Prominent rabbi slammed for forbidding lesbian tenants

Yaakov Ariel’s comments prompt justice minister to mull criminalizing discrimination in apartment rentals

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, in August 2010. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, in August 2010. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The rabbi of Ramat Gan, Yaakov Ariel, set off a firestorm of criticism this week after it was revealed that, in response to an online question, he advised a landlord to not rent out an apartment to a lesbian couple.

Ariel, a former candidate for chief rabbi of Israel, is a senior, respected figure in the religious Zionist world, and as a city rabbi receives a state salary. On Thursday, in the wake of an outcry from the public, gay-rights’ organizations and politicians, Ariel was reportedly summoned by Ramat Gan Mayor Israel Singer to explain his remarks.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that “the statements of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel prohibiting renting apartments to lesbians are not only morally and socially wrong;they should also be forbidden on a legal level.”

Livni said that she was examining the possibility of classifying a refusal to rent or sell apartments to individuals based on their belonging to a certain group as discriminatory criminal acts, punishable by jail time or a fine.

“In Israel we won’t permit discrimination against members of the gay community or Arabs or other minorities, in housing or any other field,” Livni said in a statement posted to Facebook. In the past, extremist rabbis, some of whom are also employed by the state as city rabbis, have proscribed the sale or rental of apartments to non-Jews.

Ariel had responded on Monday on the website (Hebrew) to a user who asked if it was religiously permissible to rent out his apartment to a young woman who admitted that she was involved romantically with another woman.

The rabbi’s reply was that if they are “renting as a couple,” then the landlord shouldn’t rent out the apartment. But if only one of them is to rent the apartment then it was permissible, unless there was another offer, in which case the landlord should “take it.”

Ariel’s opinion was slammed by LGBT and progressive religious groups, and was heavily criticized online.

“LGBT women have equal rights in all spheres of life” in both the religious and secular worlds, Ayelet Vider-Cohen, director of Kolech, an Orthodox feminist organization, told Ynet. She said that Ariel’s ruling “is contrary to the Jewish worldview that advocates respect for any man or woman.”

However, Rabbi Areleh Harel, a student of Ariel and the former head of Yeshivat Shilo, told Channel 2 that Ariel’s words shouldn’t be taken as a halachic ruling, and he noted that in the past Ariel had spoken out against religious rulings prohibiting apartment rentals to Arabs.

“The question that Rabbi Ariel was asked was the specific question of a person who rents out an apartment in his house, and for educational reasons doesn’t want his children exposed to a lesbian couple,” Harel said.

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