Affirming the Image of God: Response to the ruling against renting to Non-Jews

December 2010

Recent weeks have witnessed a flurry of public declarations concerning the statement of a group of Israeli rabbis, prohibiting the sale or rental of houses to Arabs, or more broadly to non-Jews. Many important voices have been sounded, and these might make our own voice superfluous. Nevertheless, as scholars contributing to the Elijah Institute’s project ‘Towards A Contemporary Jewish Theology of the Other’, we feel obligated to add our own voice to this conversation.

Several months ago we issued a statement condemning the teachings of Torat Hamelekh, and pointing to the necessity of developing contemporary halakhic, theoretical and educational positions and resources concerning Jewish attitudes to non-Jews. We could not have imagined at the time that this issue would become a major headline in local and international news, nor that it would follow several problematic and xenophobic statements recently made by some leading members of Israel’s rabbinate. We therefore wish to point to our earlier statement and to draw its implications for the present discussion on sale or rental of homes to non-Jews. We express our dismay at the fact that chief rabbis of cities and others also holding official state-sponsored positions have taken this stance, which in our view is inappropriate, ignores important halakhic voices and is harmful to Judaism and Jews, in multiple ways.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, and guarantees freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, and promises that the State will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. Most important, in religious terms, the Torah, which commands us to love our fellow Jew (re’a, in the rabbinic understanding of Leviticus 19:18) also clearly states that just as God loves the alien (ger), we are commanded to “love the alien, for you were aliens in the Land of Egypt” (Shmot 22:21 ).

Many leading Rabbis, have condemned the letter. We wish to add our voice to those calls for moderation and reason in the application of halakhah. As a way of engaging this problematic rabbinic position, we herewith offer an English translation of a critique of it that appeared recently in Hebrew by Rabbi Dr. Michael Avraham (who holds a Ph.D. in physics and teaches at Bar Ilan University’s Institute for Advanced Torah Studies). We thank the author for the right to translate his work and assume responsibility for the translation itself.

Scholars from the Elijah Jewish Theology project

The Halakhic Critique of the Ruling by Rabbi Michael Abraham