Over the past couple of weeks, numerous media outlets have reported on a letter signed by fifty Orthodox rabbis in Israel banning the rental or sale of property to non-Jews. The rational was a fear of intermarriage, fear of reduced property value, and safety. These rabbis believe that the lifestyle of non-Jews (specifically, Arab citizens) can endanger lives both physically and spiritually.
The response of international condemnation has been swift, staggering, and unanimous. According to the Forward, the letter has been denounced by “American Modern Orthodox and Conservative rabbinic associations, and by the spokesman for an American ultra-Orthodox umbrella group.” An alliance of more than 900 rabbis, “most of them affiliated with non-Orthodox denominations,” has also signed an online petition. Rabbi David Ellenson penned a powerful op-ed for the [New York] Jewish Week opposing the statement, and in Israel, Prime Minister Benjanmin Netanyahu has spoken out against the letter, as have numerous high ranking rabbis.
Amidst all of these voices, one phrase stood out as a clearly articulated explanation of how the rabbis who signed the letter are damaging the Jewish community.
Rabbi Michael Marmur, vice president for academic affairs of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “Judaism should never add fuel to our basest prejudices and lowest emotions. It is meant to give form to our highest aspirations and deepest yearnings.”
By tying their decision to Jewish law and Jewish tradition, these fifty rabbis are showcasing a wildly distorted version of Judaism, one that is intolerant and exclusive, bigoted and shuttered to outsiders. Are these really our highest aspirations? What happened to the Judaism of Abraham, who opened his tent on all sides to welcome all who approached?
It’s exactly because Judaism is such an open and inclusive religion that we have survived and flourished for thousands of years. We are now defined by those on the outside and those on the fringe who have found a welcoming space underneath our Big Tent. This philosophy has helped JOI reach and thousands of intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews, traditionally underserved populations that are increasingly making Jewish choices and feel more at home in our midst. Our inclusive nature has made us stronger and more vibrant, and this is the future we need to work towards.
The international Jewish community is right to condemn these rabbis and their hazardous letter. Luckily the voices of unity and openness have sounded much louder.
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