Nearly three years ago, a group of Israeli rabbis published a public statement forbidding the sale or rent of real estate to non-Jews, and even recommending various sanctions to be applied against anyone found transgressing their decree. Despite public controversy, the ruling was not rescinded, and one of its authors was recently a candidate for the office of chief rabbi of Israel.
Today, the Jewish concept of the mamzer — the halachically illegitimate child — may seem to be irrelevant and detached from modern reality. Liberal Western discourse has difficulty relating to it; even for Israeli and Jewish society, it seems to be somewhat archaic. The fact is, however, that this halachic notion is alive and well.
A wild and dangerous “spring” is raging in the countries surrounding Israel. Egypt, Syria and Lebanon face internal battles for control that are motivated by religion, nationalism, tribal loyalties and financial gain. The situation in Jordan is precarious and may similarly deteriorate into war. The toll, in Syria at least, has been high. According to estimates, over 100,000 civilians have been slaughtered in Syria alone, and its land is drenched in Arab blood. In Israel, by contrast, the situation is relatively calm and stable. Despite the proximity, life on the two sides of the borders seems to be taking place on different planets.
Sixty blind people with guide dogs recently toured the Old City of Jerusalem. Despite the eternal darkness they experience, they were flooded with light. Touching the stones of the Jewish Quarter brought tears to their sightless eyes. However, they could not approach the prayer site sanctified by a myriad of Jewish tears over the millennia, since Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who holds the title of rabbi of the Western Wall, has ruled that the Western Wall plaza is off limits to all types of animals — guide dogs included.
When speaking with American Jews, I often hear of their desire to apply the American model of religion and state — total separation — to religious life in Israel. Many American Jews — including the Orthodox — view the Israeli paradigm in blatant opposition to the notion of individual rights and the very concept of Israel as a Western state.