Public Figures Ask Attorney General to Take Action Against 'Racist' Rabbis

The group, which includes professors, playwrights and authors, demands the suspension of any rabbis who forbade sale of land to non-Jews.

A group of public figures, intellectuals and academics asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein Tuesday to take action against the rabbis who signed a religious ruling calling for people not to rent homes to non-Jews.

The group, which includes professors Yaron Ezrahi, Chaim Gans and Joseph Agassi, playwright Joshua Sobol and authors Sefi Rachlevsky and Yoram Kaniuk, approached Weinstein several weeks ago about taking action against Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for issuing the same type of call.

"Because of dawdling, negligence and a feeble response to the breaking of the law, the fire has jumped from one coal, from rabbi to rabbi, and threatens to burn the whole forest," the letter said.

The signatories asked Weinstein to immediately suspend any public servants among the rabbis who signed the document, those "who trample underfoot the pledges of the Declaration of Independence on which Israel was founded, turn Judaism into racism and openly break the law prohibiting incitement to racism."

Haaretz asked Weinstein yesterday, through the Justice Ministry spokesman, whether he intended to adopt a stance on the rabbis' letter or launch a criminal investigation.

The spokesman said queries on the matter "have been conveyed to the relevant professionals and will be handled with appropriate urgency."

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has also not taken a stance on the matter.

Sources in the Justice Ministry said that the issue might be dealt with but did not reveal the ministry's position.

The Civil Service Commission said that only chief rabbis are state employees and subject to the commission's rules, while municipal rabbis are subject to the religious councils.

The Chief Rabbinate is responsible for matters of Jewish law and professional issues pertaining to municipal rabbis. Theoretically, the two chief rabbis can summon a municipal rabbi for a disciplinary hearing if the attorney general concludes he has exceeded his authority or acted improperly. Such action has rarely been taken.

Oded Weiner, director general of the Chief Rabbinate, told Haaretz that the institution "does a great deal for interreligious dialogue, worldwide and with the Palestinian Authority." But Weiner added that "every rabbi in his city says what is in his heart."

Weiner said that in the past, chief rabbis handled such issues quietly with the individuals involved. "I have not seen the letter the municipal rabbis signed," he said. "When we receive a query from any quarter, I'm sure the chief rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate will consider the matter." Weiner said Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger would not take the issue to the council on his own initiative.