Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Renting to Arabs: An Initial take

R. Aharon Lichtenstein has issued a letter in response to the call by R. Shmuel Eliyahu and others to ban the rental of housing to Arabs in Jewish areas. The reason for this is the abuse of this right by Arab tenants (not all) who blatantly disrespect the religious and quotidien sensitivities of the (generally, Orthodox or Traditional) Jewish residents of Safed. In addition, there is serious reason to think that some of this Arab activity is being underwritten by the Palestinian Authority, for blatantly political reasons.

Nevertheless, it is my conviction that this action by these rabbis was fundamentally wrong, and led to a terrible Hillul HaShem.

My reasons for saying so are:

1) The Hillul HaShem is an expression of their inability to communicate Jewish concerns in a manner that can command anything close to respect. Indeed, the entire situation reminds me of the way the Rambam characterizes the first of the three approaches to Drashot of Hazal. Certainly the result is precisely as Rambam describes there, that the average person ends up mocking the Torah (or worse)

2) The issue is not whether there is a problem (there is). The issue is whether this is a properly halakhic issue (very questionable), and whether it should be pushed as an halakhic issue (IMHO, absolutely, positively not). The reasons for the latter require more careful formulation. Suffice it to say that issuing halakhic diktats, which are moot (at best) is counter productive.

3) Such declarations are only as effective as the number of followers one has, and usually end up ignored. This further undermines rabbinic authority and credibility. Like excommunications, they only testify to weakness, not strength.

4) These rabbis, in particular, lack the ability to be understood by the average person whose awareness of Post-Modern Liberal ideas is far greater than his awareness of Halakhah. They are thus, willy nilly, open to a specious charge of racism.
Making this into a halakhic issue automatically puts the Torah in the sights of the anti-religious Left who control the media and distort the news. This, in turn, empowers the Left to beat up more on the Torah and alienate Traditionally minded, uneducated Jews.

What should be done is for rabbis to learn to speak in political and human rights terms. One should point out that respect goes two ways; that Arabs who live in Jewish neighborhoods must also respect the needs of their Jewish neighbors. Hamulot do move into houses, so the local authorities have to be constantly badgered to follow zoning laws and landlords could be forced to file bonds against infractions. often do so as political actions.

More to the point, the rabbis and allies should go in the Human Rights offensive. If Arabs want to live in Jewish areas, groups of Jews should settle in towns with deep Jewish historical resonance (Sakhnin, Shefaram, Gush Halav etc.) We should tell the Left to put up or shut up about Shimon ha-Tzaddiq (Sheikh Jarash). IOW, this is a political issue so the tools of politics must be used.

Once again, the weakness of a rabbinate that hasn't a clue about general culture and discourse undermines our attempts to judaize the country and to struggle over Eretz Yisrael. Personally, I have no illusions about the signatories to this letter. They are almost all on record against secular education, against gaining the tools to lead to respect of Torah by those who do not accept its discipline.

In a word, the cause is legitimate. The personnae, the means, the mode, the effect and the implications are wrong. Dead wrong.


Anonymous said...

agree with pretty much everything. an important point which undergirds basically everything you are saying is the crying need for broader education among the rabbinate.

Michael Lipkin said...

Very well said. You've articulated the main points I've also been trying to make. The only thing I'd add, and you covered this in general terms, is that the ban as stated greatly undermines our many friends and supporters around the world who's support is often based on our "shared values".

Nachum said...

All due respect to R' Aharon, but it's good to hear the point of view from someone without an odd (and never apologized for) soft spot for the whole peace process debacle.

Anonymous said...

None of the rabbanim, including R Lichtenstein, have acknowledged the non "halachic" dimensions. So no one ends up talking about the real issues.

YMedad said...

I put you up at my post.

Y. Ben-David said...

Questions regarding the Rav's letter:
Does the lenient opinion of Tosafot regarding a Jew being able to accept a higher bid from a non-Jew apply in Eretz Israel? Does it apply in what is considered a "Jewish neighborhood" in Eretz Israel or outside it? Does it take into account that here in Eretz Israel the Arabs (as a group) view themselves as being in a permanent state of war with the Jews and that intend to retake possession of the land in the country? Would the Rav himself sell his house to an Arab, or would be be "machmir" like the RAMBAM on himself and not do so? If a prince from an Arab Gulf State were to come to Alon Shevut and offer 30 residents there twice the value of the houses in order to purchase them and set up a neighborhood for Arabs, would the Rav say they should take this good offer, according to Tosafot? Would the Rav say that the yishuv should set aside public land in the yishuv then be set aside for a mosque to be built for the convenience of the new residents?

ellen said...

"The Hillul HaShem is an expression of their inability to communicate Jewish concerns in a manner that can command anything close to respect."

Thank you for this thought. It says it all.

Tzvi Haber said...

you may find this post enlightening - a halachic perspective.

Esser Agaroth said...


Dude, all of Jewish life falls within the scope of halacha, including how to run a [truly] Jewish government, how to fight a war.

You will realize this when you finally stop confusing Western culture and sensibilities with Torah.

This is nothing less than a product of 1,700 yrs. of galuth.

Funny that you mention the Ramba"m. You may want to review Hil. Avodah Zara pereq 10. (Please use an uncensored version e.g. R' Qafah or Maqbili)

BTW, Hillul HaShem is a halachic status of an action or actions. Yet, you have failed to state how this was a Hillul HaShem al pi halacha.

R' Shmuel Eliyahu presented a halachic argument. If you want to refute it, please do so with halachic sources.

P. S. When are the Mamlakhti FINALLY going to see that there ARE stiroth between halacha and Israeli Law, and that those stiroth are on the steady increase?

Esser Agaroth On The RCA

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