Bet Midrash Virtuali

of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel

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I have received a message from a participant in this Study Group which is very topical. I don't usually permit myself to include questions that are not related to the topics being studied. But since the answer to this question relates directly to matters that we learned when we studied Tractate Avodah Zarah, I permit myself to answer most of the questions that were presented to me. Because of its topicality, I would imagine that many of the regular participants would be interested too. Juan-Carlos Kiel writes:

I wanted to ask you about your position regarding the issue of Zefat City-Rabbi Eliahu forbidding the sale or lease of dwellings to Arabs.

  1. Does the letter reflect the general Halachic position?
  2. Is it not applicable the precept of "there shall be one law [only] for you and for the stranger in your midst" - which is a prohibition to make any difference between Jews and minorities?
  3. Can it be argued that since the Muslim population stems, in a majority, from the victors that came with Omar ibn al-Khattab and local women, which were in their turn descendants from the Jews that remained after the Bar-Kochba revolt and were mostly assimilated or forcefully transformed into "Greeks" or "Romans". I believe many of our neighbors are descendants via matrilineal line from kosher Jewesses from the times of the 2nd. Temple - however impossible to prove - or to refute. Would then the ban to let dwellings to local Arabs would be to discriminate against the Seed of Israel?
  4. Is not the position about not giving quarter to the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel, meaning the prohibition of letting or selling dwellings to non Jews, a mere play with words when the original biblical text means not to spare the 7 peoples that inhabited Canaan at that time - but which later sages said they became so intermixed that in later days it is impossible to distinguish who their descendants are... (An explicit order not to spare no one from a certain people is evidently a call for genocide in their times - but is not related to realtors in our times)

It is clear I oppose the discriminatory position - but in any case I wanted to learn what your position is, as you are versed in the Halachic thinking they are using...

I respond:

Juan-Carlos can't have it both ways! We can't interpret the biblical text literally (or what we might think is a literal interpretation) and then ask for the halakhic perspective. We have often noted that the sages did not always interpret the biblical text literally. For instance, Juan-Carlos refers to "the stranger in your midst" whereas on numerous occasions we have seen that for the sages "the stranger" was someone who converted to Judaism. My response will be halakhic.

There are two issues to be addressed here, and only those two issues are relevant.

  1. May one lease, rent or sell apartments in Eretz-Israel to idolators?
  2. Are Moslems and Christians to be considered idolators?

We discussed both of these issues thoroughly when we studied Tractate Avodah Zarah. I am not going to repeat here what I wrote then - more than two years ago! I refer you to shiur AZ017 where you can find the answer yourself. (Use the link provided.)

First read the latter part of the mishnah: from "We may not rent to them houses". Note carefully that two opinions are presented in that mishnah: that of Rabbi Me'ir and that of Rabbi Yosé. (Perhaps it is not irrelevant to note that Rabbi Yosé ben-Ḥalafta - mid 2nd century CE - lived in the Galilean city of Tzippori (Sepphoris) which was a town in which there were as many Romans and Greeks as there were Jews.)

Now jump down to explanations 6, 7, 8 and 9. You will find there that halakhah follows the opinion of Rabbi Yosé that it is permissible to lease houses to idolators in Eretz-Israel, even though it is forbidden to sell them land. I explained there as well that these rules of the Torah are concerned only with idolators.

This brings us to the second issue: are today's Moslems and Christians to be considered Idolators? We discussed this issue too in Avodah Zarah. I refer you to AZ001. (Again, use the link.) You can skip the mishnah and go directly to explanations 5, 6, 7 and 8. Rambam held most decisively that Moslems are not idolators. While he did think that Christians were idolators, Rabbenu Tam (Rashi's grandson) and Menaḥem Me'iri, who lived in Christian Europe, held that Christians were not idolators.

So, the ban on selling and leasing real estate to non-Jews in Eretz-Israel does not apply to modern Moslems and Christians. I have never heard of a Palestinian Arab who followed the Hindu religion. If there is such a person perhaps one might be entitled to see him as an idolator. Perhaps. Thus the letter of those rabbis to whom Juan-Carlos refers is halakhically untenable. Only someone hopelessly prejudiced would dare to publish such ridiculous arguments.

This answers questions 1 and 4. Question 2 is a non-starter. The precept of having one law only for all applies to Jews. Like the customs of any other people, Halakhah does legislate for differences between Jew and gentile. However, this is not what Juan-Carlos intended to ask (even though he did). The sages recognized that many rights and privileges should and must be accorded to non-Jews living in Eretz-Israel "because of the paths of peace". The Talmud of Eretz-Israel [Gittin 33a] lists some of these kindnesses:

These are just a few examples.

Question 3 is, in my opinion, not really relevant. Regardless of what a person's lineage might or might not be, Halakhah recognizes as Jews only those born of a Jewish mother or who convert to Judaism. In many cases where the likelihood is that a person's lineage is Jewish, we require at least symbolic conversion before recognising them as Jews.

I hope I have addressed the issues presented by Juan-Carlos satisfactorily, and thank him for raising this issue for discussion.


I shall be going into hospital later this week for a brief procedure. So, God willing, the next shiur will be on 27th December.

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