Speak out on rental ruling, Diaspora rabbis urge Israeli colleagues

WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than 750 rabbis and cantors signed a letter urging their Israeli colleagues to speak out against a ruling by 39 municipal rabbis banning renting to non-Jews.

Spiritual leaders from across the denominational spectrum signed the letter, which was initiated by the New Israel Fund. The letter was open for two days for signatures and released Tuesday.

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

It concludes: "For the sake of our people, our Torah, and Israel, we beseech you to take a strong public stand and oppose those who misrepresent our tradition."

Signatories include rabbis and cantors from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox streams. Among them are Rabbi Marc Angel, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City; Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish and interfaith magazine based in Berkeley, Calif.; Rabbi Leonard Levin of the Jewish Theological Seminary Of America; Rabbi Rachel Cowan, director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality; and Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the first woman to become a Reconstructionist rabbi when she was ordained in 1974.

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

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

On Monday, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, released a letter addressed to the rabbis who signed the ruling in which he reprimands the rabbis for bad judgment and faulty wisdom in signing the ruling.

"I have read the document that you have disseminated throughout the country," the letter begins. "As I read your words, I was impressed enough by the dogged determination inherent in your love of the land and your love of the nation that dwells therein to advance your approach. However, I am concerned that in this instance your love has affected your judgment. 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."

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

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