A group of Israeli rabbis issued a religious ruling forbidding Jews to rent homes to Arabs.
Even Benjamin Netanyahu could take the high road on this one. “How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?” asked Netanyahu. “We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors.”
Bibi gets this one exactly right, of course. The rabbis, however, display themselves to be ignorant of halakha (Jewish law), willfully or otherwise, and, even worse, to be classical anti-Semites. Consider the words of Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, who heads the Ashdod Yeshiva: “Racism originated in the Torah. The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted.”
I don’t know what passage Scheinen is referring to. But I do know he is wrong about the law. Doing business, renting, to non-Jews is not prohibited. Even the question of selling land in Israel to non-Jews is off-base—those laws deal with a post-messianic Israel, where Jews have already returned.
We may recall that Orthodox Jews opposed Zionism for many years, on the basis that Judaism teaches us that Jews live in galut (exile) by God’s decree, and only the coming of the Messiah can end that exile. Religious Zionism re-wrote Jewish history to accommodate the Talmudic acrobatics they needed to perform in order to poison Jewish nationalism with religious fundamentalism.
For some, the fact that Israel would be a secular state, not governed by halakha was what permitted the state to come into being legally under Jewish law, an argument that has merit. But in real life, religious fanatics of whatever faith will always attempt to poison the world around them.
Scheinen proudly credits the Torah with creating racism. He gives it too much credit, of course. Ethnic chauvinism is as old as human diversity. But, indeed, the Torah (more properly, the Tanakh which includes the books of the Prophets and the books called the Writings or ketuvim) has a good deal of bigotry in it (misogyny, classism and some brief but well-publicized episodes of homophobia as well). And so do most old books when looked at by 21st century eyes.
I don’t want to get into a long discussion of scholarly approaches to ancient texts, religious and otherwise. But I do want to make one more point.
A couple of decades ago, the Israeli scientist, Israel Shahak, wrote a book along a similar theme as that advanced by Scheinen. His thesis was that the bigotry found in the Talmud (the collection of discussions, over centuries, that form rabbinic Jewish law) was the root of Israeli attitudes toward Arabs and Israeli human rights violations.
I respected much of Shahak’s human rights work and his dispatches from Israel translating Hebrew media for years proved very valuable for many. But this book was a petty reflection of Shahak’s scientific hatred of religion in general. For whatever reason, it seemed most acute in terms of his own religion—perhaps he saw it as the seed of similar problems in Christianity and Islam, who can say? But whatever it was, it was simply nonsense, as Shahak got a lot wrong and often used opinions that appeared in the Talmud but were not accepted into law as his examples.
Shahak’s book did a good deal of damage. Many people, uneducated themselves in Talmud, read it and found in it a basis to single out Judaism and perhaps Jews as well for singular hate. As a rabbi, though, Scheinen’s views become implied for all Jews. Indeed, since we’ve seen secular figures like the leaders of Meretz, Gideon Sa’ar and Bibi himself denounce the rabbis’ letter, but not religious ones yet, this letter is going to reflect on all Jews everywhere.
Scheinen may simply not know the halakha (not as unusual for a rabbi as you might think), or he may be willfully lying about it. Whichever it is, he has surpassed Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Glenn Beck as a spreader of anti-Jewish bile.
We have so many good rabbis, as was displayed this very week in New York at the conference for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. But, boy, the bad ones do an awful lot of damage.