Is It Legal to Evict One's Tenant When the Messiah Arrives?

I consulted both Jewish law and Israeli civil law to find out if the Messiah Clause was legal, and found the most profound answer in the simplest of places.

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Sitting down for Shabbat lunch recently, our friends Ben and Jenna Alpern shared with excitement details of their new apartment in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. They were excited to be moving from their cramped studio apartment to a three-room home – a more suitable option given the recent arrival of their son Maor Meron. But they had one hesitation: A clause in the lease that read, “Upon the coming of the Messiah, tenants agree to vacate the apartment within 15 days.”

A Messiah Clause?

I burst out laughing when they told me. "How absurd!" I thought. It reminded me of the classic Marx Brothers routine from "Night at the Opera" where Groucho and Chico review the Sanity Clause in a contract. "Who, in their right mind," I wondered, "would celebrate the arrival of Messiah by putting a young couple and their infant son out on the street?"

I regained my composure and, together with the other guests at my Shabbat lunch, began considering the moral and halakhic (Jewish law) implications of writing and signing a lease that contains a Messiah Clause.

First, we reviewed the facts.

The landlord was acting on behalf of the owners, his parents, now living in America, who purchased a home in Jerusalem with the intention that it be ready and waiting for Messiah’s arrival. It is not for us to judge the circumstances that might or might not obligate the parents to make aliyah to Israel now. Halakhically, we are required to give them the benefit of the doubt and to judge them favorably. So, if there is no problem in residing in Borough Park while holding another apartment in Jerusalem in anticipation of Messiah’s imminent arrival, there should be no problem in renting it out in the meantime.

However, there is also the tenants’ perspective. The twelfth of the Rambam’s (Maimonides) principles of faith states, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate his coming every day.” The fifteenth supplication in the weekday Amidah prayer articulates and formalizes this request. How can anyone say these words with complete sincerity and requisite longing - up to three times a day - if the expected outcome is imminent eviction from one’s home?

This poses a complicated question to the landlord and his parents: Are you compromising your tenants’ ability to pray? There is a Biblical proscription against putting a stumbling block before the blind.

Finally, practically speaking, whose definition of Messiah does the clause refer to? After both my friends and the landlord mutually agreed not to rely on the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to determine the matter, they decided on the language Messiah as recognized by Klal Yisrael (the majority of Jews). Given our national propensity not to agree on most issues – including those much less significant than the Messiah - the consensus around our Shabbat table was that the Alpern family may be settled in their apartment for a good long time.

After Shabbat, I Googled Messiah Clause and found a couple of references, including a blog post from ten years ago confirming its usage and practice, and an instance where someone attempted to get coverage from Lloyd’s of London to insure the relocation costs in case of the Messiah's arrival. Next, I reached out to my network in the legal community.

One friend, who lives in Israel and remotely practices U.S. law, wrote, “I have not heard of the Moshiach clause, but think it’s a great concept and would readily agree to this (and use it myself as a landlord). We should all be on the level of incorporating the yearning of Moshiach into our daily lives, including mundane business matters, in such a practical manner. Maybe it is such a constant consciousness of Moshiach that will indeed hasten his arrival…”

Another friend, Jeffrey Rashba, who is a partner at Ephraim Abramson & Co and has many years' experience practicing law in Israel, had never heard of the clause either. He asked around and found that neither had six real estate lawyers and an Israeli Supreme Court judge. Rashba consulted his partner who heads up the firm’s real estate practice, who gave this considered response: There can be no opinion rendered on enforceability per current Israeli Law because the law once the Moshiach arrives will be determined by the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of Temple times, which decided the most complicated cases).

At this point, my head was swimming with a myriad of implications and hypotheticals on a case that I originally thought was a joke. I'd considered the halakhic implications and the legal implications, but there was one thing I hadn't considered: the personal implications.

Imagining myself as landlord or tenant in this particular case, I paused and asked myself, "Would you want a Messiah Clause?"

Contrary to my initial gut reaction, I believe I would.

As the owner of the property, I would be living in a temporary home in galut (exile), prevented by personal circumstances from living in the Holy Land. Simultaneously, I would be feeling deep regret, knowing, as my ancestors before me, that Eretz Yisrael was where I belonged. How could I, in good conscience, execute a lease on my real home without acknowledging my fervent and imminent desire to be there as soon as possible?

As the tenant, being already where I needed to be and acknowledging my landlord’s rights to his property, my prayers would need to be even more focused on Messiah’s immediate arrival - not only for my sake, but for the sake of all humankind, including safe passage home for my apartment’s owners. My prayers would be grounded in the knowledge that no matter the outcome, I am already home.

As for when Messiah arrives, there are some things that we should leave for him to decide. May he come speedily in our days.

Rabbi Yehoshua Looks is COO of Ayeka, a teacher and a freelance consultant to non-profit organizations.

Groucho and Chico review the Sanity Clause in a contract, in 'Night at the Opera'.Credit: YouTube
Illustration: An apartment block in Jerusalem.Credit: Archive: Tess Scheflan
Groucho and Chico review the Sanity Clause in a contract, in 'Night at the Opera'.Credit: YouTube

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