I am very distressed about the very public racism coming from Israeli rabbis and their wives – about not selling houses to Arabs, or urging young Israeli women to stay far away from Arab men, who are ostensibly trying to entrap them. The language used was incendiary and completely racist. Is this really how Judaism wants us to relate to non-Jews?
Question: “I am very distressed about the recent, very public racism coming from Israeli rabbis and their wives – about not selling houses to Arabs, or urging young Israeli women to stay far away from Arab men, who are ostensibly trying to entrap them. The language used was incendiary and completely racist. Is this really how Judaism wants us to relate to non-Jews?”
The short answer to your question is “no”. Judaism does not want us to relate to any non-Jews in this manner. I think that what we’re seeing in Israel might be a reaction of racism and fright, and is certainly not supported by text of Torah. And most Jews would refuse to act toward any non-Jew in this manner. Here is why:
We learn at least 37 times in the Torah that the treatment of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger is a major priority, and that none of these classes of people should be abused or mistreated. In Zechariah we find, perhaps, the clearest statement available in the Hebrew bible: “The word of the Eternal came again to Zechariah; this is what the Eternal God said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
One would have to ask the Orthodox Rabbis who put forward those proposals as to the reason for their racism and fear. They would claim that the goal of maintaining control over the whole of the biblical ‘land of Israel’ is of such importance that acting on their fears is justified. But very few Jews would think this would be a moral and ethical thing to do, and many Orthodox Jews in Israel decried this suggestion. So there are many who disagree with the rulings of these four Rabbis…and Judaism in no way supports prejudice of this kind.
This question is phrased rhetorically with the assumed answer being no.Since I am answering as an orthodox rabbi, I guide myself by the Halachah and its philosophy as I understand it.
I firmly do not believe that Halachah wishes us to relate to gentiles in a racist or incendiary manner.However, Halachah does place great emphasis on personal and national survival.Out of concern for intermarriage there are numerous laws that limit partying (i.e. drinking gentile wine and even drinking kosher open wine handled by a non-Jew.) with non-Jews.In the orthodox (and I include the modern orthodox) community, inter-dating is vehemently discouraged, with strong emphasis on social gatherings of teens and marriageable aged adults being exclusively Jewish.Thus, it is not surprising to me that there is a call from all the orthodox groups warning Jewish women from socializing with non-Jewish men: Moslem, Hindu or Christian.
As an American I find the prohibition of selling or renting to Arabs as highly immoral and distasteful.Both the Israeli government and the American Jewish community (including orthodox groups) have condemned the rabbinic decree.There is however a “but”.Once again Halachah would clearly prefer that Israeli land remain in Jewish hands.There is even a Halachik question as to whether gentile ownership of land in Israel is legally binding.Nevertheless, since none of us really own the land of Israel, for it actually belongs to G-d, we should demonstrate and model tolerance ( we are suppose to be “a light unto the nations”), and welcome as neighbors everyone who wishes to live side by side inpeace.
I can well understand the distress you feel at reading the pronouncements of these rabbis and certainly you are not alone in your feelings. From the tone of your question, you are wondering to yourself (and perhaps to others, too), is this really a reflection of Judaism's true attitude to non-Jews? Have I misread Judaism's approach to our neighbors and friends with whom I interact?
The simple answer is 'no'. This is not how normative Judaism wants us to think of non-Jews. Yes, there are rabbis and strands in our tradition that have not been as positive to the non-Jew as seen from the language these rabbis have used. But, as seen from edicts from other religions, they too have their share of clerics and adherents who are on the fringes of their communities.
One of the important phrases used in speaking of our relationships to non Jews is "mipnei darchei shalom", for the sake of peace, to avoid disputes of disagreements. Found in Mishnah Gittin 5:8, we find a series of obligations as to how we act to the non-Jew, to feed their poor, bury their dead, visit their sick all 'mipnei darchei shalom', to ensure good relationships with them. It is essential that we be on good terms with all our neighbors, regardless of their religion, race or ethnic background.
There are many other texts in our tradition to speak to relationships with others. For example, in Exodus 23:9 we read, "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt." If we take the words of the Torah seriously, how could we act towards non-Jews in the way these rabbis are advocating? This idea of remembering our own people's experience in Egypt should give us pause when we hear these rabbinic statements. We are obligated to see others in light of our own history and experience as slaves and as strangers. You may recall the famous story of the convert who approaches the sage Hillel asking to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Rather than rejecting the request or making light of it, he responds with the famous words, "what is hateful to you do not do to others, this is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go and learn." We know well not only from ancient history but the more recent past what it is like to be oppressed, subjected to hatred and racism. How could we act that way to others?
There is certainly much more in our tradition that deals with the subject of our relations to non Jews. Needless to say, the preponderance of opinion in Judaism speaks to good relations with them, treating them with respect and dignity as we would want to be. You can be assured that these rabbis are not the norm but the fringe and for them to make such statements is a disservice to the entire Jewish community. For a fuller answer to your question, please see the answer given by Rabbi Dr. David Golinkin, the head of the Schechter Institute in Israel, in his responsa to a similar question as yours http://www.schechter.edu/responsa.aspx?ID=55 .
Do not be disheartened by some of what you read from some rabbis. Know that they are in the minority, certainly within both contemporary Jewish life and our ancient tradition.
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