Rivlin: ‘Rabbis’ letter is discriminatory

Knesset speaker says “foolish rabbis’ letter, smacks of incitement, harms fundamental rights, is a sin against Israeli society.”

By JONAH MANDEL
December 15, 2010 02:55
4 minute read.
‘THE US does not feel any moral responsibility for

Rivlin 311. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday slammed the “foolish rabbis’ letter, which smacks of incitement, harms fundamental rights and is a sin against Israeli society,” in an address at the Knesset marking International Human Rights Day.

“If such a thing were said of Jews abroad, it would have caused an uproar in Israel,” Rivlin said. “These rabbis think they are saving the Jewish people, but are digging the pit we’ll all fall into.... A Jewish State can’t exist at the expense of its democracy.”

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In slamming the letter signed initially by nearly 50 city rabbis, who prohibited renting or selling land to non- Jews in Israel, Rivlin was joining the criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister Bennie Begin, who roundly condemned the letter last week.

While no formal legal or administrative actions have yet to be taken against the rabbis, senior voices in the rabbinic world are voicing objections to the letter, which cites Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the Har Etzion yeshiva in Alon Shvut and one of the most revered nationalreligious rabbis, issued on Monday night a letter to the rabbis in which he not only questioned their own letter’s benefit to its cause in the wake of the public maelstrom it evoked, but also pointed out the complexity of the halachic tradition on the questions at hand, which they disregarded.

Lichtenstein noted that while the motivation behind the statement might have stemmed from “the love of the land and its inhabitants,” nearly all of the ensuing events could have been predicted in advance – “the public tempest, social as well as ideological; the rift among the citizens of the state, between and within sectors; opinion pieces in newspapers... attacks from Right and Left on the national-religious rabbinic establishment, coming even from Torah giants – everything was foreseeable. And you read and wonder about the wisdom of those who are supposed to be able to foresee the future,” he writes, alluding to a saying that a wise person can see the future.

“There is no doubt that the statement is based on rabbinic sources and the tradition of Halacha over the generations,” Lichtenstein continued. “But the document on whole creates the impression that it forms its conclusions based on premises that conform to a certain halachic stance [but which is not the exclusive stance].”

“We are dealing with central questions regarding meta-halachic issues. The willingness and ability to take broader factors into consideration, such as those that pertain to halachic content and their affinity to a historical and social reality together, demand a broader dialogue,” Lichtenstein concluded.

Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the Bnei Akiva yeshivot, is reportedly drafting an alternative statement, which would differentiate between non-Jews who seek to harm Israel and those who do not.

Druckman refused to sign the original statement, explaining that he was against sweeping statements, but noted that the problem of foreign entities taking over parts of Israel needed to be addressed.

Meanwhile, hundreds of rabbis from around the world signed a petition earlier this week criticizing the city rabbis’ ruling.

A petition by Rabbis against Religious Discrimination, initiated by the New Israel Fund, has over 750 signatories. It states that the ruling “has caused great shock and pain in our communities.”

“The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition,” the petition says. “Am Yisrael knows the sting of discrimination, and we still bear the scars of hatred. When those who represent the official rabbinic leadership of the State of Israel express such positions, we are distressed by this hillul HaShem, desecration of God’s name.”

The petition further warns that “many of our congregants love Israel and want nothing more than the safety and security of the Jewish homeland, but for a growing number of Jews in America this relationship to Israel cannot be assumed. Statements like these do great damage to our efforts to encourage people to love and support Israel.”

Also on Tuesday, President Shimon Peres reiterated his disapproval of the letter. Turning to the Arabs attending a conference in Beit She’an, he said to them: “You have the absolute right to live, to work and study wherever you want.”

Lidar Gravé-Lazi and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.


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