Local rabbis condemn ruling against renting to non-Jews

Rabbi Menachem Creditor is angry with some of his fellow rabbis — specifically dozens of Israeli rabbis who issued an edict last week ordering a religious ban against Jews selling or renting property to non-Jews.

That’s why he and more than 750 other diaspora rabbis from across the denominational spectrum — including 20 Bay Area rabbis — signed an open letter condemning the ruling.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Released Dec. 14, the letter was initiated by the New Israel Fund. It can be read online at www.ipetitions. com/petition/rabbisagainstracism. “Any time Judaism is misrepresented in such an egregious and harmful way it’s up to the Jewish people to step up,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, explaining why he signed the letter.

Rabbi Melanie Aron of Los Gatos’ Congregation Shir Hadash also signed the letter. “Jews have participated in business dealings and relations with people of other faiths for millennia,” she said. “It’s a [Jewish] responsibility to treat others more fairly. [This ruling] is not just a violation of the teaching of the Torah, but a desecration of God.”

The letter blasted not only the ruling, but its wider implications as well.

“The recent halachic ruling from community rabbis in Israel that forbids leasing apartments to non-Jews has caused great shock and pain in our communities,” the letter reads in part. “The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition.”

It goes on to warn that the ruling could alienate diaspora Jews and others, turning them against Israel.

“We struggle to maintain a strong, loving relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the Jewish state,” the letter reads. ”Every day, that challenge grows more difficult … Statements like these do great damage to our efforts to encourage people to love and support Israel. They communicate to our congregants that Israel does not share their values.”

Creditor said, “The sociological reality in Israel that allows for segregated buses and second-class status for non-Orthodox Judaism is not so slowly creating a wedge between Israel and the global Jewish people.”

Rabbi Melanie Aron

Among the other Bay Area rabbis signing the letter are Michael Lerner, Dorothy Richman, Paula Marcus, Richard Litvak, Camille Angel, Harry Manhoff, Bernie Robinson, Pamela Frydman Baugh, Meredith Cahn, Elliot Kukla, Jill Cozen-Harel, Eric Mason and Bridget Wynne.

The bulk of the letter’s signatories are from the United States, with significant numbers from Canada and Britain, and a smattering from small communities.

Key to Creditor’s displeasure is the fact that the Israeli rabbis who issued the ban are paid by the government; thus, he argues, they have acted in the name of the State of Israel.

However, a number of rabbinical leaders in Israel have also condemned the original ruling, as has Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, released a letter of his own addressed to the rabbis who signed the ruling, in which he reprimands those rabbis for bad judgment.

“I am concerned that in this instance your love [for the land of Israel] has affected your judgment,” he writes in part. “To say the least, it must be asked whether this is a battle worth fighting. Aside from the judgment, the wisdom of it seems faulty as well.”

Israel’s attorney general is looking into whether the rabbis who ruled against renting to non-Jews broke the law in their capacity as government employees.

Meanwhile, rabbis like Creditor and Aaron will continue to speak out against it and similar developments they view as harmful to Israeli democracy.

“It was gratifying to me that immediately people from a variety of backgrounds responded forcefully to this,” Aron said. “[The ruling] stands in the face of Jewish values.”

Added Creditor: “I’m ashamed that the word ‘rabbi’ word be associated with racism. Signing a letter is symbolic — we need to make a real difference if we care.”

JTA contributed to this report.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.