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Rabbis’ disgrace
Boaz Okon
Yediot Ahronot
8.12.10


In 1834, a clothes salesman in London refused to sell an article of clothing to a customer. The refusal stemmed from the fact that the buyer was “just a Jew.”The Jewish buyer sued the salesman, but the court in the Timothy case supported the salesman. It was not a just trial, but the judge employed a sacred principle, the freedom of contracts, according to which a person can choose with whom he wants to enter into a contract and whom he does not. This sanctity was a disgrace and a refuge for ugly prejudice. The court’s non-intervention only supplied ammunition to the strong and violent versus the human and the weak, and the usual outcome of giving “freedom to wolves,” as Prof. Isaiah Berlin put it, is “death for sheep.” Since then, the sanctity of the freedom of contracts has been made subject to the demand of good faith. It can no longer serve as a refuge for racists. In the Israeli ruling in the case of Naamne vs. Kibbutz Kalia, Judge Miriam Mizrahi ruled that one cannot rely on freedom of contracts to prevent Arabs from entering a water park.

Now Jewish clerics are using a different sanctity, the sanctity of the Torah, to cover their racist shame. They will find that the sanctity cannot legitimize the ugliness. Their prejudice will also be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with the ridiculous ritual that surrounds it.

The infamous Nuremberg Laws forbade, in 1935, mixed marriages between Jews and Germans, and barred Jews from employing German maids (under age 45) and laborers. This prohibition was intended to portray the Jews as a kind of pest, not quite human. They became a persecuted bloc on the basis of generalizations and slander. Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor at the Eichmann trial, would later say that in Israel, “we do not make ethnic distinctions.” But here, rabbis, who receive their pay from the state coffers, forbid people to rent apartments to Gentiles, to Arabs, because it “causes evil and makes the public commit the sin of intermarriage,” and because they have among them “enemies and people who persecute us to the point of endangering lives.”

The racism does not start with the rabbis. Discrimination is everywhere, in almost every neighborhood. For this very reason, we must not stand by when people try to turn it into ideology. In 2004, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sought to rein in inciting rabbis by instituting disciplinary proceedings against them based on the Jewish religious services law, which forbids a rabbi to behave “in a manner unbecoming the standing of a rabbi in Israel.” Nothing was done. The feeble response only increased the rabbis’ impudence. And so it happens that rabbis can excel in quoting Biblical verses but still have the morals of gang leaders. If they cannot be prevented from holding benighted opinions, they can be prevented from receiving a salary from the state, a salary that is also funded by taxes paid by Arabs. The criminal code states explicitly that “anyone who publishes something with the aim of racist incitement is subject to five years of imprisonment.” Racism is defined there as “persecution, humiliation, shaming… or inciting antagonism towards… parts of the population… due to affiliation with a particular race or national-ethnic origin.” The silence of the law enforcement agencies towards displays of racism is not a sign of liberalism or tolerance. It is a sign of weakness. If this law is not implemented, darkness will prevail in which we will not be able to distinguish rabbi from charlatan, angel from demon. In practice, this could mark the end of the rule of law.

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