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

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/a-bit-of-good-news-on-the-dont-sell-to-the-arabs-controversy/67977/