Don't Rent Apartments to Lesbians, Says Rabbi

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When this question was recently posted to one of Israel’s popular religious internet forums, Ramat Gan’s chief municipal rabbi Yaakov Ariel had this to say:

There you have it: proof that housing discrimination is alive and well in Israel, the country that likes to bill itself as a haven for the LGBT community.

It’s an incredibly disappointing response, of course. Disappointing to think that prominent rabbis are going around saying, as Rabbi Ariel did in a follow-up interview, that lesbian relationships are “unnatural” and that property owners don’t need to make themselves party to such “strange things.”

Disappointing to think they’re inculcating in Jews the belief that “Jewish law doesn’t look kindly on couples like that,” without bothering to add any sort of nuance, like the fact that lesbian relationships don’t really become an issue in Judaism until Maimonides gets around to them in the 12th century.

Disappointing to think that if my girlfriend and I were to try and rent an apartment in Israel, daring to be as honest and forthcoming as the would-be tenant mentioned above apparently was, we could easily be discriminated against.

Disappointing — but not at all surprising. Because this rabbi’s don’t-rent-to-lesbians policy is just the latest in a series of similar rabbinic responses coming out of Israel over the past few years. Remember the don’t-rent-to-Arabs policy? Or how about the don’t-rent-to-Ethiopians policy?

These things are all interconnected, I’d argue, because a society that discriminates against one minority will almost inevitably discriminate against others. You can chalk that up to a lovely little phenomenon we feminists like to call intersectionality — the idea that different forms of oppression are often mutually reinforcing.

In this case, I suspect that the anonymous questioner who took to an online forum to ask “Am I allowed to rent to lesbians?” would never even have thought to ask such a question if not for the preexisting rabbinic pronouncements against renting to other minorities. Had the rabbis not already normalized the idea that it’s okay to discriminate against perceived undesirables when it comes to housing, I doubt it would’ve occurred to the questioner to think that the Torah’s prohibition against same-sex acts might somehow extend to a prohibition against renting to a same-sex couple.

So, while I couldn’t agree more with the Israeli LGBT groups who are issuing statements of outrage over how this rabbinic response harms the queer community, I think we miss the mark if we don’t also point out how such a response harms all minorities in Israel — and, at least in part, grows out of discrimination against them, too.

The good news here is that Israel’s Justice Ministry seems to understand this point pretty well:

With any luck, this rabbi’s discriminatory response may actually result in some positive legal change.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


Sigal Samuel

Sigal Samuel

Sigal Samuel is the Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Contact Sigal at, check out her author website, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

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Don't Rent Apartments to Lesbians, Says Rabbi

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