Rabbi Dov Lior, the rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba, issued a halachic ruling last week that it was permitted to employ non-Jews on Shabbat to build in Judea and Samaria during the present construction freeze.
Lior's aide refused to confirm or deny the reports in Yediot Aharonot and was willing to say only that "the rabbi answers the questions of those who ask him; he does not speak to journalists."
However, other sources close to the rabbi confirmed that Lior in principle supports the employment of non-Jews for the purpose of preventing the evacuation of settlements.
The rationale behind the ruling is that inspectors who report building activity do not work on Shabbat. Therefore, building on settlements can continue unhindered on Shabbat.
Buildings that received permits before the building freeze can continue to be built on condition that the concrete foundations and the iron framework have already been set in place. Working through Shabbat could bring buildings to this stage of construction before inspection, thus making them untouchable.
Lior ruled last year that it was permitted for Jewish settlers to use cell phones on Shabbat to organize opposition to evacuation of homes slated for the day of rest. That decision rested on the Talmudic precedent for transgressing biblical prohibitions to settle the land of Israel.
In the Talmud [Gittin 8b] a Jew is permitted to tell a non-Jew to write a bill of sale on Shabbat for the purchase of land in Israel.
A similar ruling regarding the use of non-Jews was made by Ofra Rabbi Avi Gisser in June 2008. At the time, the High Court of Justice was poised to issue a building ban on nine buildings and Gisser's ruling was made in hopes that construction could be completed before the court's decision.
Although there is no prohibition against a non-Jew working on Shabbat, there is a rabbinic prohibition for a Jew to tell a non-Jew to do work for him. It is considered more severe to tell a non-Jew to perform a biblical prohibition such as building than to perform a rabbinical prohibition. Nevertheless, to facilitate the settling of the land of Israel it is permitted.
Both Lior and Gisser made their rulings in response to specific situations and they were temporary in nature.
Director of the Shomron Liaison Office David Ha'ivri quoted Elon Moreh Rabbi Elyakim Levanon as saying that the first time such a decision was made was in the early 1990s.
At the time, according to Ha'ivri, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin declared a building freeze in Judea and Samaria. In response, Levanon allowed an Arab contractor to work through Shabbat on condition that the first story of the building be completed before Shabbat.
Ha'ivri also said that Gershon Mesika, chairman of the Shomron Regional Council, managed to issue 1,500 building permits before the freeze, and some of these structures will be built on Shabbat by non-Jewish workers.
Rabbi Yehoshua Shmidet, a student of Lior and head of the Shavei Shomron Yeshiva, said that he personally relied on Lior's decision.
"This Shabbat, Arab workers were supposed to come to work at Shavei Shomron but in the end they were afraid their equipment would be confiscated," said Shmidet.
"The decision is based on two principles: First, it is permissible to tell a non-Jew to do a biblical prohibition for the sake of performing the commandment to settle the land of Israel.
"Second, places like Shavei Shomron are on the border with the Arabs and if we do not maintain our presence here it could endanger Jews living away from the border. For us, the destruction of homes or the evacuation of Jews is just as bad as eating pork."
According to Yediot, Lior wrote in his explanation of the halachic decision that, "when there is a fear that part of the land of Israel will be ceded to non-Jews if constant building activity is not maintained, it is permitted to allow non-Jews to work on Shabbat as long as they work as contractors."