Recently, the Knesset has debated a law that would prevent Arabs from living in the Jewish town of Katzir. What does Jewish law say on this issue?
This issue has to be judged according to two different security situations. The first is our present situation in Israel where the Arabs are clearly an enemy at war with the Jewish people. The second situation is theoretical, presuming that the Arabs laid down their arms and desired to live peacefully alongside the Jews. While it may be that there are at this time some Arabs who would like to live in peace with the Jews, as long as suicide bombers are being sent out to slaughter Jews on a daily basis, the Jewish people have to be wary and do everything they can to safeguard Jewish life. In a situation like this, it is certainly wise to prevent Arabs from moving in next door. Thus, a law that is passed in the Knesset to protect Jews from potential attackers is a positive measure, with the understanding that the law remains in force only as long as the state of war persists. However, if the Arabs in Israel truly decide to live in peace, it is not a simple matter to exclude them from living in Jewish communities amongst the Jews. First, we have to define the status of these new peaceful Arabs in Israel and our obligations toward them as residents of the land. The prohibition, which forbids foreigners from living in Israel, is called, “Lo t’chonem,” not to allow a non-Jew to possess land in Israel . There are two types of foreigners: those who worship idols and those who do not. Idol worshippers are absolutely forbidden to live in the land. The Rambam states: “When the Jewish People maintain a strong rule over the land of Israel, idol worshippers are not to be left in our midst, even if they are visitors or businessmen passing through the land, they should not be allowed entry until they accept the seven laws of Bnei Noach, as it says ‘They shall not dwell in your land.’” Non-Jews who do not worship idols are called “ger toshav” (pl. gerei toshav). Special laws apply to them and to our relations with them. For instance, they have to observe the seven laws of Bnei Noach, with the understanding that they do so in accordance with the Torah given to the Jewish people by G-d. Unlike an idol worshipper, a “ger toshav” is allowed to live in the land. Are the Arabs “gerei toshav?” The Rambam says not. The law of “Lo t’chonem” applies to them and they should not be allowed to live in the Land. According to the Rivad, as long as the “yovel” or laws of the 50-year jubilee do not yet apply in Israel, there is room to consider them as “gerei toshav.” Rabbi Kook used this understanding for the basis of his famous “heter mechira,” in the sabbatical year, allowing the legalistic sale of land to Arabs, which enabled the pioneer Jews to continue agricultural work and thus strengthen the Jewish settlement in Israel. The Rivad states that when the time of “yovel” returns, the cities of Israel will be so holy, there will be no possibility for a non-Jew to live in Jewish cities amongst the Jews. They will be barred from Jerusalem completely and from living on the borders where they could aid Israel’s enemies. However, in our time, when “yovel” does not apply, according to the Rivad, the Arabs in Israel can live amongst the Jews in their cities. Interestingly, the Malbim emphasizes that “gerei toshav” must live in the Jewish cities, and not in their own enclaves, so that the Jews can keep a security eye on them. This however, is only in a time when the “gerei toshav” want to live in peace. Therefore today, when the Arabs are clearly at war with the Jews, the law in the Knesset presently under discussion should be seen in a favorable light, as a measure ensuring the safety and well-being of Jews. ---------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship, 10:4. 2. Ibid, 10:6. 3. Rambam, Laws of Kings, 10. 4. Rambam, Laws of Prohibited Foods, 11:7. 5, Beit Yosef, Hoshen Mishpat, 249. 6. These laws will apply once again as the ingathering of the exiles continues and the majority of Jews in the world live in Israel, as in the time of the First Temple. 7. Rivad on the Rambam, Prohibition of Illicit Relationships, 14:8. See also, the Bach, Hoshen Mishpat, 149. 8. Mishpat Cohen, 63. 9. Rambam, Laws of the Temple, 7:14. 10. Tractate Gerim, 3:1, at the end of Avodah Zara. Sifre, Deut. 23:17. 11. Malbim, Deut. 23:17.