Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Tue Dec 7, 2010 9:37am EST

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Dozens of Israeli rabbis, some of them civil servants, issued an appeal on Tuesday telling locals not to sell or rent property to non-Jews, drawing condemnation from lawmakers and human rights activists.

The open letter underscored Jewish-Arab tensions that have deepened along with Israel's deadlocked Palestinian conflict, as well as more recent demographic fears triggered by an influx of illegal African migrants.

"The Land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel," Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod and one of the 41 signatories, told Israel's Army Radio when asked about the letter.

Obtained by Reuters ahead of its planned publication in synagogues and religious journals, the letter quotes warnings by ancient sages that living with non-Jews can lead to "sacrilege." Other concerns for property values are also raised.

I can't find the full text of this letter anywhere online. Presumably it will become available when it is actually published. (If the writers don't have sense enough now to cancel publication.) In a CNN article another line from the letter is quoted as: "In answer to many questions, we reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or field in Israel to a gentile."

Since no specific passages from ancient texts are cited, it is difficult to comment in any specific way about their use. In general, it is true that some biblical passages and passages in the early rabbinic texts warn Israelites/Jews not to associate with their pagan polytheist neighbors because of the danger of adopting their idolatrous ways. Polytheistic and idolatrous rites permeated pagan societies, since there was no distinction between religion and other elements of society in those times. Nevertheless, polytheists who adopted Israelite ways, including monotheistic devotion to the Israelite God, were welcome. Conversion wasn't particularly encouraged at any period (and is a massively complicated topic that I won't go into here), but it was accepted if outsiders wanted to join up (see, e.g., the Book of Ruth).

The point here is that such biblical and rabbinic passages were aimed at very specific social circumstances a long time ago. It is disingenuous and unhelpful to try to apply them today to, apparently, Muslims – that is, fellow monotheists – in a pluralistic society where societal structures allow and indeed assume that people will practice different religious faiths peaceably in the same society.

The writers of this letter have the right to express their views, but I wish they would keep the ancient texts out it.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Pitkowsky points me to the full Hebrew text of the letter here. He also comments at the Menachem Mendel blog.