There has been a controversy recently in Israel regarding selling homes/land to non-Jews. A Group of Rabbis in Tzfat have called upon Jews to refrain from selling homes to non-Jews. Then last Thurs. morning Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in a morning halakhah class was reported as saying that it is forbidden to sell homes to non-Jews in Israel.
Some have written that this is a straight forward law of the Torah with no one disputing it. When I read this, I recalled the writings of Rabbi Chayim David Halevy who addressed this subject in his responsa Aseh Lecha Rav.
(A little about the relationship between Rabbi Halevy and his bar Plugta (partner in dispute) in this matter Rabbi Ovadia Yosef -- The following is from Rabbi Marc Angel's biography of Rabbi Halevy pg. 27. "When the term of office of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, was concluding in the early 1990's, Rabbi Halevy was offered as a candidate by the Mafdal party (Mizrachi). Rabbi Halevy, though, was not one to engage in political maneuvering or campaigning for office. Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, although a colleague of Rabbi Halevy's from their days together at Porat Yosef, was interested in having a Sephardic Chief Rabbi affiliated with and loyal to his Shas party. Given Rabbi Yosef's vast influence in the process of selecting the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Rabbi Halevy could not win-- unless he became a member of the Shas party. Having been a longtime member of Mizrachi, and having a general aversion to the ethnic politics of Shas, Rabbi Halevy would not consider sacrificing his principles and integrity to join the Shas bandwagon/ Consequently, he did not win the office of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel; rather the office went to Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, a follower of Rabbi Ovadya Yosef.)
Consistently in this 9 volume collection Rabbi Halevy rules that there is no contemporary prohibition to selling homes to non-Jews. For the record I want to share his analysis.
In the beginning of chapter 7 of Deuteronomy the Torah states, "When God your Lord brings you to the land you are entering, so that you can occupy it, He will uproot many nations before you--the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Peritiztes, Hivites ad Jebusites-- seven nations more numerous and powerful than you are. When the Lord your God gives them to you and you smite them, utterly destroy them, do not make any covenant with them and do not show them favor." The Rabbis of the Talmud interpret "do not show them any favor" to mean do not give them any hold on the land (the Hebrew "techanem" can be read to me give them a camp -- thus do not give them a camp or hold (on the land)). It is this verse with the interpretation that I mentioned on which those who would forbid Jews to sell land to non-Jews base themselves.
What does Rabbi Halevy do with this. Firstly, he notes that the straightforward read of the Biblical passage seems to refer to the original Canaanite nations and nobody else. (Aseh Lecha Rav 4:21 page 20-21 8:68 pg 193). Indeed, he notes that some of the rishonim (post talmudic commentators) limit this prohibition to the original seven Canaanite nations. However, Maimonides understands this prohibition to apply to all idolaters. To this, Rabbi Halevy brings the opinion of the Meiri (a fourteenth century scholar from Provence) that prohibitions against idolaters do not apply to contemporary non-Jews. These prohibitions were directed against the extremely corrupt and violent society of ancient times but have no relevance to the morally restrained societies of today (Aseh Lecha Rav 4:1 pg. 24; 8:68 pg. 194; 9:30 pg 68). On just these technical grounds R. Halevy claims that nowadays it is absolutely permitted to sell land to non-Jews.
But Rabbi Halevy goes further. It is not just on the basis of these technicalities that there is no prohibition. He seems to claim that given the radically different nature of society today there can be no place for discriminatory prohibitions like this. He notes that Israel's declaration of independence states, "there will be complete social and political equal rights for all of its citizens without regard for religion, race, or gender." On this basis Rabbi Halevy claims that Israel is obligated to its non-Jewish citizens the same rights that are granted by law to Jews. (Aseh Lecha Rav 9:30 pg. 61) If the formative document of the modern state of Israel was made with a promise to give equal rights to non-Jews, this promise must be kept. He further notes that in the western democratic world, in which Israel operates, the basis of society is that every human being has equal rights and there is no place in a democratic state for discrimination on the basis of religion. (ibid pg. 63). The prohibitions mentioned in the early halakhic literature are based on a totally different political reality and therefore have no relevance in our democratic society.
In Rabbi Angel's biography on page 197, he quotes from Rabbi Halevy's book Bein Yisrael L'Amim, "It is clear that we cannot relate to the minority [Israeli Arabs] with false accusations and the ferocity of hatred. Who knows better than we the taste of persecutions and racist discrimination that spread hatred and poison in the heart. Rather, we go upright in the paths of peace and understanding, for they are the way of Torah whose paths are the paths of pleasantness and all its ways are peace. We must find a just solution in the spirit of the Torah."
What a far cry R. Halevy's position is from what has been said in the name of halakhah in the news lately. As one who finds both R. Halevy's legal reasoning and his moral intution compelling I felt the need to share this Torah. Thanks for listening.