A Courageous Rabbinate
A Courageous Rabbinate


Question: Can we, the Jewish people, who lived in the Diaspora for generations and suffered from harsh discrimination, possibly agree with a position that discriminates the Arabs? How can rabbis have written not to rent apartments to Arabs? Is that how we would have wanted to be treated while living in the Diaspora? Aren't we commanded in the Torah: "When a proselyte comes to live in your land, do not hurt his feelings. The foreigner who becomes a proselyte must be exactly like one who is native born among you. You shall love him as [you love] yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am G-d your Lord" (Leviticus 19:33-34)?

Answer: There is no similarity between the situation of the Jews in the Diaspora and that of the Arabs living in Israel. First of all, for most of the time spent in the Diaspora, Jews insisted on living in the framework of independent, Jewish communities which were isolated from the non-Jews amongst whom they lived. Secondly, the Jews living in the Diaspora never threatened the nation amongst whom they lived. They never made territorial or political claims or supported the enemies of the country they lived in. On the contrary, they greatly appreciated their host country, prayed for its welfare and scrupulously obeyed its laws, according to the halacha of 'dina d'malchuta dina' (the law of the land is the binding law). Thirdly, the Jews never demanded that their host countries grant them funds for living, education, and health. If the Jews weren't doubly taxed, they praised and applauded their government for its great kindness, for indeed, many times the Jews had to pay twice as much in taxes. Fourthly, in every land in which they lived, the Jews made a tremendous contribution to the prosperity of their host country. They invested their energies and talents in the development of the economy, agriculture, science, and culture. They did all this because of an ethical approach to life which encourages one to work for the betterment of the world.

Actually, the basis of our relationship to non-Jews is reliant upon the commandment of 'ger toshav' (resident alien), according to which any non-Jew who accepts the sovereignty of the Jews and the basic moral rules, is entitled to live in Israel with honor. Should he need assistance – it is a mitzvah to help him. This is exactly how we behaved in all our exile – we honored the sovereignty of our host country and fulfilled their laws.

The Arab Attitude toward Us

On the other hand, the majority of the Arab population, as their official representatives have stated, reject the right of the Jewish people to establish a state in its land, accuse the I.D.F. of committing war crimes, and support the enemies and haters of Israel who threaten our lives. When Saddam Hussein bombed Tel Aviv, many Arabs rejoiced and proclaimed him a national hero. When Hezbollah bombed Israel, many Arabs supported them. Even an Arab, whose family was injured by the rockets, announced that the members of Hezbollah are his brothers and justified in their actions. The Arabs claim they were here before us – denying Jewish history, and contradicting the fact that the majority of them migrated to Israel in the last few generations as a result of the economic prosperity which occurred following the aliyah of the Jews.

True, we must be careful not to generalize. Certainly, there are Arabs who support the Jewish state and wish for its success; and we, in turn, desire their well-being. Unfortunately, however, most of the Arabs have chosen to be our enemies, and object to our very right to exist.

Consequently, the real debate is not one of discrimination based on racism, but rather self-defense from the enemy.

About the Rabbi's Letter

Occasionally, we are requested or demanded to honor the position of those who disagree with us; such people also complain that we don't respect the values they represent. Indeed, we should honor those who disagree with us, because fundamentally, even the positions of the left stem from a concern for Israel's existence and success, and are based on ethical motives which are fitting to be admired.

On the other hand, however, when a position which is unpopular with the left is expressed, instead of debating and dealing seriously with our standpoint, they simply recommend we be put on trial and thrown in jail, or at the very least, fired from our jobs.

It's worthwhile to remember this the next time we once again hear the request for mutual respect.

Is it Wise to Adopt Such a Position   

There are those who feel that, true, the rabbi's letter is correct, but it's not wise, because the public is not ready to accept such positions. If the rabbi's want to influence, they should say things that are acceptable.

Indeed, it is a mitzvah not to say something that won't be accepted (Yevamot 65b), however in this case, the majority of the public accepts and agrees with the rabbi's, as a number of surveys have shown. In contrast, many of the 'ruling authorities' are cut off from reality and ignore the problems and dangers. In such circumstances, the rabbis are obligated to fulfill their functions responsibly, and speak the truth.

Precisely by being prepared to say things that are not acceptable to the 'ruling authorities', the rabbi's standing will be strengthened, for a lot of people have come to the realization that their official leaders are ignoring the serious problems, and it is specifically the rabbis who recognize the situation and are ready to deal with it. This affords an opening of hope for the growth of new leadership which will give more respect and honor to the Torah and its spokesmen. This is an opportunity to praise Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu shlita, for his leadership, and the National Unity Party for its support of the rabbi's position.

Defaming the Rabb's

True, the grave insults voiced against the rabbis and characterizing them as racists is liable to intimidate and cause concern that, perhaps, their influence in other important matters will be diminished. However, there is no room for such apprehension. Concerning those who slandered the rabbis, the Mishna says (Ethics of the Fathers 2:3): "Be cautious of the ruling authorities because they befriend a person only for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their own advantage but they do not stand by a person in the time of his distress." When the words of the rabbi agree with their positions, they praise and extol the rabbi's progressiveness, but such praise is worthless. The moment after the same rabbis say something that contradicts their beliefs, they will condemn them brutally. Some will even add that, up until now, they truly honored the rabbis and Jewish tradition, but from now on they can no longer honor the Torah and take interest in its heritage…

A rabbi who is interested in dousing himself with such fictitious honor – I hope he's happy. Usually, such a person is called an "appointed rabbi", and his main task is to recite prayers for the welfare of the government, and to adorn its actions with pleasant verses from the Bible. However, a true rabbi is required to express the position of the Torah and truth, even when they are not pleasing to the authorities.

And how should a rabbi who thinks differently act? Firstly, he should renounce in his heart all of the bogus words of flattery from the authorities, and clearly announce that he objects to all the slander voiced against his colleagues, the rabbis, and condemn those who want to put them on trial or have them fired. Only afterwards, should he state his opposing opinion.