How To Respond to the Renting Ban – And How To Fail At It

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Many responded to the psak of a group of rabbis in Israel (including a few impressive names) that it was forbidden to rent to Arabs. A small handfu of these responsesl were adequate. Most were abysmal failures. One stood out as a work of wisdom and artistry.

R. Aharon Leib Steinman shlit’a took out much of the sting of the document because he is so high on the halachic ladder. He criticized the psak as needlessly provocative, and asked how such a document would be received if it appeared in another part of the world, banning rentals to Jews. (Many were puzzled by his assertion that haredi neighborhoods were different. His reasoning, I believe, is fairly apparent. Only haredim insist on living in closed enclaves, free of all other influences – whether from Jews or non-Jews. People who buy in those neighborhoods invest in the closed nature of their home as part of its value. Introducing any non-haredi element reduces the market value of the property. This is a legitimate, actionable monetary claim. Non-haredim do not live in such enclaves, and cannot make us therefore of the same argument.)

R. Chaim Kanievski shlit”a pointed out that the lo sichanem interdiction applies to selling, not to renting.

A host of responses pelted a fire with snowballs. They may have been cathartic exercises, but you can’t answer arguments based on halachic sources with statements that Judaism espouses certain universal values, and upholds the dignity of all people. That may be true – but you still have not addressed the halachic issues. What they may be conveying is their belief in that worn mischaracterization of halacha, “where there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachic way.” (Most of these responses came from laymen who may have an excuse. One came from a prominent rabbi whose positions I have never been able to support.)

Some responded by yelling, as so often they do, “Meiri!,” as if invoking his name is a panacea for anything that makes you uncomfortable with Talmudic sources about relating to non-Jews. Yelling “Meiri” is not like an emergency chord, to be pulled in times of distress. It certainly won’t do the trick for anyone who has learned a few perakim of Avodah Zarah.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a (RAL)’s response is worthy of study, simply to instruct us how to answer a halachic challenge properly, and to remind us how decades spent in a beis medrash refine a person’s thinking and character.R. Eli Fischer did a fine job translating it , but some of the fine points will be missed by readers not using the original. I will point out some of them.

Unlike so many others who opened their contributions mimicking starving pitbulls, RAL begins the piece with praise for their love of the Land and its people. He is mindful of the gemara’s advice that when criticizing people other than those with the strongest capacity to receive it, it is best to distance with the left, weaker hand, and to accompany the criticism with the right hand drawing the target closer.

He criticizes the signatories on the ban not for being primitives, but for allowing their enthusiasm to blind them to the realities of how their words would be received in the global forum. How could chachamim not be among the ro’im es ha-nolad, and not anticipate the storms of protest, both within Israel and without?

He slips in an elegant and beautiful turn of a phrase. He speaks of the pain and damage they caused to the haredim – not the ones we usually call by that name, but those Torah loyalists who are haredim in upholding the quality of the State, and in making Torah beloved to others.

He does not accuse them of being ignorant of sources or of other approaches. Anyone who recognizes some of the names knows how ludicrous a charge that is. RAL acknowledges that their arguments (multiple ones at that, not just one against allowing non-Jews a possession in the Land) are based in real sources. He proceeds to demonstrate that their chief arguments are conclusory, and inappropriately link together disparate sources as if they were corollaries of one prohibition of permitting residence to idolaters. He does not argue that their argument has no merit at all. He simply says that the sources they cite do not support such an argument, leaving the burden of proof upon them.

He shows how their arguments are based entirely on the shitos of Rambam. Why, he asks, do they simply ignore the very different shitos of other rishonim, especially those who have a more nuanced approach? He doesn’t take sides; he doesn’t pasken. He doesn’t have to. He wins the match by pointing out that the others are not “doing” halacha with the thoroughness that it demands, including the consideration of competing approaches, and demonstrating why one is supported by more internal evidence.

He observes that an issue as complex as the one he considers requires an examination of the meta-halachic arguments – and a deep knowledge of Torah which can assess how much those arguments should impact the halachic bottom line. Again, he doesn’t push advance his conclusion against theirs. He just shows that their process of arriving at a conclusion is faulty.

His last line is a testimony to his sincerity and his depth as a talmid chacham:
אנו, יושבי בית המדרש דבקים באמונתנו ורצוננו להגיד כי ישר ה’ צורי ולא עולתה בו

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15 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    “The far-right mizrachi cannot comprehend that there may be other, legitimate positions besides their own when it comes to issues regarding the state, making aliyah, etc”.

    The FAR-RIGHT of any affiliation has zero ability to comprehend other attitudes, points of views or positions besides their own. That is one of the major components of EXTREMISM – “my way or the highway”. Extremism has erupted and in some circles is adopted as normal behavior along the entire spectrum of religiosity. Finger-pointing is futile and inaccurate, since extremism is evolving within Torah hashkafa in every community.

  2. dr. bill says:

    Pinch – hitting some further explanation of Meiri’s position:

    The Meiri’s conceptual innovation is to create not just the (non-negative) status of a “non-oveid avodah zarah” but a positive one who is, as Rabbi Alderstein translates, constrained by religious beliefs or “Umot HaGedurot bedarkhai HaDatot.” This would have conceptually allowed greater leniency than simply not applying laws meant for an ovaid adodah zarah. The famous example is being mechaleil shabbat to save a “non-oveid avodah zarah.” Most rishonim whose opinion is followed in the SA would, absent issues of eivah, not allow chillul shabbat even for a “non-oveid avodah zarah.” The Meiri’s new category provides a rationale applicable beyond eivah, and hence it’s major conceptual importance. That said, the Meiri did not apply this conceptual principle broadly and was closer to normative psak than might be expected. For example, Meiri would assert despite a religion creating Umot HaGedurot bedarkhai HaDatot, some of their particular practices are nonetheless rooted in Avodah Zarah and thereby Meiri would asser certain actions.

    This understanding of Meiri, reflective of Meiri’s philosophical POV, was first posited by R. DT Hoffman ztl perhaps the first among a handful of examples of gedolim who lived both in the world of classical yeshivish learning and the world of academic talmud. Despite Meiri being a daat yachid, a small number of important poskim have adopted his POV in some limited cases.

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    Even as the Holocaust was approaching, the Jews spent much too much time fighting one another. Take a sober look at Israel’s growing isolation and one can come to the conclusion that either 1. we have to do more for hasbara and try to win friends and influence people or 2. to heck with the nations of the world, they hate our guts, so let’s just do what we feel is in our immediate interest and pray that Hashem will again save us from their hands. Mature people will see some truth in both options. I think Israel is in a terrible bind internationally but also strong economically and militarity and can deal with its neighbors and find trading partners, even if some say nasty things about us at the UN. What may be comforting but ill advised is to retreat into slogans and idologically satisfying but outright evil attitudes towards the rest of G-d’s creatures. Levy Eshkol once held up his fingers in a “V” and his assistant asked him what victory he was celebrating. He said in his inimitable Yiddish , that “V” wasn’t for victory but for “Vi kriht men arois” How do we get out of this mess?

  4. Haben says:

    Quite simply, ein bedoro kemoso (Rav Lichtenstein, that is).

  5. Bob Green says:

    The rabbonim who signed this letter are nationalistic ideologues. The mistakes that RAL identifies in his response are to be expected, given the ideologues’ general extremism and one-sided approach to nationalistic issues. I saw the same sloppy, extremist approach in use when I attended a Hesder yeshiva in Israel for two years. The far-right mizrachi cannot comprehend that there may be other, legitimate positions besides their own when it comes to issues regarding the state, making aliyah, etc. Common sense and nuance are logical tools that extreme ideologues, unfortunately, do not employ often. RAL’s letter succeeds in making the renting ban decision seem weak and poorly formulated, but it does little to curb the extremism that underlies the decision.

  6. YEA says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, would you please elaborate a bit on what the position of the Meiri is?

    [YA – It deserves more time than I can give while burning the midnight oil. Perhaps a pinch-hitter will help out. Briefly, the Meiri at a number of points in Avodah Zarah, posits that nations whose behavior is positively constrained by religious beliefs are NOT the object of some (but not all) of the strictures in the gemara aimed at idolaters. It is clear that he refers to Christians, in sharp contrast to Rambam, who quite explicitly (in uncensored editions) considered them full idolaters. The Ritva also hints at a category of non-Jew intermediate between idolater and ger toshav; he does not make the application to Christians IIRC. Poskim who never saw the Meiri independently dealt with the status of non-Jews who were not idolaters, usually in the context of Muslims whose monotheism was accepted as valid. Mostly, they affirmed that most strictures (e.g. bishul akum, stam yeinam, lo sichamen) applied nonetheless. Halacha is not determined by a single Rishon, especially if it was never subjected to the scrutiny of generations. How far the Meiri would go in certain areas is still a good question in lomdus.]

  7. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Alderstein, Given your comment on mine, Daniel Shain’s above, mention of Rabbi Greenberg and your quote from R. Aharon Soloveitchik ztl on your other entry, we created the perfect storm for me to comment.

    1) the fear of academic talmud as to its effect on halakha has turned out to be (largely) non-existent. (I know the few key examples cited (around zemanim, shiurim, relationships to non-jews, treifot, etc.) but most are in fact helpful to the halakhic process.) In any case, the methods of prof. katz apply to the post-talmudic period and really help understand the context around which the great poskim operated. I dare say, his analysis of Meiri, which I would be susprised if a anyone could really dispute, is typical of his careful explanation of the factors present at the time. His upshot, that the Meiri was adjusting rationale much more so than psak, is a fundamental observation on the halakhic process.

    2) Daniel Shain’s point is one that Katz actually cautions about and shows how great poskim would not fall into the trap of following a new principle further than the posek applied it originally. Poskim often create a strong conceptual rationale for their psak. To take the rationale and then apply it in other contexts can lead to anaomolous results. Meiri created a conceptual revolution but one that he carefully limited in terms of psak; katz would suggest that we behave that way as well.

    Katz’s point is strongly supportive of what is now commonly called the mimetic tradition. It is fair to say that the conceptualization that has captured our methods for the study of talmud, has impacted the halakhic process as well; we tend to favor conceptual consisterncy over tradition and historical consistency.

    3) about a year ago i gave my tape collection to the Torat Harav foundation. One of the gems found, was a shiur by Rav Aharon Soloveitchik touching on both R. Greenberg’s suggestion (the humor is remarkable) and (lehavdil!) the Meiri. Go to YU TORAH where it has been uploaded and find the shiur entitled “Aspiring to Kedusha.” It will be an incredible 2 hours of enjoyable limmud hatorah. (Listening with headphones would be better given the occasional audio quality issues.) It was RAS’s last mussar shmooze before he left YU in 1966 for chicago. It is Rav Aharon at his best.

    [YA – 1) I don’t think the issue is having anything to fear, so much as rejecting the tools and the approach. Simply put, academic writers seldom have the experience with “vertical,”rather than horizontal learning. They generally look at different positions and try to understand their contexts, rather than to harmonize them or determine a conceptual basis for the difference, as is the derech of the bais medrash. Anyone who learned Yevamos with any seriousness, and then reads Sagi and Zohar on conversion reacts by pinching himself, and wondering if they shared the same text. The two approaches to text are fundamentally different and irreconcilable.

    2) I don’t understand why your second point is not a contradiction to your first! If many poskim DO extrapolate from the conceptualizing of earlier positions, then Prof. Katz’s insistence that they shouldn’t is certainly a threat. I have no idea what you see as revolutionery in the Meiri. He stated a position – that in regard to SOME of the halachos in AZ (e.g. the ones that assumed that idolaters were barbarians), Christians were not to be included. I see no attempt by the Meiri to be a revolutionery, or to contain his revolution. To the contrary, it is those who “conceptualized” him that succeeded best in limiting the impact of his shitah]

  8. cvmay says:

    The originator of the ‘selling/renting ban’, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu is fighting for the future purity of his city of Safad in addition to the other Galile cities of Northern Israel. Arabs are moving into Upper Nazarath, Haifa, Teveria, Chazar and Acco with a speed unheard of (looking for residency rights in Israel rather than in the future Palestinian entity G”F). The influx of Arab/Jewish marriages are rising and the erosion of the cities’ shuls, mosdos, Jewish neighborhoods are apparent.

    When emotions run high and strong in Israel, step one is to gather signatures for/against a particular action, circulate & publicize the pronouncement …………. (IMHO) thoughts of how this will be welcomed or scorned by others, particularly the global world is not taken into consideration. The popularity of the internet and other agents of information brings the ‘news of the day’ onto the laps of all readers within seconds of its occurrence. Using Torah ordinances, daas torah of one point of view, and harsh word usage does not endear Toras Hashem and ‘paths of pleasantness’ to Jewish/Non Jewish masses. YET this seems to happen more often than not, without thoughts of the repercussions of the speech, words, pronouncements, or actions. Why??

    Unfortunately selling/renting bans are frequent happenings in Israel. These bans can be blatant or secretive depending on the community. Looking ‘religious’ and trying to buy an apartment in Ramat Aviv is an impossibility. The welcoming vaad in Kiryat Sefer will show apartments ONLY to families that fit a particular racial/cultural criteria (if your mitzvah observances is above par yet you are of another cultural criteria, you can be disqualified). Families on the outskirts of Bnei Brak who rent to Sudanese immigrants risk having their children expelled from neighborhood mosdos. Frankly, bans are in existence and quite popular.
    (TY Rav Adlerstein for portraying how a Talmid Chacham respectfully & honorably disagrees…….love the haredim, “Torah loyalists who uphold the quality of the State”- may they grow in number)

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding Rabbi Adlerstein’s note about my message of December 17, 2010 at 8:19 am:

    My point was that, historically, our major leaders looked at the big picture and wider implications before making pronouncements, given the potential for negative impact on us in our nations of exile. I’m wondering WHY major leaders among the (actual!) signatories here seem to have approached this differently. Whether these leaders were representative of the whole leadership or not was not my immediate concern.

  10. Daniel Shain says:

    The Meiri is a rishon, and I’m pretty sure he did “learn a few perakim of Avodah Zarah”. While of course Rabbi Adlerstein is correct that the Meiri’s view shouldn’t be used as an “emergency cord..” and other views need to be considered in any halachic discussion, I think Rabbi Adlerstein dismisses Meiri’s view too easily. A recent discussion of the Meiri’s view and its importance has been discussed on the rationalist medical halacha blog entry of Dec. 1

  11. L. Oberstein says:

    I was told by someone who spoke to Rav Simcha Kook that he never signed onto the statement. What he signed onto was a statement that a rabbi is free to pasken according to his understanding of halacha. How many signatures were those of people who fully understood the ramifications and signed any way? What value are rabbinic decrees if the signatures are not valid or if we don’t know if they are valid?
    As far as the actual issue, the National Religious-Settler Camp is under a lot of stress and is losing the public relations battle. This is another set back for a group that are the only real old time Zionists left. I wish there were rabbinic leadership in the Israeli community of he calibre of the earlier Chief Rabbis.
    One reason it is not so is that those who actually oppose the whole concept of a Chief Rabbi have enough clout to put into office someone who is not of the calibre of those earlier ones. The highly cynical deal that enables the secular to buy the votes of the orthodox at the price of giving them an undue say over religious issues is harmful in so many ways to religion in Israel . Those who forge ahead for their narrow goals without concern for the ramifications are a grave problem.
    Who in his right mind didn’t realize how awful this anti Arab proclamation was for Jews the world over? The answer is that it was the same mentality that has tunnel vision on so many issues. If only we had leaders to follow in this generation.

  12. dr. bill says:

    Yasher Koach for an excellent article. Those who read RAL’s letter to the venerable Rav Shapira ztl on soldiers disobeying orders or his (quasi- private) letter concerning the infamous psak of a classmate of his from his chaim berlin days, are exposed to a level of style and content rarely seen. The value of his Ph.D. hould be apparent.

    Two comments: 1) for those who want to really understand the Meiri both his view and its halakhic implications read the section on him in “exclusiveness and tolerance” by prof. katz ztl. Al regel achat – the psakim of the Meiri were suprisingly similar to other poskim despite his oft quoted overall “liberal” view/theory. As usual prof. katz demonstrates his unique insight into the halakhic process and his careful reading of a psak in its complete context. Meiri changed rationale/theory more so than psak. 2) i appreciate the view express by r. steinman. however, despite the theory, how one ought behave in selling to a frum non-chareidi family particularly on the outskirts of a charedi enclave is not at all clear. Ones’ belief in the value of a closed community is not an absolute right in comparison to the rights of ownership of others who may prefer to rent to one person over an other for other reasons. I would not assume R. Steinman’s ruling is to be read as conclusive in all such instances. It also raises concerns about what needs to said publically.

    [YA – Prof. Katz’s book is a good beginning. I would caution those with yeshiva background, however, to take the list of sources and then plow through the sugya. I came to very different conclusions than Prof. Katz z”l did. It could be that the ever-present friction between the academic approach to Chazal and the approach of the beis medrash is hard at work here.]

  13. Tzvi2 says:

    R’ Yitzchok,

    As an ex-haredi, I’d just like to say that some of your posts almost manage to convince me that the chareidi community still has some values. This post is one of those.

    Yasher koach!

    [YA – Thanks! I hope that ex-haredi means still fully committed to halacha and traditional Torah values. While there is no question that the haredi communities has a surfeit of fine values, you might find more of a concentration of the ones you admire in the company of the tens of thousands of people out there who, whether they know it or not, are de facto members of a “third way,” populating the expanse between Modern Orthodoxy and fully identified haredi Yiddishkeit.]

  14. Bob Miller says:

    “He criticizes the signatories on the ban not for being primitives, but for allowing their enthusiasm to blind them to the realities of how their words would be received in the global forum. How could chachamim not be among the ro’im es ha-nolad?”

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    How would you account for this apparent lack of foresight? I thought that in our exile, our leaders were always aware of these ramifications in the world outside their own circles.

    [YA – I think you may have fallen into the trap of recent revisionism of the Daas Torah concept relative to the one that gedolim of a generation ago believed in. Lots to be said. For starters, the signatories included a few stellar figures, and many more community rabbis. I assume that your question is restricted to the major figures. They, however, do not amount to rov minyan and rov binyan of Torah leadership. HKBH does indeed speak through Gedolei Torah, but the message usually comes from the positions that produce unanimity, or close to it e.g., the rejection of ordination for women. That is hardly the case here.]

  15. joel rich says:

    I agree with the gist of your post but have 2 questions on side issues you raised:

    1. You said “(Many were puzzled by his assertion that haredi neighborhoods were different. His reasoning, I believe, is fairly apparent. Only haredim insist on living in closed enclaves, free of all other influences – whether from Jews or non-Jews. People who buy in those neighborhoods invest in the closed nature of their home as part of its value. Introducing any non-haredi element reduces the market value of the property. This is a legitimate, actionable monetary claim. Non-haredim do not live in such enclaves, and cannot make us therefore of the same argument.) I seem to recall a number of cases where non-haredi elements protested the charedization of thei neighborhoods with a similar argument-substituting open for closed in the description – do they have an actionable claim? my recollection is the haredi factions claimed that it is an open market etc.

    2.you said A host of responses pelted a fire with snowballs. They may have been cathartic exercises, but you can’t answer arguments based on halachic sources with statements that Judaism espouses certain universal values, and upholds the dignity of all people. That may be true – but you still have not addressed the halachic issue. What they may be conveying is their belief in that worn mischaracterization of halacha, “where there is a rabbinic will, there is a halachic way.” Would you accept the following “where there is enough concern among leading rabbinic decisors, there is generally a halachic way to remediate the situation”. WADR I think the halachic world has overreacted to the “worn mischaracterization” by an overstated counter position that implies halacha is totally objective and the Rabbi is just a technician who does the input and out pops the answer . IMHO this is not the case and maintaining this fiction rather than explaining why the Rabbis have not seen it appropriate to change something at this point.
    KT

    [YA – 1. I can see differences. The haredi objection to a non-haredi presence is more immediate. The very first non-haredi who moves in sometimes/often introduces changes that are unwanted and mood-changing: music, dress or lack thereof, etc. The first haredi families to move into a secular stronghold introduce nothing more than anticipation anxiety – what happens when so many of them move in that they try to close the street, or introduce separate swimming at the local facility. This might be considered a grama – or less, similar to the claim for damages against one who frightens a second party, which the gemara rejects. It places the onus upon the aggrieved party for its own fright reaction. (I offer this blog-style, w/o having looked into the sugya. I can’t tell you how a beis din would pasken.) In any event, I asked a haredi relative about R Ahron Leib’s psak about renting in Bnei Brak, and he said that a) it was directed specifically against landlords who modified apartments by taking down walls so that more people could be cramped in, dorm style, and b) dealt specifically with illegal residents – not legal ones.

    2. You are getting closer, but I don’t think we are there yet. You still create too much expectation when you offer a general hope of remediation. I don’t think that this is true. It varies entirely with the topic. (The original formulation, BTW, was subsequently dropped by the original author.) It is simply not the case that if you are a woman seeking to have an extramarital fling that you can sell your husband to a non-Jew for a few months. Similarly, Yitz Greenberg’s suggestion decades ago that we remedy the problem of raging teen hormones by sending unmarried girls to mikvah once a month was foolish, as R Aharon Lichtenstein pointed out at the time. There are, in many areas of halacha, opinions that can be relied upon when pushed; there are other areas where there are on such opinions. There are also opinions that have so little support that they simply have no place in halachic reckoning. The only people who pay any attention to them are those on the far left who employ a different halachic strategy that no seasoned ben Torah would regard as having any legitimacy. See my earlier piece http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2009/07/17/artificial-halacha-two-more-flavors/ ]