Parashat Ki Tisa: Strangers in our midst

May we allow gentiles to purchase land in Israel?

Parasha 311 (photo credit: Exodus)
Parasha 311
(photo credit: Exodus)
‘Do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going... lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and go astray after their gods, you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters go astray after their gods, and cause your sons to go astray after their gods’ (Exodus 34:12-16)
Several months ago, a widely publicized letter signed by 40 prominent Israeli religious-Zionist rabbis stated that “it is biblically forbidden to sell (or rent) a house or a field in Israel to a gentile, as it is written ‘You shall not give them a resting place on our land (Deuteronomy 7:2).’ The Torah warns against this several times, maintaining that it causes evil, and the sin of multitudes regarding religious intermarriage, as it is written: ‘Because [the idolaters] will take away your sons from Me’ (Deuteronomy 7:4)... ‘They shall not dwell in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me’ (Exodus 23:33).’” The sin of such sales to gentiles, and the evil that follows from them, redounds to the shoulders of the seller.
The letter goes on to speak of the “great dangers” that such sales bring upon one’s Jewish neighbors, since “the lifestyles [of the gentiles] are different from that of the Jews,” and some of them may cause damage even to the point of endangering lives, while the real-estate value of the Jewish homes will go down.” (Reading these last arguments made me think of Haman’s complaint against the Jews, “whose customs are different from those of all other nations” and of the anti-Semitic signs on “exclusively” WASP-oriented dwelling areas of yesteryear America: “Dogs and Jews not welcome” – precisely because it was thought that Jews would lower the value of the houses).
A careful reading of the sources would hardly justify such a blanket prohibition. The Talmudic tractate Gerim (Proselytes) begins its third chapter by defining a ger toshav or a resident alien, which – according to authorities such as Maimonides, Nahmanides and the Shulhan Aruch – is an individual who accepts the Seven Noachide Laws of morality: not murdering, not stealing, not being sexually corrupt, not serving idols, not blaspheming God, not eating the limb of a living animal, and establishing law courts to bring transgressors of these six offenses to justice.
The tractate goes on to obligate Jews to fair business practices; no undue pressure, no charging of interest, and no withholding of payment for hire beyond the day of labor – when dealing with resident aliens, although stipulating that Jews may not intermarry with gentiles who have not fully converted to Judaism.
Nevertheless, despite the prohibition against intermarriage with resident aliens, these people must have the option of acquiring good homes in the midst of the Land, where they have good business opportunities. (See Deut. 23:16, BT Gerim 1-4) Indeed, Maimonides explains that the very term “resident alien” is derived from the fact that we may “allow them to reside anywhere they wish in the Land of Israel” (Laws of Prohibited Sexual Relationships 14: 7). Only those gentiles who do not keep the Seven Laws may not rent or purchase land or homes in Israel (Laws of Idolatry 10).
It is important to note that Islam is considered a monotheistic religion by just about all the decisors, and many normative authorities do not consider Christianity to be idolatrous for Christians.
While Maimonides (at the end of Chapter 10 of his Laws of Idolatry) limits the acceptance of a resident alien to the period when the Jubilee Year is in force, no less eminent an authority than Rav Yosef Karo insists that this only refers to the automatic transmission of the status of resident alien and his residency rights to his descendants. However, every individual who accepts the seven Noachide Laws is permitted (on a case-by-case basis) to live and purchase land in Israel. This view is accepted both by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as well as by Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog.
All this is an expression of “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” We dare not oppress the minorities in our midst.
Just one caveat. If the Arabs who wish to purchase land are not doing so in order to better their living conditions, but in order to remove the Jewish majority and turn Israel into an Arab-majority state, then to protect our selfinterest and to maintain our Jewish state, we must not sell to them. There are real-estate corporations, largely funded by Saudi Arabia, which are in this category. Their motives are totally transparent, and we ought not do business with them.
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.