Article first published as “Don’t Rent” Rabbis Face Racism Charges on Technorati.
Criminal action may be taken against Israeli Orthodox rabbis forbidding people to sell or rent properties to non-Jews. They could also face dismissal.
Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Centre says in her latest newsletter:
“Just after the (rabbis’) announcement was made public, we wrote a letter directly to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General and we also signed a letter along with over 20 other organisations in the Coalition Against Racism committed to fighting this discrimination.
“We also authored a letter in a new coalition called the Alliance Against Darkness, a group of Jewish organisations working against the growing trend of extremism and hatred of non-Jews. In addition, the Reform rabbinic association, MARAM, issued a public statement condemning the call and denying its roots in Judaism.
”This week, millions of Israelis reading Hebrew newspapers online will see our media campaign, sign our Israeli petition, and write personal letters to the Minister of Justice, vehemently condemning the misconduct of these rabbis – public servants who have abused their positions and perverted Judaism to promote hate.
”Already our actions have led the Attorney General to begin criminal investigations of these rabbis for incitement to racism and Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly condemned them”.
Hoffman and her colleagues are only the tip of an volcano of erupted fury against the rabbis’ edict which has swept Israel since it was made public late last week. Dozens of ultra-Orthodox municipal rabbis signed the original letter – although some later recanted – warning people that leasing land to non-Jews (really Arabs and migrant workers) was blasphemous and that those violating the ban would be ostracised. The signatories claimed fears of intermarriage and blasphemy were behind the ruling and warned that potential vendors bore responsibility for the physical and spiritual outcomes of their actions.
But instead of the support they expected, the signatories who included Rabbi Avraham Margalit of Karmiel, are themselves facing a criminal investigation for alleged incitement to racism.
Some ultra Orthodox authorities have bucked the trend claiming that their counterparts were ‘twisting Torah’ values while the head of the Petach Tikva Hedser Yeshiva (Talmudic Academy) said: “Jewish sovereignty cannot exist without caring for the foreigners living among us”.
Those expressing total condemnation of the ruling range from the Prime Minister to Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, who heads the Maaleh Gilboa Yeshiva. He said the ruling was a "grave twisting of the Torah, in a manner that contradicts basic moral and human values."
The row has been brewing since October following a controversial statement by Tzfat’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu who urged residents not to rent apartments to Arab students studying at the local college.
Meanwhile Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has stressed that the matter is not merely one of Jewish law, as political and security considerations must also be made before undertaking such ruling. For that reason, Rabbi Metzger decided not to bring the issue up at this week’s Chief Rabbinate's Council and will not be endorsing his colleagues’ ruling.
However, Ilan Gilon M.K., has demanded the rabbis’ dismissal.
"Municipal rabbis are public servants funded by the public … we are witnessing a spreading epidemic of racism and xenophobia, and we should act firmly”. Fellow M.K. Nitzan Horowitz also urged their dismissal.
"This is racism of the lowest type, which comes from the mouths of rabbis who receive their salaries from their state, yet are only preoccupied with fanning the flames of hatred and ruining Israeli democracy. The rabbis are taking advantage of their status in order to engage in grave incitement that should prompt the launch of a criminal probe”.
Now resident in Karmiel for eight months I am beginning to see dark clouds on the horizon of the town’s relentless holiday air. First, we were treated to the antics of sacked former vice mayor, Oren Milstein and now we find Orthodox Rabbi Avraham Margalit is among signatories to the controversial letter which urged something uncomfortably similar to what Mr Milstein attempted.
I repeat what I’ve written before: As Karmielis we live in a largely secular town which has pockets of Jewish ultra-Orthodoxy. There is also a significantly large irreligious Russian population who eat non-kosher and even mark some sort of Christmas festival although they have immigrated to Israel as Jews.
Furthermore we live alongside many Arabs both in town and the surrounding villages. We should welcome them as neighbours, not treat them as hostile foes. The way to reduce, if not to end terrorism and hatred, is a long, slow process through down-to-earth friendliness; by being respectful and remembering there were Arabs living in the Galilee for many years while we Jews were in enforced exile.
The land, no matter who we are or where we are from, is entrusted to us for our safe-keeping during our lifetimes. It is NOT ours in perpetuity. It would behove both Arab and Jew to remember this.
A thousand absurd rabbinical rulings will not stop intermarriage any more than they can stop new life. The phenomenon happens occasionally everywhere. Jews do not and cannot live in a vacuum. This is why every few years we learn of ‘out-marriages’ among the progeny of super-Orthodox families and also those who are moderately observant.
This is neither ‘blasphemy’ nor a cause for ‘sitting shiva’ (mourning) for children as if they had died. Intermarriage may be viewed as nature’s way of restoring the balance when it is undermined by an excess of intra-marriage which too often brings in its wake genetic diseases like Tay Sachs and Familial Dysautonomia. These are conditions which are found specifically among Jewish families or in tight-knit isolated communities like those still found in rural Ireland.