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When Rabbis Give Less Than Sage Advice on Arabs

Jerusalem has seen plenty of terrorist attacks, this month’s massacre at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva being only the latest. Every attack has stirred the emotions of the city’s Jewish residents, and sometimes Arabs have been indiscriminately beaten.

I remember a story about two Arab employees of the Jerusalem Municipality who in the wake of an attack found themselves stranded in the middle of an agitated Jewish crowd chanting “death to the Arabs.” The two experienced Arabs didn’t panic; instead, they donned yarmulkes they had kept for just such a contingency and joined the crowd in yelling anti-Arab obscenities.

With nerves being so sensitive, it’s no wonder that Jerusalem can be quickly thrown into mayhem. It is always surprising, however, to realize how quickly life here goes back to normal.

The same peddlers in the Mahane Yehuda market who scream the worst anti-Arab things to television crews after an attack go on employing their loyal Arab employees. Everybody in Jerusalem knows that life must go on, and that people, Arabs and Jews alike, have to support their families.

This past week, however, things seem to have changed.

Following the Mercaz Harav attack, the heads of a yeshiva in Bnei Brak asked Rabbi Chaim Kanyevsky — a major posek, or halachic decisor, and one of the leaders of the Haredi community — whether they should keep an Arab employee or fire him. They told the rabbi that although the Arab was middle aged and they didn’t suspect him of being involved in any way with terrorism, they were still unsure whether they should employ him. Kanyevsky ruled categorically that they should fire him.

“According to Halacha,” he said, “one shouldn’t employ Arabs, especially not in yeshivot.”

In the wake of the ruling, Haredi emissaries went to the Bukhara market in Jerusalem and urged the merchants there to follow Kanyevsky’s ruling and fire their Arab workers.

Then Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the Yesha rabbinical council and one of the leading scholars in the Religious Zionist movement, took Kanyevsky’s prohibition one step further. Not only is it forbidden by rabbbinic law to employ Arabs, Lior stated in a halachic ruling, it is also forbidden to rent homes to them.

Such suggestions are wrong, both morally and religiously. Practically, they are simply stupid.

Jews, more than anyone else, should be careful not to stigmatize people. There are good Arabs and bad Arabs, and there are good Jews and bad Jews. When Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and subsequently God was ready to finish off all the Israelites, Moses and Aaron begged him not to do so: “Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” (Numbers, 16, 22)

The Torah goes out of its way to warn us to treat the stranger decently. “One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you” (Numbers, 15, 15); and “love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy, 10, 19).

And what if Kanyevsky and Lior’s suggestions were to be implemented? Firing Arabs would be disastrous to Israel’s economy.

Who will replace the gas station attendents, the construction workers, the hotel employees? Will the good rabbis’ students leave their yeshivas, roll up their sleeves and take upon themselves these kind of jobs? Jerusalem, by the way, which leans so heavy on tourism, will be the first place to be hit by such move.

Last but not least, just think of all the thousands of Arabs who, being kicked out of their jobs, will sit frustrated at home — and not necessarily the home of their choice, if Lior has his way — and become easy prey for Hamas.

“Anger is a bad counsel,” goes the saying. It seems that sometimes rabbis are not a good source of advice either.

Uri Dromi was chief spokesman for the Israeli government under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

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