We Must Help Save Israel from Itself
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Richmond, VA, December 10th, 2010
If I was a Rabbi in town in Israel this past week and not in Richmond, Virginia, I would have had the opportunity to sign a manifest ordering a halachic ban on selling or renting land and apartments to non-Jews. I am not sure which issue is potentially more catastrophic for Israel: the Carmel Forest fire and the breakdown/inadequacy of Israeli firefighting capacity; the breakdown of the United States instigated peace talks; the renewed international attack on the legitimacy of Israel; or this attack on Israeli democracy by employees of the State. It is hard to sit here in Richmond, Virginia and dismiss this as something being done far away that doesn't concern us. It must. The world does not separate between Jews and Israelis. When this issue shows up in the international column in the Times-Dispatch, when people will read it on the internet, when Wikileaks leaks the names of the Rabbis who signed it and their cities, people can turn to us, our neighbors, our co-workers, and say to us: "What kind of people are you!?" We need to answer.
I don't know why this began in Tzfat, Safed, with a local Rabbi's call not to rent apartments to Arab students in the city. Then a yeshiva student in Netanya collected signatures from municipal chief Rabbis in support. It has spread to more than 300 hundred signatures. The statement quotes a variety of halachic passages referring to the issue and notes that in some cases persons renting apartments to non-Jews could be ostracized. "The neighbors and acquaintances of the seller or renter must warn him personally first and later they are allowed to make this matter public, distance themselves from him, avoid commercial ties and so on." The Rabbi presented various justifications of the ban, including fears of intermarriage and blasphemy. The statement added that sellers bear responsibility for the physical and spiritual outcomes of their actions. [www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3995724,00.html].
For many reasons, we, the Jews of klal Yisrael, the totality of the Jewish people must condemn, denounce and repudiate this letter, action and ideology. It does not represent us or our Judaism. It violates the democratic charter of the State of Israel. It undermines the rule of law. It is racist. It propagates a distorted vision of Jews verses the world and the purpose of a Jewish state.
Let me begin by citing the core issue in the Torah portions that we have been reading, the stories of Joseph. Besides his own dream and those of the butler and baker, Joseph interprets Pharaoh's double dream of cows and stalks of wheat to mean that there will be a famine in Egypt that will obviously terribly affect the entire region. When Joseph will later tell his brothers that it was God's plan for him to be in Egypt in order that there should be food to save the family we must understand that he obviously couldn't save his family if he couldn't and wouldn't save all the Egyptians too! Not only were Egyptians saved, but also any other people who came to Egypt for food. Therefore our God is the God who cares for everybody! We are not racist! We do not look upon ourselves as the "ubermentshen – the superior race!" When the Rabbis created our Seder ritual, we pour out wine/grape juice for the Egyptians that died!
When the BILU and other Zionist groups came to the Turkish province of Palestine they sought to be good neighbors with the few Arabs already there and the Arabs who would move there as the region was increasingly more conducive and productive due to the Zionist initiatives. Despite the history of the ensuing decades, Israel's Declaration of Independence – issued while under murderous attack - stressed, that even as Israel was to be a Jewish state, it would protect the civil rights, religious rights and human rights of all its citizens. Arabs were implored not to run away, as their leaders were demanding, but to stay and be part of the State. Israel was not to be a theocratic state, but rather a democratic secular state, a state that lived with the aura of Judaism and Jewish history as its dominant characteristic, Hebrew as its national language, while also using Arabic and English, and respecting the heritage and validity of all people of the State. What is common between a Christian, a Muslim and me? We probably all wouldn't feel comfortable nor desirous to live in a fervent ultra Orthodox enclave, but should have the legal right to do so. The purpose of this destructive initiative is to undermine the very foundations of the State of Israel. Every Jew in the world has a moral obligation to object in the most strenuous manner. I have signed every letter possible in vigorous opposition.
If anything has been the hallmark of the Jewish literature for two thousand years, is its corpus of law codes. While the Talmud isn't quite a code, it is thoroughly replete with laws and their discussion. The ensuing centuries will see a vast literature culminating in the Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Aruch HaShulchan – all integrally connected, and Maimonides' magnus opum of the Mishneh Torah. The legal system of the State of Israel is a compendium of many sources of law compiled into one. This calamity undermines and contradicts the law of the State. It is being done by people who are employed by the State. They, who supposedly represent the respect of law, halacha, are perverting the laws of the State and the respect of law in the name of Judaism. It is intolerable!
Lastly, the prophets demand that the Jewish people be an "Or LaGoyim," "A light to the nations." What light are we supposed to cast? From Torah and Prophets, Rabbinics and codes it is clear to me that that light should reflect respect of the other, tolerance of others, k'vod habriyot. I teach that the key concept operative in our prayers is Ahavah, love, love of God, love of the world, love of people. It is our proclamation to the world: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." We have nothing to say to Richmond as its faces its soul in remember the Civil War and its issues in its 150th anniversary. We have nothing to say to the United States in the issues of illegal immigration and the building of mosques. We have nothing to say to ourselves if we can't have tolerance in our own home, the place that can and must illuminate the best of Jewish values, the State of Israel.
With our group going in a little more than two weeks, we will have the opportunity to say that personally. With the dissemination of this brief piece, I lift my voice into the public domain. My following this issue online and finding the appropriate places, you make your voice heard, too.
Let it never be said that we were silent.
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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