Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv- Meir Haltovsky
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv Photo by Meir Haltovsky
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Two municipal chief rabbis decided on Thursday to remove their signatures from a religious ruling forbidding Israeli Jews from renting homes to gentiles.

Dozens of Israel's municipal chief rabbis had signed on to the letter, which came just months after the chief rabbi of Safed initiated a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.

Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook and Rabbi Yaakov Edelstein said they decided to remove their names from the letter because they did not agree with its content.

However, their decision is probably related to a statement made by leading rabbi of Israel's non-Hasidic Orthodox sector, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who denounced earlier on Thursday the religious ruling.

"I've said for some time that there are rabbis who must have their pens taken away from them," Elyashiv remarked.

"It's interesting that these same Zionist rabbis support symbolically selling their land to gentiles during the shmita year," he added referring to the seven-year cycle when agricultural fields in Israel must lie fallow.

The attorney general's office stated on Thursday that it would look into possible criminal aspects of a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles signed by a number of leading rabbis.

In an official response to a petition submitted by Meretz MK Ilan Ghilon against the signatories of the rabbis' letter, an assistant of attorney general Yehuda Weinstein said that Weinstein would order the examination of possible criminal and disciplinary aspects of the rabbis' letter.

"The attorney general thinks that it appears that the statements attributed to the rabbis are problematic in several aspects… and are inappropriate for public officials," the statement said.

The attorney general office's statement was the first official response by Israel's legal establishment to petitions calling for legal action against the signatories of the rabbis' letter.

Earlier on Thursday, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial decried the rabbis' letter, deeming it a "severe blow to the values of our lives as Jews and human beings in a democratic state."

"Past experiments have taught us just how important, and at the same time how fragile, these basic values are to coexistence and honoring the other," the memorial said in response to the ruling.

"We know that the Jewish people, that knew suffering and persecution and experience ostracism and the revocation of basic rights, has expressed its stance on matters such as these with voices different than those we have heard today with this [ruling]".