Torah Portion

Torah Portion: Ki Tisa

By Shlomo Riskin

“Do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, lest they be a snare in your midst. . .   lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and stray after their gods, you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters go astray after their gods, and entice your sons to stray after their gods”. (Exodus 34:12-16)

Last year, a widely publicized letter signed by forty prominent Israeli Religious-Zionist rabbis stated that, “It is Biblically forbidden to sell or rent houses or fields in Israel to a Gentile (“nakhri”, Hebrew), as it is written, ‘You shall not give them a resting place on our land’ (Deut 7:2). The Bible warns against this several times, maintaining that it causes evil occurrences and the sinfulness of the multitudes regarding religious intermarriages, as it is written, ‘Because (the idolaters) will take away your sons from Me’ (Deut 7:4) and: ‘They shall not dwell in your land , lest they cause you to sin against Me’ (Ex 23:33).’ And the sin of such sales to Gentiles and the evil that follows from them redounds to the shoulders of the seller…”
The letter goes on to speak of the “great dangers” that such sales to Gentiles bring upon the Jewish neighbors, since “the lifestyles (of the Gentiles) are different from the lifestyle of the Jews, it states, “the real estate value of the Jewish homes will go down and some of these gentiles may cause damage even to the point of endangering lives.”
I must admit that upon reading these last arguments, I thought of Haman’s complaint against the Jews “whose customs are different from those of all other nations” and of the antisemitic signs on “exclusively” WASP–oriented dwelling areas of yesteryear America, “Dogs and Jews Not Welcome Here” – precisely because it was thought that the Jews would lower the value of the houses.
A careful reading of the sources would hardly justify a blanket prohibition of selling or renting homes in Israel to gentiles. The Talmudic Tractate Gerim (Proselytes) begins its third chapter with defining a Ger Toshav or a resident alien. According to most authorities — including Maimonides, Nahmanides and the Shulhan Arukh – this is an individual who accepts the Seven Noahide laws of morality: not murdering, not stealing, not committing rape or adultery, not serving idols, not blaspheming God, not eating the limb of a living animal, and establishing law courts to bring transgressors of these six offenses to justice.
The tractate obligates Jews to fair business practices – no undue pressure, no charging of interest and no withholding payment for hire beyond the day of labor – when dealing with resident aliens. Despite the prohibition against intermarriage with these resident aliens, they must have the option of acquiring good homes in the midst of the land of Israel where they have good business opportunities. (See Deuteronomy 23: 16, BT Gerim 1-4) Indeed, Maimonides explains that the very term “resident alien” (Ger Toshav) is derived from the fact that we may “allow them to reside anywhere they wish in the Land of Israel” (Laws of Prohibited Sexual relationships 14: 7). Only those gentiles who do not keep the Seven Laws of Morality may not rent or purchase land or homes in Israel (Laws of Idolatry Chapter 10).
While Maimonides limits the acceptance of a Ger Toshav to the period when the Jubilee Year is in force, no less eminent an authority than Rav Yosef Karo insists that this only refers to the automatic transmission of the status of Ger Toshav and his residency rights to his descendants. However, every individual who accepts the seven Noachide laws is permitted to live and purchase land in Israel. This view is accepted both by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (Mishpat Kohen Laws of Sabbatical and Jubilee) as well as by Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog (Thukah LeYisrael, Part 1 pages 14-16). All of this is an expression of “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” We dare not oppress the minorities in our midst.
Just one caveat.  If the Arabs who wish to purchase the land are not doing so in order to better their living conditions, but in order to remove the Jewish majority and turn Israel into an Arab majority state, then to protect our self-interest and to maintain our Jewish state, we must not sell them land. There are such real estate corporations, largely funded by Saudi Arabia, who are in this category. They are totally transparent and we ought not to do business with them.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.

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