Can we live side by side with our Palestinian neighbors?
I was raised in the Wynnefield neighborhood of Philadelphia. As I child I recall the very few neighbors who were not Jewish. I recall at least six synagogues, a Day School, a Jewish War Veterans Post, a Folk Shul, and many stores that catered to the overwhelmingly Jewish population.
In 1964 ours was the first family on our block to sell to an African-American family. It was at a time when realtors were already sowing the seeds of panic about the dangers of a changing neighborhood. But our family did not leave Wynnefield – we simply moved to a somewhat larger home. Other Jewish families were outraged that Jewish families would sell to African-Americans.
Today, little is left of the once thriving Jewish community in my childhood neighborhood. One of the remaining signs of what once was a Jewish shtetel is the Muzzuzah still found on so many homes now populated by those who moved in.
It may seem sad to know that so many urban Jewish communities are no longer. But, on the other hand, Jews now live in suburban areas where they were once shunned. We are disproportionately represented in top universities which once limited our numbers. There are few places where Jews today are excluded because they are Jewish.
American Jews were at the forefront of the American civil rights movement. Our religion demands that we fight prejudice and provide for the weak of all peoples.
For this very reason I was deeply shocked and appalled to read of an edict signed by scores of Israeli rabbis forbidding the rental, or the sale, of homes or apartments to non-Jews (read: Arabs). Only a short time earlier, the revered former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Ovadia Yosef, stated, “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”
Soon after, a letter was been issued by twenty seven Rebbizens (wives of Israeli rabbis) calling upon Jewish women not to work in places where Arabs are employed and not to volunteer for national service with them. The letter indicates that the Arab men will act nicely but, once in their clutches, their behavior “will turn into curses, beatings, and humiliations." Just imagine if European religious leaders were to say this about citizens having contact with Jews.
Lest the edict I mentioned above, signed by so many rabbis, be understood as anything but a deep lack of intolerance for the other, it goes on to state, “People should distance themselves from ones who would sell or rent to Gentiles, not to do business with them, not to give them an aliyah to the Torah, etc., until they repent from causing this great damage. Those who listen to us will dwell securely, Amen, may it be His will.”
How dreadful! How could these rabbis so deeply misunderstand Jewish tradition and bring about a Hillul HaShem (a desecration of God’s name) – a violation of a Biblical command in and of itself, which desecrated God''s name in the eyes of the world.
Were these not similar to orders given to the German people by a regime that viewed Jews as sub-human? Has our history not been of a people forces to wonder as our host countries spewed us out? Have we not learned from the fate we suffered?
It was only after weeks of silence on these pronouncements that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was finally forced to issue a condemnation, describing the rabbinic edict l as undemocratic and a contradiction of the bible which, calls for Jews to “love the stranger.”
Mt deepest fear is that ideas that were once those of the lunatic fringe may become normative.
Some months back “Rabbi” Yitzhak Shapira, a Rosh Yeshiva in the territories, published The King’s Torah, a guide to how Jews should treat non-Jews. This base and obscene treatise suggested that all Palestinians were to be considered a threat and thus there was justification for killing Palestinian civilians and their babies.
Now the Knesset may be on the brink of investigating a whole list of human rights organizations.
Hundreds of rabbis from around the globe, of all denominations, rushed to condemn these horrific and shameful misinterpretations of Jewish law. In Israel, over seventy Masorti (Conservative) rabbis signed a rabbinic responsum that stated “Indeed such sales to non-Jews are permitted.”
The responsum, authored by Rabbi David Golinkin, condemns the Hillul Ha’Shem. It further points out, “There is no question that such discrimination against non-Jews in Israel could lead to increased attacks against Jews in Israel and the Diaspora and to refusal to rent or sell homes to Jews in the Diaspora.”
Our more learned rabbis of yore enacted a series of demands Mipnei Darchei Shalom (to allow for peaceful coexistence). Such rabbinic enactments mipnei darkei shalom, because of the ways of peace, include feeding non-Jews, visiting their sick, and burying their dead. Renting or selling apartments to non-Jews in the State of Israel today would certainly be in the spirit of mipnei darkei shalom.
The Responsum signed by our Masorti rabbis recalls the famous story in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) about a convert who came to Hillel and asked to convert on condition that Hillel would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied: "Mai d''alakh saney l''haverakh la te''eveid, zo hee kol hatorah kula v''idakh peirushah hu zil gemor" - "what is hateful to you do not do to others, this is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go and learn."
Now, after 1900 years, when we have our own sovereign State of Israel where we are the majority, we must follow the dictum of Hillel which he considered "the entire Torah", the most basic commandment in the Torah: "What is hateful unto you to do not do to others."
Israel is a democracy which promises equal rights to all of its citizens and forbids racism or incitement to racism. Theodore Herzl did not see Zionism ending with the establishment of a political entity- a national homeland for the Jewish people. He called for those who would come to live in that state to work to create a vision of Zionism which would reflect the most basic ethical values of our tradition.
Ben Gurion, along with Israel’s founders, promised a state with equal rights for all citizens.
So many of our Diaspora Jewish youth find themselves distanced from Israel and view Zionism as alien. The very rabbis who promote a racist vision (and not all who signed are necessarily guilty of racism) serve to further alienate our young people along with many other fair minded persons.
These rabbis, many of whom are employed by the Sate, violate laws which prohibit civil servants from advocating political positions, and even worse, they violate laws prohibiting incitement.
It is said of our Torah “Its ways are pleasant and all paths lead to peace.” The time has come to privatize the official Rabbinate in Israel – a bureaucracy that employs thousands. Those rabbis who wish to express their political views must be fired or resign. They must not be allowed to stray from the Torah’s “pleasant ways” even as their salaries are covered by Israeli tax payers. Those that incite to violence must be called to justice by the police and answer to the judiciary.
The racist outbursts caused me to feel shame. This rabbinic ruling, and the subsequent “Rebbizen Letter” are ethically abhorrent and a perversion of Jewish law.
Our rabbis must bring glory to our wonderful Jewish tradition and to the State of Israel – thus we can serve as “a light unto the nations.”