Fendel: In Defense of the Rabbi’s Ruling

by Hillel Fendel, INN

The Rabbis’ Letter forbidding Jews from selling homes in Israel to Arabs has become the latest controversy in Israel. It was placed on hold for a few days while the Carmel fire raged wildly around it, but is now comfortably back on the media’s “hot seat” – and the

Some 300 rabbis have expressed support for the ruling, while several mainstream rabbis have come out prominently against it. What is a bystander to think?

Here’s one opinion: The question is not so much one of technical Jewish Law, but rather this: Can Jews help Israel remain Jewish, or not?

It appears that the rabbis who signed on the ruling take very seriously accusations leveled at them in the past of “standing idly by,” “not being proactive,” and “ignoring dangers.” In fulfillment of the Mishnaic teaching, “Where there is no man, try to be a man,” they took bold and seemingly unpopular action to try to stem a tide that threatens to engulf all of us – reporters, modern rabbis, Jews in the Diaspora, and certainly the Jews of Tzfat, Lod, Ramle, the Galilee, Haifa, Arad, Tel Aviv, and all of Israel.

In a word, Israel faces a gerrymandering demographic threat, if you will. Instead of the slowly growing Arab minority to which we have essentially grown accustomed and which basically remains within specific areas, Arab have now begun moving into specific Jewish areas, rendering many of them no longer Jewish.

For the record: The holy city of Tzfatis becoming Arab; residents say that service providers, doctors, etc. are practically all Arabs. A similar danger faces French Hill, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Nof Tzion in Jerusalem, as well as Ramle, Lod, Acco, and other cities and neighborhoods throughout Israel, to various extents. If the danger is not acute now, then, given current trends, it will be in a few years. At the same time, with the influx of foreign workers, the Jews of Tel Aviv, Arad and Eilat are sometimes not sure if they live in Israel or in Africa…

Do not the Jewish People have the right to have one little country that is all their own?

Thankfully, the Jewish People have been blessed with spiritual leaders who are, in the words of Rabbi Marc Angel of New York, “not only versed in sacred texts, but who are fully aware of new realities and new circumstances.” However, whereas he felt that the rabbinical signatories on the ruling in question do not meet these qualifications, in truth, their ruling proves that they very much do.

Rabbi Angel laments that these rabbis, “in their concern for strengthening the Jewish population in Israel (especially in the North), ignore the democratic principles upon which Israel was founded; foster discriminatory policies against non-Jewish Israeli citizens; shame Israel in the eyes of the democratic world; justify anti-Jewish policies in territories and countries under non-Jewish control.”

Let us take on these points one by one.

1. The ruling not only does not “ignore democratic principles,” but actually adopts democratic principles, in that it gives expression to the will of the people in any given neighborhood and city. The Jews in Tzfat want to live in a Jewish town!

Nor is it un-democratic for people to want to live with “their own kind” – as this is a common phenomenon in every democratic country. Whether democratic citizens succeed in their efforts to stop “others” from moving in next door or not is a different question; but they certainly try. To claim otherwise is hypocrisy.

I wonder how American rabbis would democratically respond if avowed enemies of Orthodox Jews would begin offering the members of their synagogues suitcases full of dollars in exchange for their homes…

Furthermore, to accuse the rabbis of ignoring democratic principles in their Halakhic ruling implies that Jewish Law is predicated on these principles. In fact, however, though Torah Law shares basic principles with democracy, it stands on its own as a system of law based on its own, hallowed principles. By definition, rabbis must issue rulings solely according to Halakhah, not according to other systems of thought and government.

2. The ruling does not “foster discriminatory policies against non-Jewish Israeli citizens” other than that of retaining the Jewish character of neighborhoods in the Land and State of Israel. To assume that this would spill over into other policies is inflammatory and groundless.

3. It will “shame Israel in the eyes of the democratic world,” true – but only if Jews, and especially rabbis, take the lead in doing so. PR campaigns can explain anything, and certainly something as basicb as “wanting to keep Israel Jewish,” but only if there is the will to do so.

Rabbis know better than other Americans the simple truth that Israel bends over backwards in its treatment of the Arab minority within its midst. They similarly know that, just as necessity is the mother of invention, the presence of an enemy within its midst has made Israel very much more “democratic” in facing this threat than are other democracies, such as the United States, which have little experience in doing so.

Therefore, before Americans call Israel“un-democratic,” or go along with the sham of accepting that this ruling “shames Israel in the eyes of the democratic world,” it would behoove them to remember two things: 1. They have never faced a similar challenge, and 2. Israelis meeting it quite satisfactorily.

Speaking of what it would behoove Israel’s critics to do, it would even be nice if rabbis would stand up bravely for the above-mentioned uncomfortable truths and declare openly: Israel’s internal enemies are much more threatening than those in other countries, yet it treats them at least as well, if not much better, than the others do!

4. The ruling is said to “justify anti-Jewish policies in territories and countries under non-Jewish control.” Sorry, but Israel has to worry about itself at least as much as it has to worry about Jews in the Diaspora. Or, in other words, if American rabbis feel that the danger of Israeli towns losing their Jewish character is not as important as the danger of possible “anti-Jewish policies” elsewhere, then Israeli Jews are within their rights in believing the opposite.

Rabbi Angel also states: “If the rabbis are concerned about increasing the Jewish population in various areas of Israel, they should encourage Jews to move in–not forbid non-Jews from burying homes.” Can’t they do both? Would he encourage his congregants to fulfill only the “zachor” , remembrance, aspects of the Sabbath, and not the “shamor”, prohibitions?

And who said the problem will be solved by “encouraging Jews to move in?” After all, we have been encouraging Jews to move to Israel for many years, with only moderate (albeit increasing) success…

Finally, it cannot be ignored that many like to compare the ruling in question to German discrimination against Jews in the 1930’s. But there is something else that can also not be ignored, namely, the utter differences between the two situations. The Jews of Germany were not outspoken supporters of rendering Germanya Jewish country; they didn’t cheer when rockets were fired at Germanyor when it suffered calamitous forest fires; they didn’t produce sympathizers and collaborators with Hamas-like organizations; and they didn’t view Germanyas their natural enemy to be overthrown.

Those who are concerned for Israel’s image in the eyes of the democratic world can choose to emphasize these points, or ignore them. But the next time you read an article or hear a speech that chooses the latter, ask yourself why.

December 10, 2010 | 1 Comment »

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  1. Those who are concerned for Israel’s image in the eyes of the democratic world can choose to emphasize these points, or ignore them. But the next time you read an article or hear a speech that chooses the latter, ask yourself why.

    I am concerned, but I will ignore this thing. I try to avoid domestic quarrels — they’re dangerous.