Responsum: Dilemmas Involving African Refugees and Migrant Workers in Israel

“We call upon the Government of Israel to urgently deal with the issue of the refugees and migrant workers in a comprehensive manner, upon the basis of the balance the Torah teaches us between the distinction of the Jewish people as the chosen nation, and the dignity and worth of every human being…”

Abstract

The Torah, in teaching us about the holiness of each and every human being, described him and her as having been created in the “image of God,” on the one hand; and of the Nation of Israel as “the Chosen People,” on the other hand. The question of the appropriate balance between these two values has accompanied the Jewish People throughout the generations, and is a particular challenge today in the State of Israel.

In this context, the multitude of African refugees and migrant workers to the State of Israel in recent years presents us with a pressing and practical challenge. Until now, the issue has not been dealt with appropriately. The reality is that there is anarchy, causing great misery on a day-to-day basis, both to the legal citizens of Israel and to the African refugees and migrant workers. The responsibility for this issue, which demands urgent action, rests on the shoulders of the Government of Israel and all of entire Israeli society. It must not be allowed to fall on particular cities or neighborhoods.

When addressing this topic, we must set forth guidelines that will strengthen the Jewish identity of each individual Jew, safeguarding the Jewish identity of the state and its society, while simultaneously helping those in great distress and striving to care for each and every human being.
Thus, we call upon the Government of Israel to urgently deal with the issue of the African refugees and migrant workers in a comprehensive manner, based upon of the balance that the Torah teaches us between the distinction of the Jewish people as the chosen nation and the dignity worthy of every human being. It is this balance that we shall endeavor to define in this position paper.

Introduction

Throughout our history, Jews were compelled to contend with the complexity of safeguarding personal and national Jewish identity while living amidst in a predominantly non-Jewish society. In most generations, Jews dealt with this in small communities under the rule of non-Jews, and various themes within the Oral Law deal with these issues.

With God’s kindness, however, the Nation of Israel has ingathered in the past few generations to Eretz Yisrael, and we have the privilege to live in a thriving Jewish State, to which non-Jews arrive, some as refugees or migrant workers, desiring to share the blessing with which we have been endowed. How fortunate we are to live in such a generation in which we must contend with the question of how a sovereign Jewish state should treat non-Jewish minorities who wish to live among us! But this blessing comes with responsibility, which the Torah also addresses.

How should we relate to these refugees and migrant workers? Do we have a responsibility to ensure their well-being? Or perhaps our primary responsibility is to the Jewish identity of Jewish individuals and Israeli society, and we should consequently put the refugees and migrant workers aside?
We shall open our discussion with the basic ideological foundations of the relations between Israel and the nations. Subsequently, we shall focus on the urgent, practical issue of the desirable attitude toward refugees and migrant workers.

A. Jews and non-Jews

1. From Creation and throughout the generations

The Torah is intended for the Nation of Israel, and focuses upon it, relating its history and conveying the commandments which are given only to Israel. It is therefore intriguing that the Torah opens with chapters and stories of universal interest, from the story of Creation until the choosing of Avraham as the Patriarch from whom the Nation of Israel will continue and flourish.

It is impossible to deal with the selection of Israel without first unfolding the universal background, for the selection of Israel is for no other reason than “to repair the world under the Kingdom of God” (the Aleinu prayer), and to “crown the Lord over the entire world” (High Holy Days liturgy). This is the blessing that Avraham Avinu received at the beginning of his mission: “Through you and your offspring all the families of the earth shall be blessed“(Breishit 12:3). He, “Avram the Hebrew” (Breishit 14:13), literally “Avram of one side,” about whom it is said: “the entire world is on one side, and he is on the other side” (Breishit Rabba 42), is the same Avraham whose name was changed to emphasize that he is the father of a multitude of nations (av hamon goyim) (Breishit 17: 5).

From the very outset, Avraham Avinu calls out in the Name of God in a world in which all the people are idol-worshippers. He acts kindly with Lot his nephew and other strangers who appeared to be bowing down to the dust of their feet (Rashi on Breishit 18:4, according to Breishit Rabba).The way of our first patriarch, which he passes down to posterity is “the way of God to do righteousness and justice” (Breishit 18:4), namely, belief in God, as a foundation to spread values of righteousness and justice to the entire world.

These are two sides to the coin of Israel as the chosen people: the choosing of Israel, and the objective of their having been chosen – repairing the world (tikkun olam). If one side of the coin is missing, the coin does not exist at all. There is no Torah without the selection of Israel, and the selection of Israel is not for its own sake, but entirely intended to bring blessing to the whole world, as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6). “A holy nation” indicates the holiness of Israel, while “kingdom of priests” represents the task of Israel to bring that blessing of holiness to the world.

The commandment to sanctify God’s Name (Kiddush Hashem) also expresses this two-sided coin: the Torah obligates us as a nation to live lives of holiness, but the Torah does not limit its vision inward, within our nation. It extends it outward, as well, in the direction of the nations of the world. The Torah obligates us with a special responsibility to carry upon our shoulders the Name of God before the eyes of the nations.

When the Nation of Israel is about to settle in its land, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasizes the importance of sanctifying God’s Name before the eyes of the nations: “Observe [the mitzvot] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and insight to the nations, who will hear about all these laws and say, ‘What a wise and insightful people is this great nation!’ For what other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we call upon him?!” (Devarim 4:6-7).

Similarly, in the words of Yeshayahu Hanavi: “…the people whom I created for myself so that they may proclaim my glory” (43:21). The nation is a unique creation, whose establishment was intended to sanctify God’s Name in the world.

Rabbi Akiva also alludes to these two sides of the coin, in a mishna in Avot (ch. 3) –”Beloved is humanity, for it was created in the image [of G-d] … as it says, ‘For in the image of God, He made humanity.’ Beloved are Israel, for they are called ‘children of God’ as it says: ‘You are children of the Lord your God.’”

The well-known words of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari uniquely express the two-sidedness of the selection of Israel: “Israel amongst the nations are comparable to the heart amongst the organs” (2nd section, ch. 36). On the one hand, Israel is not a regular organ of the body; it has a special existence, a singular vitality, similar to the heart in the body. The Nation of Israel has a perpetual duty upon which all of humanity is dependent, and if we do not carefully guard the heart, we damage the entire body. On the other hand, the heart does not stand alone, disconnected from the rest of the body. The importance of the special duty of the Nation of Israel is to provide life and meaning to all humankind.

In essence, then, there is no separation between the selection of Israel and the Nation of Israel’s universal mission. The Bible and the Oral Law are replete with references to both sides of this coin. Throughout the generations, many Torah sages have sought an accurate understanding of the uniqueness of Israel and the relationship of this quality to the nation of Israel’s universal mission, and have put forth various approaches to understanding the complexity and its practical implementation. In the following sections, we shall present several highlights from this broad topic.

2. Rav Kook: Nationalism, Universalism, and Uniqueness

Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook, who saw great significance in the uniqueness of Israel, was careful to emphasized that this uniqueness is not intended to cause a separation from other nations, or indifference towards them. On the contrary, the uniqueness is the root of the internal love of Israel for each other, and this internal mutual love of Israel is required to prompt love towards all nations. “The internal mutual love of Israel obligates love towards all nations” (אורות ישראל, 4, 5).

In a number of places, Rav Kook points out that there are apparent contradictions between halachic principles and love towards all of humanity. However, he does not accept that this is an absolute contradiction, and calls upon us to exert ourselves to find the correct synthesis of these two aspects, for they both stem from the one God (see, for example, אורות הקודש, 3, p. 318; and מידות הראיה, Love, 7).

One of the foundations to understanding this synthesis is that the selection of Israel does not entail isolation from the rest of humanity, but rather the concentration of energy in an inner circle, whose purpose is nothing else but to bring blessing to all. “Israel, as a special nation, blessed in the depth of its holiness, influences the entirety of the whole world, to refine the national soul within each nation, and to arouse every single nation to a more lofty status” (אורות ישראל, 5, 1).

It is impossible to detach nationalism from universalism; what is under discussion is a “nation who has total universalism ingrained in the depths of its soul.” On the one hand, love and the desire to help others are universal. On the other hand, it is necessary to safeguard the Nation of Israel, which God has selected to play a leading role in repairing the world. The result of this complexity is that the Nation of Israel must undergo “practical contraction together with spiritual expansion.” It is “a nation that dwells alone and a light unto the nations, simultaneously” (ibid, sec. 3).

The desire to benefit the entire world is “the inner kernel of the essence of the soul of the Assembly of Israel.” However, this positive sentiment must be wisely channeled “in order to identify how to put it into practice” (ibid, 1, 4). The laws whose purpose it is to perpetuate the distinction between Israel and the nations are part of this wisdom of bringing good to the world by means of the Nation of Israel in the most effective manner, safeguarding love towards all other nations, and channeling that love via the halachic channels that guide it.

Rav Kook is rather adamant about the importance of desire to benefit all nations: “Love of humankind requires a major effort … against the superficiality one sees upon an initial review by one who is not initiated in instruction… It is as if there is opposition to, or, at the very least, disinterest in, this love, which should fill every last chamber of one’s soul at all times. The supreme level of love of humankind should take the love of man and make it spread over the entire person, disregarding any differences of outlook, religion, and belief, and despite any distinctions of race or climate.”

He continues: “It is appropriate to reach a full understanding of the different nations and groups, learning their nature and qualities as much as possible, in order to know how to establish human love upon grounds that will lead to practical deeds. For only in a soul enriched with the love of humankind can the love of the nation rise up to its glorious nobility and spiritual and practical greatness. But narrow-mindedness that causes one to consider anything outside the special nation’s boundary, even if it is outside Israel’s physical boundary, as only ugliness and impurity, is a most appalling, deep darkness, causing wide-ranging destruction to any worthy spiritual building…” (מידות הראיה, Love, 10).

Similarly, one should never ignore natural human morality, for it is only on the basis of that morality that one can correctly build holiness, which is a level above natural morality: “It is necessary for a man to first train himself in natural, simple morality, to the extents of its width and depth; and the fear of God, and the pure essence of simple faith, with all its attributes, in breadth and depth; and only upon these two qualities should he build all his upper spiritual heights. The fear of God must not push aside man’s natural morality, for then the fear of God is no longer pure. A sign of pure fear of Heaven is when natural morality, which is implanted in man’s basic nature, ascends in synchronization with his fear of Heaven, to higher levels than that to which fear of Heaven would have risen alone.” (אורות הקודש, 3, ראש דבר, 11).

Having said this, one needs to be extremely careful not to minimize the uniqueness of Israel: “…it can happen that the basis of this expansion of affection (to all of humanity) comes at the cost of dulling the emotion and dimming the light of holiness of the recognition of the supreme specialness of Israel, and then it is poisonous, and the content of its activity is terrible destruction… (אורות ישראל, 8, 5). If a positive attitude to the nations means neglecting to fulfill our special duty to bring blessing to the world, then we have lost our way, and we have withheld this blessing from the world, Heaven forbid. Our duty remains to bring to the world the special blessing that God has presented us.

3. Humanistic Torah

On the basis of the perspective we have presented so far, we shall consider a few issues that require emphasis regarding a humanistic attitude toward non-Jews, based on the philosophy of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, as it appears in דף קשר 134 of Yeshivat Har Etzion.

The point of departure for our attitude to the sons of Noah, according to Rav Lichtenstein, must be the recognition of the character of the non-Jew as a “metaphysical, moral, human being.”

“Humanistic consciousness – and let us not be embarrassed by this term – a humanistic view that sees the greatness of humanity in the super-natural, cosmic, moral sense, is the point of departure for and foundation to any question of bond, not only to ourselves, but also to the sons of Noah.”

Every person, Jew and non-Jew is created to worship God. He offers sacrifices, prays, and learns Torah – concerning the laws he is obligated to implement, as Rabbi Meir said (Sanhedrin 59a): “From where do we learn that even a non-Jew who occupies himself with Torah is comparable to the High Priest? As it says (Vayikra 18) ‘which a person shall perform, and live by them’; ‘Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisraelim’ – it does not say, rather ‘a person’; from this you may learn that even a non-Jew who occupies himself with Torah is comparable to the High Priest.”

Rav Lichtenstein emphasizes that our involvement with and attitude to humanity cannot be passive, but it is incumbent upon us to also remain proactive, namely, performing kind deeds towards a non-Jew, in accordance with the commandments: “After the Lord your God you must walk”; “Walk in his ways”; and “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.”

All of this does not contradict the selection and holiness of Israel. On the contrary, the demands of each man towards his fellow human being are simply required from the Nation of Israel on a higher level.

4. Discourses of distinction and equality

One needs to distinguish between two modes of discourse which can be found in the Torah. One is the discourse of distinction. Halacha distinguishes between Jew and non-Jew, between man and woman, and others. The effect of these distinctions is so great that there are those who see in another discourse, that of the equality of all man, a mistaken value, foreign to the Torah of Israel.

However, as Rav Yuval Cherlow writes: “From within the world of the Torah and the Halacha, it is possible to absorb a totally different viewpoint, also in line with the simple meaning of the texts, about the intrinsic equality that exists between people, and it is incumbent upon us to give this expression, as well.”
For example, the source of all humanity is the joint creation of Man and Woman; the one commandment that they receive together in the first chapter of Breishit. Likewise, there are legal emphases of equality in the simple meaning of the Torah, such as, “You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born,” and many other examples. (See Rav Cherlow: “כי בצלם א-לוקים ברא את האדם – העמדת השוויון במקומו הראוי והשפעתה”.)

Since both modes of discourse are rooted in the Torah, “any position which deals with the topic must bring both languages of discourse, which absorb from the very same Torah, and must seek methods to reach the correct balance between the two directions.”

5. Separation, selection, and complexity

People often organize themselves into ideological groups, which seemingly need to choose between the idea of Israel as the chosen people, and natural, universal morality. On the one hand, one group believes in the Torah and the selection of Israel, reasoning that this belief contradicts natural morality and the universal spirit. Any viewpoint which supports natural, universal morality is discarded by this group as opposing the Torah and being foreign to it.

On the other hand, the opposite group waves the flag of universalism and rejects the idea of Israel as the chosen people, and the unique destiny of the nation of Israel, and rebuffs the idea of the special love for the nation of Israel.

In light of what we have seen, we must rise above the need to make this false choice. One must not forego either of these critical values, both of which are rooted in the Torah. One must make the effort to find the balance by which one may live with both values. We believe that according to the Torah, this is the appropriate way for our generation, a method that will fortify the Nation of Israel internally, and will amplify the sanctification of God’s Name in the eyes of all humankind.

6. Contradicting sources

There are other approaches that can be found in the words of our tradition that express a negative attitude towards non-Jews. Some of these sources were written within a certain historical context, during various difficult periods of our history, and one may not ignore them. But as with any issue in which there is halachic or philosophical disagreement, it is necessary to reach conclusions suitable to one’s time period.

Nevertheless, there are those who exploit those sources reflecting a negative attitude toward non-Jews, and applying them to our own days, deriving from them far-reaching conclusions, while ignoring the explicit message of Biblical verses, and many other commentaries. We must fervently oppose such tendencies, especially when they are used to incite hatred and violence.

Note that some of the sources, while on the surface appearing to express a negative attitude towards the non-Jew, can often be explained in other ways, when the full context is understood. [Please see the Hebrew version of this article for an illustration of this.]

B. Ger Toshav

In attempting to form an appropriate attitude towards a non-Jewish person living in a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, we need to clarify the non-Jew’s halachic status.

When the state was established, several Torah scholars such as Chief Rabbis Rav Yitzhak Halevi Herzog and Rav Bentzion Meir Hai Uziel, as well as Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Haim David Halevi, and others, invested significant time to create a halachic infrastructure for the State of Israel. Amongst other things, they dealt with the question of the status of non-Jewish minority groups in the State.

Halacha recognizes the status of ger toshav (foreign resident). A ger toshav may live in the Land of Israel, and we are commanded to enable him to live among Israelites with rights and allow him access to satisfy all humanitarian needs. The question is: who is a ger toshav?

Rambam (Laws of Idol Worshippers, end of ch. 10) rules that a ger toshav is a non-Jew who has committed himself to the Seven Noahide laws during a period that the Jubilee is being practiced. According to this, it would seem that the status of Ger toshav is not possible in our days, and indeed Rav Yehuda Gershoni (תחומין 2, “המיעוטים וזכויותיהם במדינת ישראל לאור ההלכה”) wrote that the Muslim minority among us (being monotheistic) may receive the status of ger toshav, and we may allocate them civil and economic rights. However, it is not clear that we may allot equal rights to Christians and other minorities.

In contrast to this, several of the halachic authorities of our generation wrote that one should indeed allocate civil rights to non-Jews that live in Israel, for various reasons. Rav Herzog (“תחוקה לישראל על פי התורה”, 21-12) is of the opinion that we may consider the majority of the non-Jewish residents of Israel as gerei toshav, and consequently allocate them civil rights.

Rav Yisraeli (עמוד הימיני, ch. 12) opposes Rav Herzog’s position, however, ruling that we must not negate them basic rights, because in our times “we are not in the situation called ‘Israel has the upper hand,’” and even Rav Herzog agrees to this point of Rav Yisraeli. [More on this in the responsa of the Beit Midrash of Halacha, in this publication]

Rabbi Menahem Hame’iri (13th-14th Century) has a very important position on this topic. He writes in many places in his commentary on the Talmud that there is a fundamental difference between the non-Jews of the past and the non-Jews of his days. Non-Jews in the past were “filthy in their deeds, and ugly in their character, as is implied in the verse, ‘You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, etc.’”

The non-Jews living in Hame’iri’s days, however, “are restrained in the ways of religions, and are purified of the ugliness of those characteristics. On the contrary: they even punish such deeds.” Consequently, all the monetary laws and moral standpoints between Jews and non-Jews, which reflected a negative attitude toward the non-Jew, referred only to the non-Jew of the past. But regarding non-Jews in his time, “these things are not at all relevant” (beginning of ch. 2 of tractate Avoda Zara).

Elsewhere, Hame’iri writes: “All who are from the nations that are restrained in the ways of religions, and worship God in some manner, even though their faith is vastly different from our faith, are not included in this directive, but they are like a total Israelite for these issues, even concerning returning his lost item or refraining from misleading him, and so with other topics, without any distinction whatsoever” (Bava Kama 113b).

There are those who believe that Hame’iri’s words were uttered under the pressure of the censor, and do not reflect his true opinion. However, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg has already written, “It is not reasonable to say that this entire methodology was written by Hame’iri only to appease the censorand in deference to keeping peace. Therefore Hame’iri’s comment may indeed serve as a prototype when we come to assess the problems surrounding other nations in our own times” (הלכות מדינה, end of sec. 3).

Even though Hame’iri is a lone opinion among the medieval commentators (Rishonim), we see that Rav Waldenberg considers that we should rely on his approach in practice, in our days.

Similarly, Rav Kook wrote, “Hame’iri is the opinion we should follow, namely, that all nations that are restrained in decent manners amongst themselves, are immediately considered gerim toshavim concerning all obligations towards them.” (אגרת 89, p. 99)

Rav Haim David Halevi (תחומין 9, “דרכי שלום”) also ruled accordingly: “In all relations between Jews and non-Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora, whether with regard to the attitude of society as a state to its non-Jewish citizens, or with regard to the attitude of the individual to his non-Jewish neighbor or friend, the need to maintain good relations is based on halacha, and not merely due to ‘peaceful ways’. Therefore, their livelihood, visiting their sick, burying their dead, comforting their mourners, and other concerns, should all be done in the framework of a humane, moral obligation.”

Likewise, Rav Uziel wrote that minorities should receive equal rights in the state, and emphasized that the reason is due not to international constraints, but rather “due to our integrity and conscience … and due to the Torah’s commandments, which obligate us to give love and honor, equal rights and freedom of religion and nationality to every nation and to every person who dwells in our land in peace and loyalty”
(‘התורה והמדינה’, סיני כב, שנת תש”ח, p. 219).

Although there are halachic authorities with alternative opinions, we shall adopt Hame’iri’s path and go according to those rabbis of our generation who maintain that one must give non-Jewish minorities in the State of Israel equal civil and economic rights.

We believe that it is incumbent upon the State of Israel and Israeli society to relate to the non-Jews who live in the State of Israel in a moral and humane manner, as an integral part of the requirements of holiness that are unique to the Nation of Israel. That is clearly the most suitable halachic approach to the milieu and morality of our times, and as we have shown, it is widely anchored in the world of Jewish thought and halacha.

C. African refugees and migrant workers in the State of Israel

Upon the basis of the infrastructure we have established, we now turn to the important practical question of the attitude toward the African refugees and migrant workers currently living in Israel. As we have noted above, the two central pillars of our attitude to humanity are the holiness of Israel on one hand, and the moral and respectful approach towards all human beings, on the other. We seek the correct balance between these two important values.

1. The basis of our approach towards non-Jews in the State of Israel are:

  1. We must safeguard the holiness of Israel and strengthen Jewish identity in the society and in the State, preventing cultural and practical assimilation.
  2. Our foremost concern must be for the security and economic welfare of the citizens of Israel.
  3. We must relate and behave in a moral fashion to all persons as one who was created in the image of God, to have concern for his well-being, and care for his security, the fulfillment of his needs, and his standard of living, spiritually, culturally, and materially.
  4. We must be concerned and careful not to desecrate God’s Name, Heaven forbid, and instead aspire to sanctify God’s Name amongst the nations.
  5. Many commandments in the Torah remind us that we are to perform interpersonal commandments in order to recall that “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In this spirit, we must pay attention to the rights that we demanded for Jewish minorities living in different countries throughout our history, and those who still live there. We must ensure that in the state in which we are the majority, and the responsibility for all people in the state is incumbent upon us, that the minorities receive similar rights. On this matter, Rav Uziel wrote: “This was our claim in all the lands we lived in, to demand equal and full rights, and justifiably so; and even though in general we were not heeded, we are not excused to behave as we demanded from others to behave towards us.

2. The current situation

One gets the impression that in recent years this topic has been neglected, and this abandonment has caused the greatest damage, both to the citizens of Israel and the refugees and migrant workers themselves, who suffer terribly on a daily basis.

The handling of the African refugees and migrant workers in the State of Israel must be the responsibility of the state and its civil society establishment, making a broad and wide assessment, as part of public responsibility and policy; and not be dealt with in a local and piecemeal fashion. This is a national task, and the responsibility for this task must be divided amongst all parts of society, and not be placed on the doorstep of single neighborhoods or cities. We call on the government to place the situation of the African migrants and migrant workers on high priority, and to deal with it urgently.

3. Refugees

One must distinguish between refugees and migrant workers. The term “refugees” in our discussion refers to people who are fleeing persecution that has been inflicted upon them in another place. Sending them back to their place of origin may unjustly endanger their lives or liberty. We call upon the government to ensure that thorough checks are undertaken regarding the status of the people who arrive. When it is apparent that the person in question is a bone fide refugee fleeing from danger, it is forbidden for us to return them to the place of danger. As long as we are not dealing with astronomical figures, which would create a threat to the Jewish identity of Israeli society or to the welfare of the citizens of Israel, we must allow them to settle in Israel and assist them.

4. Migrant workers

Most of the migrant workers who have arrived in recent years in the State of Israel are migrant workers. Their presence in Israel has created a host of problems. After they entered the State of Israel, they were not dispersed around the country, but were concentrated in certain areas, in general, places with a struggling socio-economic population. In contrast, financially-stable areas had the power to prevent these people from entering their neighborhoods.

Most of the migrant workers do not have living quarters or employment and, consequently, a proportion of them turn to crime in the areas in which they are concentrated, endangering the local communities and creating a hygienic hazard for themselves and their surroundings. The security and the livelihood of the local residents of the neighborhoods where the migrant workers are concentrated have been intolerably impaired. The huge numbers of migrant workers, their religious identity, and the integration of a segment of them into Israeli society may cause an imbalance that would adversely affect the Jewish identity of a portion of the local residents and of Israeli society in general.

How can we create, in such a complex state of affairs, a worthy balance between safeguarding the identity and rights of the Jews in the State of Israel, while upholding the proper approach deserved by any human by the very fact that he is a human being?

No country is obliged to absorb illegal migrant workers, or even legal work migrant workers, without limit. The concern for the citizens of Israel is also a moral responsibility, and it even takes priority over the moral responsibility towards migrant workers, according to the halachic guidelines, “Your own takes preference to anybody else’s” (Bava Metzia 30b), and “The poor of your own city take preference” (ibid, 71a). We are also responsible for strengthening the Jewish identity of the state and society.

Consequently, the State of Israel must find a solution that will place the well-being of the citizens of the state at the top of its priorities, and do whatever is necessary to minimize the threat of migrant workers in Israel. However, the solution must be implemented in a moral and humane manner, and not through mass expulsion. The solution must include concern for the welfare of the migrant workers, together with the supreme interest of protecting the citizens of the country.

The State of Israel is not responsible for solving all the troubles of the world single-handedly. The responsibility of the rights of man, and economic and cultural equality among all humankind rests on all nations collectively, and we should encourage dealing with this topic on an international level. At the same time, the holiness of Israel, and the obligation to sanctify God’s Name obligates us to take upon ourselves a central role in this mission, and perhaps even lead it to the extent that is possible.

Deepening Jewish identity in the state, in society in general, and in each individual, cannot be accomplished by total disengagement from every non-Jew, but rather by strengthening Jewish identity, positively and actively, by reinforcing Torah learning, and by the nation of Israel keeping the commandments.

We do not need to create a Jewish State in which there is no place for non-Jews, nor may we do so from a moral standpoint. We must not allow our anxiety over the obscuring of Jewish identity to bring us to indifference to the moral challenges born from the economic and cultural schisms that exist in the world. The nation of Israel must be a partner and even a leader in the global struggle with this challenge, while guarding Jewish identity in the State and even strengthening it.

5. Spiritual and moral reflections as part of the practical solution of the issue

  1. A governmental committee must be formed, or an alternative body, that will advance a comprehensive solution for the subject. This committee must include Torah scholars, spiritual leaders, and ethics experts, to ensure the appropriate balance between the values we have outlined.
  2. The burden of dealing with the migrant workers that will remain in Israel must be scattered among the various communities in the State. It is morally inconceivable to drop this burden exclusively on the shoulders of the weaker districts.
  3. Any proposed solution must include elements which solve migrant workers’ basic needs, primarily housing and sanitation.
  4. The harm done when employing the migrant workers and thus taking positions from local Israelis, and the encouragement of the migrant workers to remain if they can be employed, must be weighed against the mass social damage that is likely to occur if most of the society of migrant workers is unemployed and unable to earn a livelihood.
  5. There is a need to form effective educational and cultural frameworks for the migrant workers, frameworks which are likely to reduce crime and alleviate their social predicament. Additionally, these separate frameworks will prevent obscuring the Jewish identity of the local population.
  6. All the above refers only to law-abiding, moral migrant workers. An immigrant who harms an Israeli citizen or other migrant workers, loses his right for humane treatment from the State of Israel, and should be immediately imprisoned or expelled from the country. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to make generalizations which impugn all migrant workers for any misdemeanor.

Proper treatment of the migrant workers that remain in Israel will bring positive results, both for the citizens of Israel as well as for the migrant workers themselves.

D. Conclusion

Being God’s chosen people places upon us the utmost moral responsibilities. We were fortunate to receive the Torah from Heaven, which teaches us to live holy and moral lives. It is incumbent upon us to be an example and a role model, and to spread the Torah’s values of holiness and morality to all of humanity.

After 2000 years of exile and persecution, we have the privilege to live in a thriving, autonomous Jewish State in the Land of Israel, a state in which many non-Jews wish to live, and benefit from its bounties.

In this fortunate and even blessed state of affairs, we must steer our steps with responsibility and insight. We must aspire to cultivate a multifaceted path of loyalty to God’s Torah and humane morality, which will sanctify God’s Name in the world, through the State of Israel and Israeli society. Our prayer to God is that He guides us on the straight and narrow path, upon which we shall succeed in implementing this aspiration, which will in turn sanctify His Name in Israel and the entire world.

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