Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Discriminating Kol Koreh

A kol koreh was recently issued in Bnei Brak instructing its adherents not to rent or sell real estate to Arabs or non-Jews. Remarkable! I realize this isn’t front page news, but I was sort of hoping that there would be some contrary expression to this kol koreh. Haven’t seen any. I have, however seen encouragement from some bloggers, hoping that this kol koreh would spread throughout Israel. How about a kol koreh from the United Christians admonishing their constituents not to sell or rent to Jews because they were pushy, dirty and cheat!

I never thought I would actually see a racist kol koreh. It’s one thing to think it, it’s quite another thing to put in writing and act upon it. It is precisely because of these prejudices and our past collective history that we became the vanguards of human rights. Our value system and tradition historically do not countenance the blind prejudice exhibited in Bnei Brak. It wasn’t too many years ago that the Jews of Europe were discriminated against. I’m not referring to the holocaust but much before that. We tend to forget and draw the line at the holocaust. But for centuries before, we were discriminated against, our movements limited, and our ability to live outside of a ghetto was but a dream. I seem to remember “kol korehs” that called on country Clubs not to admit Jews and “kol korehs” limiting Jewish admission to universities to a system of “numerous clauses”. I also remember “kol korehs” where neighborhoods were encouraged not to sell homes to Jews. Then we were very vocal, fighting for our right s and dignity. Now that the shoe is on the other foot—not a peep.

So how is it possible that a Kol Koreh signed by Geonim, including Hagoen R’ Aharon Lieb Steinman, Hagoen R’ Shmuel Wosner, Hagoen R’ Michael Yehudah Lefkovich and others can be so hateful? (Interestingly, the Kol Koreh was signed by Ashkenazi Rabbonim. As far as I know Sephardic Rabbanim weren’t participants in the Kol Koreh. Granted Bnei Brak has a strong Ashkenazi base, but I would assume that there are Sephardi Jews there, who are represented by their own Chachamim). As I said, its one thing to merely entertain certain thoughts, it’s entirely different when one acts on those thoughts. At least in Halacha that is so. Had the reason been based on political and security issues, I could certainly understand the racial profiling, and as a matter of record would actively support it.

But here we are talking about discrimination based upon racial bias-nothing more. The kol koreh is appealing to the good residents of Bnei Brak not to rent or sell property to Arabs and non-Jews. The kol koreh states that it is forbidden. Really!! According to a neighborhood representative, no one wants these people because they damage things, they are violent, and they steal.

I’m wondering how we would feel if there was a similar kol koreh that originated in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New Jersey or Chicago? A kol koreh that warned people not to rent or sell to Blacks or Puerto Ricans because they had tendencies towards violence, looting and theft. Wishful thinking—certainly for some of you out there! Fortunately, it really couldn’t happen here because the law doesn’t permit it to happen. I’m sure that there is an unspoken consensus amongst people in their communities on whom not to sell to.

I have often believed that the Jewish communities of America and Israel are very different, if for no other reason than by virtue of the fact that their daily living experience has impacted on them as Jews differently than our every day living experiences. The Federation came up with the campaign slogan “We Are One” and it seems that Jews, certainly in America bought in to that. (It just goes to show you that we are Bumper sticker Jews). But the reality is that the Jews of Israel and the Jews of America are not one. We think very differently on a host of subjects. (Perhaps halacha is the one thing that binds us but even that is limited to just the orthodox communities-- with qualifications). I would like to think that those here in America who give credence to the kol korehs would take exception to this one, even if it is signed by prominent Rabbanim. I would like to think that the Jews of Bnei Brak would find this kol koreh unacceptable. What would Amos say?