A misplaced storm of criticism has recently descended on Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef for comments “forbidding non-Jews from living in Israel”, as one Israeli left-wing news headline declared. However, the “decree”, which quickly gained traction in the media and seems poised to threaten non-Jewish support for Israel, was a serious misrepresentation of the rabbi’s words, changing the context entirely. At stake is the growing relationship between Israeli Orthodox Jews and their Evangelical support.
Last Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef was asked what should be done about the antagonistic Palestinian population presently within Israel. The rabbi answered with a halachic (Torah law) ruling.
“It is forbidden for non-Jews to live in Israel unless they accept upon themselves the seven Noahide laws,” he explained, adding, “If one of them, who doesn’t kill himself [in a suicide attack] doesn’t follow the Noahide laws, then he should be sent to Saudi Arabia. That is the halacha.”
A country which fully observed Jewish law would enforce this, he continued, saying, “If our hand were firm, if we had the power to rule, that’s what we should do. But we aren’t firm so we have to wait until the complete redemption.”
However, most media coverage skimmed – or skipped entirely – the most important part of the rabbi’s ruling. “A ger toshav (Biblical term for non-Jewish resident of Israel) who takes on the Noahide laws is permitted to live in Israel,” he explained.
The rabbi then went on to actually emphasize the importance of gentiles who support Israel. “Who will be the caretakers? Who will help us [in the land]? The non-Jews, so therefore they will stay here.”
Specific laws govern the status of the ger toshav, but the Bible clearly states that such individuals are permitted to live in Israel and are, in fact, considered to be on an elevated spiritual level for doing so.
While much of Israel’s Arab population is hostile, there are a number of Arab communities which support Israel, even fighting in the IDF, including Bedouins and Arab Israeli Christians.
The Times of Israel ran an article about Rabbi Yosef’s speech with the headline, “Non-Jews shouldn’t be allowed to live in Israel”. Haaretz’s headline read, “Non-Jews Forbidden From Living in the Land of Israel”. Neither article mentioned that the rabbi was specifying Israel’s Arab residents.
Yet a cursory inspection of the rabbi’s comments shows that he was referring only to the Palestinians who perpetrate suicide attacks. For news outlets to imply that the rabbi’s statements forbidding non-Jews from living in Israel were actually directed at pro-Israel Christians was misleading in the extreme.
Haaretz translated the Rabbi’s words as saying that the non-Jews would “serve the Jewish population”. Correctly translated, the rabbi said the non-Jews would be “caretakers”.
Israel Today wrote about Rabbi Yosef’s statements under the heading, “Gentiles Must Follow Torah to Remain in Israel”. Though technically accurate, it, too, is misleading: Torah law does not require non-Jewish residents to follow all of the Torah but only the seven Noahide laws which they probably already observe.
The Seven Noahide Laws:
Do not deny God.
Do not blaspheme God.
Do not murder.
Do not engage in sexual immorality.
Do not steal.
Do not eat of a live animal.
Establish courts/legal system to ensure law and obedience.
The seven Noahide laws are incumbent upon all men, Jew and non-Jew alike, inside Israel and in the rest of the world. They are even mentioned in the Koran, which accepts Noah as a prophet and explicitly mentions the Noahide laws as part of Sharia law. The growing Christian Noahide community would be welcomed in Israel with open arms.
Recently, the relationship between Israeli Orthodox Jews and Christians has been growing stronger. Christians are motivated by a desire to bring the Messiah and a recognition that the roots of Christianity, and the Bible, lie in Israel with the Jews, and their efforts have inspired Jews to overcome fears generated by a millennium of oppression and proselytizing.
In this blossoming friendship between the two Abrahamic religions, Orthodox Judaism in Israel – which Rabbi Yosef represents – has much to offer pro-Israel non-Jews, whereas there is much to be lost if the fragile relationship is broken apart. Voices that antagonize gentiles who support Israel should be heeded with great caution.