Prime Minister Netanyahu.(Guy Assayag - Pool/Getty Images)
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Fire the Rabbis

Bibi and Peres denounced Israel’s racist rabbis. They can do better.

Liel Leibovitz
December 09, 2010
Prime Minister Netanyahu.(Guy Assayag - Pool/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, scores of Israel’s chief municipal rabbis signed on to a religious ruling forbidding homeowners to rent their property to non-Jews. “Their way of life is different than that of Jews,” read the ruling. “Among [the gentiles] are those who are bitter and hateful toward us and who meddle into our lives to the point where they are a danger.” Any Jew who sells or rents his property to an Arab, the ruling concluded, should be ostracized by his neighbors and denied the right to read from the Torah.

To their credit, most of Israel’s leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, fiercely denounced the rabbis and stated that the ruling stands in opposition to Judaism’s values and teachings. But words aren’t enough: To clearly send a message that racism will not be tolerated, the government must act swiftly to remove these noxious men from their posts.

According to the law governing religious services, a chief municipal rabbi, being a public servant funded by taxpayers’ money, is prohibited from behaving “in a way unbecoming of the stature of a rabbi in Israel.” As Haaretz noted in its editorial this morning, racist and populist rulings that rely on feeble-minded and simplistic interpretations of the Halacha very much fall into the unbecoming category.

Theoretically, the rabbis in question are accountable to their respective municipalities. If, however, the attorney general decides that a municipal rabbi has acted inappropriately, he can instruct Israel’s two chief rabbis to discipline the errant clergyman. If Netanyahu is sincere in his condemnations, he should instruct his attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, to take immediate actions against the rabbis and make sure they no longer enjoy the prestige and the public funding that comes with their posts. Anything short of such direct action is shameful.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.