A Bit of Good News on the Don't-Sell-to-the Arabs Controversy

The coalition lined-up against the group of rabbis in Israel who ruled that it is forbidden by Jewish law, halacha, to sell homes to Arabs, has gained a new and powerful voice in that of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who is, my Orthodox informants tell me, quite the genius of Jewish law. Already, the prime minister and the president of Israel have condemned the ruling, but when a great dude of halacha weighs in, it matters even more. Here is an extract from Lichtenstein's letter, addressed to the racist rabbis:

I was impressed enough by the dogged determination inherent in your love of the land and your love of the nation that dwells therein to advance your approach. However, I am concerned that in this instance your love has affected your judgment. To say the least, it must be asked whether this is a battle worth fighting. Aside from the judgment, the wisdom of it seems faulty as well.

The letter goes on to explain to these rabbis, with understatement, elegance and erudition, that they don't actually speak for God.

These are unhappy days in Israel for people who would like to see the rabbis in synagogues and not in the prime minister's cabinet, but the country's immune system is still working. You wouldn't know this from some of the coverage of this controversy; just this morning, Robert Wright, in this week's installment of "If Those Stiff-Necked Jews Just Did as They're Told the World Would Have Peace," mentions the racist rabbis without mentioning the strong reaction they provoked. This is not to say that one day these rabbis might triumph; there is always that chance. But for now, the broad consensus in Israel is that they are immoral and deserve marginalization.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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