A-G to check legality of rabbis' halachic ban

ByJONAH MANDEL
December 9, 2010 18:58

Weinstein: Criminal issues raised by rabbis' statement about renting to non-Jews; haredi authority Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv criticizes rabbis’ ruling.

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SINCE HIS appointment in January, Weinstein has re

Weinstein 311. (photo credit:Ariel Jerozolimski)

With a view toward possible prosecutions, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has instructed his office to examine whether “criminal and disciplinary aspects allegedly exist” in the letter signed by nearly 50 municipal rabbis that prohibits renting or selling a house or plot of land to a non-Jew in Israel.

“The attorney-general believes that... the statements attributed to the rabbis raise problems in a number of aspects, and apparently – at least in regard to people with a public position – are not in keeping with appropriate public conduct,” an aide to Weinstein, attorney Noa Mishor, wrote MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) on Thursday, in respond to his recent demand that the rabbis’ letter be examined.

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“At the same time, the legal aspect of the issue is more complex, and the attorneygeneral has instructed the relevant elements in our office to examine if criminal and disciplinary aspects allegedly exist in the statements attributed to the rabbis,” Mishor added.

Gilon expressed his satisfaction with the attorney-general’s answer, but added that “the treatment will be evaluated by the degree of determination the [legal] system exhibits in fighting racist sentiment of public servants, in the messages its actions will transmit and in the unequivocal statement that these dark positions and those preaching them have no place in the public service.”

Senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was quoted on Thursday as speaking harshly against the rabbis who issued the sweeping ruling against non-Jews, saying that such an attitude was contrary to the haredi stance.

Two of the 47 rabbis who had signed the edict withdrew their names. Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook and Rabbi Yaakov Edelstein decided to remove their names from the statement, following the widespread condemnation of the views expressed in it. Ashdod’s Rabbi Haim Pinto has also removed his name, saying he was signed to the statement in error.

Other rabbis who have signed the letter, such as Ashdod’s Rabbi Yosef Sheinin, are reportedly considering removing their names.

Yad Vashem on Thursday also spoke out against the rabbis’ letter.

“Yad Vashem perceives the rabbis’ statement regarding the prohibition to sell and rent homes to gentiles as a severe blow to the fundamental values of our lives as Jews and humans in a democratic state,” a statement read.

“Past experience has taught us how important, and at the same time how fragile, are the basic values of mutual existence and respect for others,” it continued.

“We know that the Jewish people, which experienced suffering and persecutions, as well as excommunication and revocation of fundamental rights, expressed its stance on these issues in other tones than those heard today in the statement.”

Weinstein’s cautious response corresponds directly to another document made public on Thursday, a letter from the office of Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu sent out to the 47 rabbis who signed this week’s statement.

The letter was one of encouragement to the rabbis who had signed the recent statement, and it was circulated by activists to encourage more rabbis to add their names.

Eliahu stressed the importance of a rabbi issuing rulings based solely on the Torah, “without fearing politicians and media people, most of whom are of the opinion that Israel should be ‘a state for all its citizens’ and not a Jewish state.”

After stating that according to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, most of the public sided with the rabbis on this issue, he informed the rabbis that “we got the opinion of two important jurists, Rabbi Prof.

Dov Frimer, who teaches law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat College. After scrutinizing the document, they said that there is nothing in the adjudication published by the rabbis that could prove to be a base or cause for legal prosecution for racism, incitement etc., and certainly has nothing that could be a cause for dismissal.”

But Hacohen, who defended Eliahu in the rabbi’s 2006 legal proceedings for alleged incitement to racism, told The Jerusalem Post that he had not seen the letter to which Eliahu was referring.

Alongside the letter citing the legal protection, activists also distributed a copy of a letter from five-and-a-half years ago, bearing the signatures of five of the most senior Ashkenazi haredi rabbis, including Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman and Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, stating that it was “prohibited by Torah to sell a house or plot to a gentile in Israel, even if he doesn’t practice idolatry.”

Steinman was reportedly approached by Eliahu to sign the current letter, but he refused to do so.

Meanwhile, at least 200 other municipal rabbis and educators have signed a similar document, in an attempt to garner as much rabbinic support as possible for the stance against selling or renting to non-Jews.

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