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Safe Houses

A prominent Israeli rabbi wants to protect Israel by forbidding Jews from renting and selling property to non-Jews

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An Israeli activist protesting Shmuel Eliyahu’s edict holds a sign reading “Jewish and Arab solidarity for justice and equality” during a demonstration in Jerusalem last week. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Early last week, more than three dozen state-paid municipal rabbis signed and
an edict that calls for Jews not to sell or rent property to gentiles in Israel. In response, a coalition of strange bedfellows has decried the move: Israeli civil rights organizations, Arab leaders, Holocaust survivors, right-wing politicians, and some of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox figures. By Thursday, Israeli government took the first steps toward a possible criminal investigation of the rabbis for what Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein termed “very problematic” statements.

The leading figure behind the halakhic ruling is Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi in the northern city of Safed. Eliyahu began agitating against renting to Arabs in Safed in October with a 400-participant conference titled “Quiet War: Combating Assimilation in the Holy City of Safed.”

Since then, Eliyahu has drummed up support among dozens of rabbis across Israel to condemn real estate deals with non-Jews. His ruling cites the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy to call on Jews not to sell or rent to gentiles to prevent intermarriage and to protect Jews from “sinful influence.” But Eliyahu’s arguments aren’t all biblical: The edict also notes that “following the sale or rental of one apartment, the price of all the neighboring apartments declines even when the buyers or tenants are nice at first.”

Signatories include the chief rabbis of Eilat, Bat Yam, Holon, Dimona, Ashdod, Maaleh Adumim, and Meitar—a mix of religious and secular cities, and almost a third of Israel’s 126 municipal rabbis, who are appointed by councils made of local rabbis, synagogue leaders, and representatives from the municipal religious council. These rabbis receive their salary from their municipalities, which in turn are funded by the Ministry of the Interior and by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. According to David Rosen, an Israeli rabbi based in Jerusalem who works on interfaith dialogue for the American Jewish Committee, these rabbis supervise kashrut, register marriages, appoint local rabbis, and preside over the local beit din, or religious court.

In an interview Sunday evening with Israel’s Channel 2 News, Eliyahu appeared in a white dress shirt, a wide white yarmulke, and frameless spectacles. Asked about comparisons to the Nuremberg Laws, which included a prohibition against renting to Jews, Eliyahu explained that Israel’s Arabs aim “to flood Israel with Arab refugees.”

“No Jew said he wanted to throw the Germans into the sea,” Eliyahu said. “But the Arabs have been declaring for 70 years that this is their goal.”

Mordechai Negari, the rabbi for the settlement of Maale Adumim, said he signed the letter because Eliyahu “is fighting the holy war on behalf of our daughters.” He continued: “We must keep our Jewish identity. You know the percentage of intermarriage in America? Eighty percent. This is what we need in Israel?”

Eliyahu’s Safed is a mostly Jewish city of 30,000, and it is one of the four holy cities in Israel, along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias. It is also home to Safed College, where 550 of the 2,600 students are Arab, according to a college spokesman. Those Arab students come from neighboring Druze, Christian, Muslim, and Circassian villages, and those who live far away rent apartments and rooms in Safed. The spokesman said that in response to Eliyahu’s call, Safed College is trying to find space in the dorms, which house 130 students, and that the student union helps Arab students find apartments.

Meanwhile, much of the media attention has been focused on Eli Tzvieli, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor who has lived in Safed for 60 years and happens to live next door to Eliyahu. Over the summer, Tzvieli rented rooms in his apartment to three Arab students of the Safed College, which is within walking distance of his home. But Tzvieli soon realized he got more than he bargained for. His neighbor, the rabbi, visited and offered to buy out the students’ lease so they would leave. Tzvieli refused. Tzvieli said he began getting phone calls and even an anonymous threat to burn down his building. Someone posted placards on his door accusing him of “returning the Arabs” to Safed, in reference to the 12,000 Arab residents, including the family of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who left the city in Israel’s 1948 War for Independence.

“I see them as people,” Tzvieli said of his tenants. “They are residents of Israel; they don’t do anything against the state. They are nice boys. If I can help them with their studies, I will.”

Tzvieli is hardly alone in rejecting the edict. In a statement released last week, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum condemned the rabbis’ letter as “a serious blow to the fundamental values of our lives as Jews and people in a democratic state.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the ruling last week in Jerusalem. “How would we feel if someone would say not to sell an apartment to Jews?” he said. “We would be outraged. These things cannot happen, not to Jews and not to Arabs.”

Two prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis who Rosen termed “the nonagenarian chief honchos of ultra-Orthodoxy,” are also rumored to be against the edict. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a leading ultra-Orthodox posek, or arbiter of Jewish law, reportedly said of Eliyahu and his supporters, “There are rabbis who must have their pens taken away from them.” Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, another prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi, also did not sign the letter, and as a result, some of the signatories are backpedaling. At the same time, hundreds of other rabbis are also signing on. In a similar spirit, Lehava, an anti-assimilation organization, set up a hotline last week for callers to snitch on people who rent or sell property to Arabs, so that their names can be made public.

Eliyahu is unapologetic. “The rabbi will continue to serve his loyal public and to help the people of Israel, wherever they may be, to continue to help in the process of returning to Zion,” Eliyahu’s aide, Mor Dahan, said. “The base of the state of Israel is to build a Jewish house for the people of Israel in the land of Israel.”

The edict is a small part of a larger widening gulf between Israel’s 20-percent Arab population and its Jews, highlighted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal to redraw the borders of Israel around an exchange of Jewish settlements in the West Bank for major Arab cities like Umm el Fahem. The increasing tension was highlighted last May when Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Arab Balad party, joined the Mavi Marmara, which was bound for Gaza despite an Israeli blockade.

In Safed, Arab students say it has gotten more difficult to find apartments since Eliyahu began his campaign. Mohamed Ganaim, a 22-year-old law student from the nearby Arab town of Sakhnin, said religious Israeli students at Safed College began demonstrating after Eliyahu announced his edict.

“They said ‘death to the Arabs’ and started throwing stones at the Arab students’ houses,” Ganaim said.

Ganaim moved to Safed last year and said he never used to have a problem with his Jewish neighbors. In fact, he said, religious Jews often asked Arab neighbors to turn their lights on and off on the Sabbath, when it is forbidden for Jews to work.

Tzvieli said he will continue to rent to Arabs above the protests of his vocal neighbor. “This is already a matter of principle,” he said. “I think it is forbidden for us to create a rift between ourselves and the Arab population. It’s not human, and it isn’t appropriate to Judaism at all.”

Daniella Cheslow is a freelance writer and photographer based in Jerusalem.

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Is it just I who have noticed how, while all those bleeding heart Israeli Jewish lefties clamor for “Jewish-Arab Solidarity” and “Justice and Equality” for the Arabs, those very same Arabs, by-and-large, make no effort to conceal their solidarity and allegiance to the sworn enemies of Israel? Here in Israel, no one wants to be seen as a “frier” (sucker), yet look at how the left shamefully bends over backwards to appease the Arabs while getting hit over the head by them in return.

Hey Israel – wake up and stand up for your rights! We’ve come home. We’re no longer living in the shtetl.

Muslims in Israel and the West Bank should be treated IDENTICALLY to the way that Jews are treated in Gaza and Mecca.

“started throwing stones at the Arab students’ houses” – ha ha ha – what goes around comes around, I guess! LOL! Are Mohammedans suddenly opposed to throwing stones? :-)

nate zuckerman says:

Why not have the Arab-Israeli citizens wear armbands so they can be readily spotted?

that has happened to the alleged misbehaving of Arabs on Sabbath, harrassing girls, playing loud music i.e. the stuff that all sounds so harmless unless one encounters it in one’s neighbourhood.

Yosef Blau says:

This article fails to mention the extent of opposition to the rabbinical edict by major Orhodox rabbis in Israel and a broad spectrum of rabbinical groups in America (see the article in the Forward). The difficult issue of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and protecting its security while simultaneously granting full rights to Israel’s non-Jewish citizens requires great wisdom and nuance.

In the west bank the Palestinian Authority has made it illegal to sell land to Israelis and also made it illegal to buy things produced in the west bank- it seems fair that we as jews should do the same. If no Jews are allowed to live in the west bank than no arabs should be allowed to live in israel

allenby says:

Exactly RIGHT!
The slimy Left already turning Tel Aviv into a 3rd world refugee camp, into a GAY colony of europe, planning to sell every single inch of ISRAEL.
ISRAEL is for JEWS only.
Israeli arabs, no problem, we’re cousins anyway.

To Barry…JEWS are not allowed in mecca, and there are no JEWS in Gaza, although GAZA originally was A JEWISH TOWN from Biblical times and until late 19th century, when arabs from all over the place started flocking into JEWISH PALESTINE looking for JOBS created by arriving JEWISH immigrants. Arabs have been lying and are lying about their own history.

wl.edwards says:

I am a Jew by choice. While my mother’s side is reputed to be Sephardic I have found no evidence to support it and I chose to continue to pursue Judaism, not only as a faith, but as a way of life. The current rabbinical climate in Israel today looks at my efforts as a foolish waste of time and has no intention of honoring my efforts of conversion. Even so, I agree it is a mistake to sell, lease, or promote occupancy of property by those other then Jewish any where in Israel except for contracted (and limited) service…for many reasons of which all are Torah related. Of all the places where Judaism should be the model of both the governing body and the society within… Israel is it.

No where else.

wl.edwards says:

The armband comment above is horribly offensive and the writer clearly doesn’t understand WHY Israel is the exception. Inhumane treatment or separation from society of an entire population of peoples is unfair, disruptive, destructive, economically repressive, and usually looked at by most as just plain mean. That is why you shouldn’t sell or rent your Israel property to non Jews. If your intentions are to honor your commitment to Ha-Shem and Torah what do you do with your tenants in Jubilee Year? Israel is, like it or not, as democratic as a religious state can get. Whether or not the Knesset agrees, it simply is. Ha-Shem created it and has on many occasions destroyed it as well. It’s just a small slice in a huge Arab pie and this stubborn refusal to accept the reality of G-d in the midst of it (mostly for first dibbs bragging rights)is grotesquely stupid. It has brought horror and bloodshed to many a generation of Jew and Arab alike.

The reference to the yellow arm band caused me to grit my teeth!

If I get to Israel and Safed and see this rabbi whose name must be Adolf, I will turn him into a “Castrati”, burn his Smicha, cut off his payes and remove the stitis from him. He is a born again Nazi, not a Robbi a,d a disgrace to Safed. Pheh!

A remark to Tablet: I don’t know if you have a moderator for these comments, but the post by Berel Nissan is truly offensive,as it
threatens violence and assault, and is outright anti-Semitic with its imagery. Beyond any doubt, the vast majority of your readership is horrified by this. I call upon you- the Tablet- to remove this inappropriate post immediately.

Charming comments, folks, from both sides. I usually refrain from letting my ire “get my goat,” but I feel compelled, in this case, to respond.

To those Jews who think that, because many Arabs are inculcated with an irrational, dangerous hatred of Jews and Israel, Jews should ALSO act with such irrational hate, shame on you. That’s the same myopic and self-debasing stance that prompted some to say, during the Park51 debate, that Muslims can build a mosque near Ground Zero only when Jews can build a synagogue in Saudi Arabia. Do we US citizens wish to reduce our great nation to that of a theocratic oligarchy? It is precisely because the USA is NOT Saudi Arabia that we can have such debates and, G-d willing, make just decisions.

To my fellow convert to Judaism, I wish you the best on your journey; it’s a remarkable and rewarding path. That said, your reading of Torah is very different than mine (and, I’d assert, than most conscientious rabbis). Moreover you, a ger who has come to Judaism, assert that goyim have no right to property in eretz Israel?! What a shameful blindspot!?

Jerome Varon says:

Kudos to Hungry Hyena.

I took Nate Zuckerman’s suggestion of armbands sarcastic in tone and meant to satirize the ruling.

Israel is a democracy, and like all democracies, it holds itself to high standards regarding to treatment of minorities. Democracies do not play tit-for-tat games with dictatorships or failed states. They defend their citizens– all their citizens, no matter what the neighbors do. This is why this ruling drew condemnation from leaders from a wide range of religious and political perspectives.

shavit says:

Aviva: “In the west bank the Palestinian Authority has made it illegal to sell land to Israelis and also made it illegal to buy things produced in the west bank- it seems fair that we as jews should do the same. If no Jews are allowed to live in the west bank than no arabs should be allowed to live in israel”


Judaism is better than that. (and if Israel is a Jewish state, Judaism has something to say about it.) We are called to be a righteous people. Righteous in the face of, and in spite of, discrimination. Let the Arabs hate us if they must, but Judaism does not sanction indiscriminate hatred, and that is all this is …


How dare you be so xenophobic and intolerant! Who the hell are you to describe Israel (or Judaism) as “better” than Palestinian Islam?! Or Saudi Arabia for that matter. All values are equal! All cultures are the same! All religions believe the same things! Diversity is our strength!

Compare how deeply and slavishly Obama bowed to the Saudi King compared to the way he treated Netanyahu: clearly it is American policy to favor monarchies over democracies; theocratic Islamic dictatorships of Jewish states. Do you disagree with Obama? You racist!

So you may have hegemonic racist/zionist belief that considers Israeli democracy to be superior to barbaric Islamonazism, but Obama and J-Street DON”T AGREE WITH YOU! Neither does the UN.

There is obviously something that the Muslonazis got right. Perhaps Israel should LEARN from the Muslonazis about how to treat minorities rather than xenophobically dismissing it because of a racist belief Israelis are “better”.

Peace will come when Israelis engage in as much violence against their Islamic enemy, as Muslims do toward Jews. When the Jordanian monarchy ruled Jerusalem no Jews were allowed. If Israel adopted a similar policy toward Muslonazis, then peace would come to Jerusalem immediately. We have a LOT to learn from the supposedly “inferior” Muslonazis.

Matityahu says:

וְגֵר לֹא תוֹנֶה וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ | כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:20

Of all the people who comment on this article, Hungry Hyena is the only one
to show a face. Hyena is SAFE and right to stand up on moral grounds. As a
secular Jew I always thought moral principals were very close for Jews.
Safe houses are UN-SAFE.
Hebrew I can not read, but Matityahu says in English ” And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:20 ” that I understand !!

Sy from Fort Lee NJ

“Prominent Rabbi(s)”? Who made him/ them “prominent”? The Press! None of those Rabbis wrote the kind of books that a scholar “must have in his library”.None are prominent within the Rabbinical world. So, Gentlemen of the Press: You created the problem, and you ought to swallow the monster.
By the way, how many Arabs live in MK Oron’s Kibbutz? How many in MK Nissan Horowitz’ neighborhood? Around Cesarea where PM Netanyahu lives? Near the Schoken family? Or near what’s his name from Maariv? And the other guy from Yedioth? Or within 2 miles of Shulamit Aloni?Or within kilometers of those want to keep the Sudanese in Israel? And all those human NRG’s who work in Gaza, prefer to live in TLV away from the Arabs. Tell me why! So all of you, do me a favor don’t criticize the poor inhabitants of Tzfat.They also like their peers near them.

The rabbis who signed this prohibition took an Israeli public policy issue and converted to one that asks Jews around the world about the vision of justice that she or he applies from our tradition. It is simply not the case that Torah and Talmud prohibit renting or selling to non-Jews; this is a case of rabbis inserting their own narrow politics instead of really grappling with what the tradition tries to tell us. You can review some of the Talmudic excerpts that discuss this issue here:; and a few pertinent passages from Torah here: Understanding how (and when) to adapt the wisdom of the ancients to contemporary society is the core tool we have to create a distinctive Jewish vision of the future.

Deborah says:

So you assume that Arabs cannot be their “peers”? And please tell me why the Knesset had to rule to allow discrimination committees if there were not Arabs and Jews who were trying to live in the same communities? Ever been to Haifa? Jews and Arabs can live together and have in many places and many times.

This piece ignores the Jewish rights to the Land of Israel. See tjis:

To Jonathan: The poor Rabbis did not convert a local issue into a world issue. The Press did, and you are doing it.

To Deborah: You are phony! Whether someone can or cannot be my peer is not a matter of theoretical definition. You are simply diverting the issue. In the most modern Village, Facebook, you will define, establish and decide who you want to be your friends/ peers, who you want to talk to and who you exclude from Deborah’s Exclusive Club. How do you decide? By the use of your Adrenaline, not be political-science definitions. No, I do not accept your phony arguments.

will edwards says:

Wow… it is clearly the most humanitarian to honestly portray your desires when in negotiations. Any other path is nefarious and rather un-Jewish. Those who seem to believe it is ok to give housing etc to good people, whether Jew or non-Jew (easier then spelling out all the other then Jews) when they KNOW there will come a day these people will be made to vacate are, in my opinion, wrong. I agree it is most foul to treat anyone as less then what you expect for yourself. That is a given for most rational thinking people. Why should I have to defend that? The point is Israel is a nation created by Ha-Shem for the Jews in order that we could, and can still, fulfill our duties and responsibilities to G-d. The reality of receiving the Torah sets us apart from all other peoples only in our singular responsibility to Ha-Shem. It isn’t out of hatred or any distaste at all for any one of any ethnicity that I say Israel is the only place on Earth who’s origins and responsibilities are as they are. The conflicts and misery are a direct result of our negotiating what we cannot compromise away. Anyone who occupies land within the gates of Israel other then his or her inheritance must be made aware that such occupation can only be temporary at best. Mr Hungry Hyaena, I think you misunderstand my comments. Perhaps you are confusing the existence of Israel with the persistence of democracy. While both are important advances in humanity, the existence of Israel as decreed by G-d takes precedence… I mean if you believe. If not then it is easily understood where you can take the position you have. I state clearly I intend to treat everyone I meet fairly, openly, and honestly regardless of religion, creed, or national origin. I would never allow a family to feel confident and secure in a residence I knew they would ultimately be made to leave. It just isn’t nice.

will edwards says:

Mr Hungry… I do realize I have no claim, according to current rabbinical rulings, and I don’t argue such decisions as it is not my place. I live a very nice life here in the United States and although I would love a spacious flat in Tel Aviv, I know where I stand in line. I am happy I have such a nice place in this world of G-d’s. I don’t think it a blind spot, rather a point of no contention. After all, I simply live (happily by the way) on earth. I don’t make the rules. Thanks Ha-Shem

will edwards says:

Oh… as far as showing my face, apparently my photos are too big for the application and it gets cropped to an unrecognizable corner of the original. I used to offer my email, but then I had to put up with all the Palestinian hate email. I am not trying to be a racist, how could I be? I am only saying this little piece of earth, Israel, must be as G-d intended. It is for us to do the right thing and all arguments to the contrary state an obvious lack of belief. Its not a cult-like over zealous (check out origin of the word zealot)obsession, but a simple fact that an extremely small portion of this planet is dedicated to Ha-Shem. The constant fight to obscure this very simple fact is killing us all. We can live in peace… ask me how.

Barry Berger says:

When will we stop referring to these “fools” as rabbis?

will edwards says:

I thought this discussion concerned the legitimacy of restricting property rights to Jews in certain areas in the state of Israel. I do not know what Rabbis you may or may not be referring to. I am not going to denigrate myself any further then I already have by defaming someone I don’t know, especially a Rabbi.
I do understand both major positions put forward and I tend to agree with the restrictions even though that would include me at this point in my life. What is more important after all, trying to appease arrogant factions on all sides, or honouring a commitment to G-d? The tremendously small amount of real estate involved is so inconsequential in the actual lives of the antagonists/protagonists that the entire premise of the argument is just plain stupid… seriously! Give to G-d what is G-d’s and try not to destroy the 99.9% Ha-Shem has left to all of humanity.
Keep all that is within the borders of Israel as Ha-Shem has decreed. Then we can honestly devote our time and efforts to solving the horrible humanitarian problems we have, such as the utter miserable poverty suffered by the people who identify themselves as Palestinian. Such as the energy problems, environmental challenges, etc, etc. We of the human family, which includes Jews as well as Palestinians, have more then enough issues we can more productively spend our time and efforts on. This pointless battle over a barren landscape that only blooms when the Jews return to it needs to end and no one should be left feeling they’ve been tossed in the streets.
When I was tempted to take off in a bad direction my mother would advise me to do what I knew was right regardless of what others did. I regret I did not listen more often. We are required to be fair, ethical, and equitable in our dealings with everyone, not just Jews and to grant redemption to the land in the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:24). How can you sell your property to a family you KNOW you will take from them later. Is that equitable?

will edwards says:

allenby you have some anger issues…

will edwards says:

I meant to include the Christians by name as well, but I failed to. I’m sorry. Did not mean to leave them out. They too are gentiles. Shame on the rock throwers!

Martin K says:

My goodness, its the wavefront of a fascist state emerging. “Protect the purity of our women” is a slogan that is lifted straight out of the KKKs image of black rapists.

robert kern says:

the real threat is when reborn Christians from the United States decide that Jews who have accepted Jesus Christ(whatever you want to call them) should be ruling Israel. Will they have the power to “elect” a “Messianic Jew” – just look to the former Yugoslavia for an answer.

Nate was being sarcastic about armbands i think

Matityahu says:
Dec 17, 2010 at 4:14 PM
וְגֵר לֹא תוֹנֶה וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ | כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:20
How about giving out my teddy bears to these anti-gentiles? or giving teddy bears for comfort to the wronged parties. Teddy bears don’t know who is a Jew or not. No discrimination there. Teddy bears can teach us all how to build bridges and live together. Maybe that’s why I started with teddy bears in the first place since teddy bears aren’t biased.
Claire’s bears from Bergenfield, NJ.

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Safe Houses

A prominent Israeli rabbi wants to protect Israel by forbidding Jews from renting and selling property to non-Jews

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