In this time of virtually instant communication, wrongheaded words can spread like the fire in the Carmel Forest.
That’s what’s been happening since a number of municipal rabbis in Israel sent around a screed telling Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews. (See page 18.)
Their message attracted other signers, but repelled most people who want to see Israel retain its democratic nature – to say nothing of the ancient, now quaint-seeming goal of being “a light unto the nations.”
Those who signed the letter were not only wrong-headed; their vision was impaired. You could say they couldn’t think straight and they couldn’t see straight.
The world had just rushed to Israel’s aid, helping to put out the Carmel blaze, which ravaged 12,000 acres and killed 43 people.
As has been widely reported – perhaps those rabbis don’t follow the news – emergency responders came from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Britain, United States, Russia, Jordan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority.
The rabbis’ letter was a slap in the face to those nations – and, of course, to non-Jewish citizens of Israel, who pay taxes that fund those rabbis’ salaries but who have been told they are not welcome in their towns. It squandered the sympathy engendered by Israel’s plight.
Thankfully, more than 900 rabbis from all streams of Judaism, calling themselves Rabbis Against Religious Discrimination, signed a petition/letter of their own, deploring the first letter and urging their Israeli colleagues to denounce it,
Sponsored by the New Israel Fund, the petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rabbisagainstracism/), released on Tuesday, is headed by a quote from Deuteronomy 24:17-18: “Do not pervert the rights of the stranger . . . and remember that you were once a slave in Egypt.”
It stated that “Am Yisrael knows the sting of discrimination, and we still bear the scars of hatred. When those who represent the official rabbinic leadership of the State of Israel express such positions, we are distressed by this Chillul HaShem, desecration of God’s name.”
It also noted what should have been obvious to the Israeli rabbis if they’d had their heads on straight: “Statements like these do great damage to our efforts to encourage people to love and support Israelâ€¦. [T]hese attacks on the principles of our prophets, which form the basis of Israel’s law and society, provide justification for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment across the world.”
It concluded, “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.”
Yasher koach to those who organized and signed the petition – and to those rabbis in Israel who, we hope, will be inspired by it to “take a strong public stand.”