The Halakhic Critique of the Ruling by Rabbi Michael Abraham

December 2010

The declaration by a group of Rabbis prohibiting the rental of apartments to Arabs has given rise to a series of responses for and against. Many of them – from both sides of the argument – are biased, selective and misleading.

For that reason, it is important to explain that we are speaking about a document that is full of distortions, is demagoguic and enlists Halakhic sources to promote a cause. We have before us a political pamphlet whose authors suffer from poor discretion. They harness halachic sources to justify and explain their opinions and that exacerbates the damage even more.

The declaration constitutes Hillul Hashem – desecration of the Divine name. It may also endanger Jews in the Diaspora. Worst of all, there is an abuse of Torah, an improper interpretation that is not Halakhah.

Whoever wrote it needs to go back and start his learning all over again and to relinquish his right to teach in Israel.

Of course, there are clear Halakhic sources that prohibit selling land in Israel to non-Jews (with various methods applying to various groups) and also some prohibitions against marrying non-Jews. Painful security and social problems have also been mentioned. But the absurd mixture of arguments in the declaration, some of which relate only to particular groups and some to Jews too, make a mockery, blending truth with lies, making the whole document into a lie that takes the name of God in vain.

True legal thinking recognizes the complexity of reality. ‘Authorities’ are those who base their rulings on a broad, all-encompassing perspective rather than a simplistic picture. They are aware of changing circumstances and legal developments over time. But the authors of this manifesto have no perspective. They ignored, for example, that the prohibition “lo tehonem”(‘not to make a treaty with them’) is regarded by many Halakhic authorities not to apply to residents who have lived continuously in the land, and the serious authorities of today have ruled that most of the people to whom this ban would apply fit into that category. They also ignored the fact that even without the continuous residency argument, most of the discriminatory provisions of law only the applied to the ancient nations and not to the nations of today.

They also choose to ignore that physical violence and terrorism is a threat only from a hostile Arab minority, and certainly cannot be said to apply to Gentiles in general. Regarding their attempts to portray housing values as a matter for Jewish law, I would make the point that Jewish law does not prohibit the renting of houses in Tel Aviv to ultra-Orthodox Jews whose presence might ‘ruin the neighborhood’ or to provide shelters for children or families in crisis. They choose to forget the clear and simple words of the late Rabbi Herzog, “In a democratic country one can not discriminate against non-Jews, however one understands the prohibition, ‘not to make a treaty with them’.”

There is fear of a hostile takeover of state land and assets. The problem of intermarriage is complex. Jews can not live in Arab states. All these matters require courage to tackle; there is nothing definitive written and there is not yet consensus about them and there needs to be. However, this cannot be achieved using false and simplistic interpretations of the law and ignoring basic rules of morality.

According to such a simplistic interpretation of sources, not taking into account the changes of circumstances, there would be flogging of unruly women, throwing Jews who do not believe into pits, prohibiting women’s Torah study, even perhaps taking “eye for an eye” literally. But the art of religious law is a combination of sources and application to changing circumstances. Those who fail to understand that, have no idea what Jewish law is.

In the present context, two conclusions emerge: First, the rabbis of cities are civil servants and if their preaching violates state law, that requires their dismissal. (By the way, respecting the rule of law also is a religious value). Secondly, anyone who interprets legal sources in such a perverted and immoral way, who is so seriously deficient in his grasp of reality and values of Israeli society, renders his halakhic discretion invalid and is unworthy to hold any rabbinical position.

We can only pray to see fulfilled our prayer to “restore our judges as in the times gone by and our counselors as before. ”

Rabbi Michael Abraham has a PhD in Physics and teaches at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute for Advanced Torah Studies