabs
"What if there was a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews?" asks Rabbi Steinman.
By Yair Ettinger • Ha’aretz
Although the authors of the rabbinical edict forbidding the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews managed to collect the signatures of 39 leading rabbis around the country, they failed to enlist a leading Haredi rabbi, chair of the Degel Hatorah Council of Sages, Aaron Leib Steinman.
Steinman refused an audience with Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu this week, when the latter arrived to pray at the former's courtyard in an attempt to convince the Bnei Brak spiritual leader to sign the letter instructing Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs or any other non-Jews.
A source that was present at the scene said, "As soon as Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu introduced himself, Rabbi Steinman, who knew why he was being approached, said 'I won't sign,' and immediately left the room." Steinman, who is 96 years old, then discussed the right-wing initiative with members of his inner circle.
One of Steinman's confidants related the rabbi's words to Haaretz: "They are making a fierce nationalistic statement. We will not irritate others, that is not the Haredi way. There are things that should not be done; what if there would be a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews? Where is the public conscience? What will this do to Jews around the world? We must act responsibly."
Some Zionist rabbis also refused to sign the edict. Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi and revered Zionist Torah adjudicator Yaakov Ariel said, "The former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, already adjudicated that, despite the Biblical prohibition 'Thou shalt not give them respite,' in a democratic state you cannot discriminate between citizens. What's more, it will cause discrimination against Jews in other countries."
Maale Gilboa Yeshiva head Rabbi Yehuda Gilad said in response to the rabbis' letter on Tuesday, "This ruling is a serious distortion of the Torah, and contradicts basic human morality."
Gilad continued, "We can only imagine what would be [Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's] reaction if he would hear of a case outside of Israel where the authorities forbade the rental of homes to Jews."
Update 12-9-10 – Ha'aretz quotes Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as opposing the ban:
The leading rabbi of Israel's non-Hasidic Orthodox sector, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, also denounced the religious ruling. "I've said for some time that there are rabbis who must have their pens taken away from them," Elyashiv remarked.
"It's interesting that these same Zionist rabbis support symbolically selling their land to gentiles during the shmita year," he added referring to the seven-year cycle when agricultural fields in Israel must lie fallow.