I. Rental Controversy
There is a tumult in Israel right now because a number of rabbis publicized a halakhic ruling forbidding Jews to rent apartments to gentiles (link). This ruling was picked up by the media, leading other rabbis to publicize rulings to the contrary (link). What is this all about?
This is part of the struggle to create a halakhic model for the modern State of Israel. How do we adapt halakhah to the reality in which we find ourselves today? Gentiles living in a Jewish society is a new development and the application of halakhah to this new situation is debated.
II. Reasons to Forbid
Let’s look at the issues:
1. Lo Sechanem
The Torah only allows Jews and gentiles with a status of resident alien (ger toshav) to live in Israel (see this post: link). It forbids Jews to sell or give gentiles who are not resident aliens land, including a house. The question then arises whether renting is equivalent to selling. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 21a) rules that it is not, and therefore, absent other concerns, a Jew may rent out an apartment to a gentile who is not a ger toshav.
2. Lo Savi
If renting is not a sale, another problem arises. Jews may not allow idols into their homes. Because gentiles regularly bring idols into their homes, even the homes they rent, they thereby prevent Jews from renting to them. Therefore, if renting is like selling, a Jew may not rent a home to a gentile who is not a ger toshav because of lo sechanem. If it is not like selling, and then rented home belongs to the Jewish owner, then a Jew may not rent a home to a gentile because the gentile will bring idols into the home.
III. Lenient Precedents
However, Medieval Jews regularly rented homes to gentiles despite the talmudic conclusion that renting is not like selling. Does this not contravene the second prohibition listed above? Medieval scholars offer a number of reasons justifying the practice. The Seder Ya’akov commentary to Avodah Zarah (21a sv. harei lanu) lists eight reasons offered by Medieval authorities to explain the practice. The Rosh (Avodah Zarah, ch. 1 no. 22) adopts two of these explanations: 1) gentiles in those days do not bring idols into their homes, 2) secular law turns renting into selling (and lo sechanem only applies in Israel).
Significantly, the Rema in Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 151:10) follows the Rosh by explicitly permitting the common practice of renting out apartments to gentiles. He also permits it in Israel because, absent government rulings to the contrary, renting is not like selling. The Shakh (ad loc., no. 17), however, expresses shock over this leniency because gentiles regularly bring idols into their homes. He concludes that gentile practice must have changed since the Rema’s time. This suggestion is highly unlikely and it seems we have a dispute between the Rema and the Shakh. What is this dispute about?
Both the Rema and the Shakh lived in Christian countries and held that Christianity is halakhically categorized as “shituf,” something they considered permissible for gentiles but forbidden to Jews. If gentiles are allowed by the Torah’s Noahide covenant to be Christians, how can their statues and crosses be considered idols? I suggest that the Rema held that they cannot but the Shakh held that since shituf is forbidden to Jews, its paraphernalia are also forbidden to Jews as idols.
Regardless, we see a dispute between the Rema and the Shakh whether Jews may rent houses to gentiles.
IV. State of Israel
In Israel, the most pressing issue is renting to Muslims. Since they are not idolaters, there is no problem of lo savi. And since renting is not like selling, there is no problem of lo sechanem. Therefore, I am not sure how it can be halakhically problematic.
Regarding Christians, it would seem that the dispute between the Rema and the Shakh would apply. While one could argue that there is ample room for stringency, given the need to maintain peace within the country it seems that the opposite argument — towards leniency — is stronger.
All this is about renting but what about selling? As discussed in an earlier post (link), R. Shlomo Aviner quotes R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook as holding, like the Ra’avad and the Rambam (according to the Kessef Mishneh), that gentiles who observe the seven Noahide laws today attain the status of resident alien (ger toshav). The truth is that R. Kook’s father, R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook, had previously ruled this way (Mishpat Cohen, no. 61). This entirely removes all halakhic barriers to sales or rentals.
Similar rulings were issued by R. Yitzchak Herzog (Techumin, vol. 2), R. Shlomo Goren (Mishnas Ha-Medinah, p. 65), R. Nachum Rabinovich (Siach Nachum, no. 93) and others. Each authority has his own nuance — R. Goren adds in the consideration of “eivah“, R. Herzog is concerned with establishing a Jewish state, etc. But the sum result is that they permitted renting and selling homes in Israel to gentiles.
V. Deteriorating Neighborhood
From the language of the recent ruling, however, it seems that the main concern is the deterioration of neighborhoods. On the one hand, those of us aware of US history know that this is often code language for discrimination and does not really concern deterioration. However, let us judge the rabbis favorably and assume that they really share this legitimate concern.
The Gemara (Bava Basra 21a) prohibits a homeowner from conducting business that generates a lot of foot traffic because it negatively affects his neighbors. The Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 156:1) allows a homeowner to sell his house to someone with such a business, because the new owner will then have to deal in beis din with his neighbors. He may not, however, sell his home to a gentile with such a business because the gentile will not follow a beis din‘s rulings and the neighbors’ rights will then be violated.
In an impassioned 1969 halakhic article in the journal Ha-Pardes (43:7, Iyar 5729, p. 5ff. link), R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, argued that this law forbade Crown Heights residents from selling their homes to gentiles and leaving the neighborhood. By causing deterioration of the neighborhood, the sellers are violating their neighbors’ rights. His call for communal unity kept Lubavitchers in the neighborhood but just about all other Jews eventually moved away. And the neighborhood has, indeed, declined dramatically.
If this is the concern in Israel, then a ruling can be worded appropriately. Indeed, I can’t see why selling to a non-religious Jew — who will ignore a beis din‘s rulings — is any different than selling to a gentile. Nor can I see why selling to a respectable gentile is problematic. A prohibition, if necessary at all, can easily be worded in terms of maintaining neighborhood safety rather than race or religion. Homeowners should respect their neighbors and not rent to dangerous people, regardless of race or religion, who will make the neighborhood less safe.