Faith Reflection Read at MICAH NE Chapter Meeting

January 8, 2019

(Excerpted from Rabbi Jill Jacobs and the Position of the Reform Movement on Housing - both on the Union for Reform Judaism website.)

When we say that we support housing for all, we tend to base it on religious ideals such as “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and Treat others as you wish to be treated.”


Judaism and the Homeless
The prophets themselves exhorted us to follow a longstanding tradition of hospitality among the Jewish people. According to one source, Abraham is judged to be greater than Job because while the latter “opened his doors to the road” (Job 31:32), Abraham left his tent to seek guests among the passers-by (Genesis 18:1-8). Furthermore, Abraham “got busy and built spacious mansions along the highways, and stocked them with food and drink, so that whoever entered ate, drank, and blessed Heaven” (Avot d' Rabbi Natan 7). More recent Jewish history, with its exiles and expulsions, is a powerful reminder of our special obligation to provide for those with no shelter.”

A Religious Duty
A few Jewish sources explicitly speak of the provision of housing as a means of Tzedakah (charity or commandment). Most famous among these texts is the exhortation in Isaiah to “take the poor into your homes,” (Haftarah on Yom Kippur). This prophetic cry defines the relief of homelessness as a religious duty, preferable to fasts, sacrifices, and other ritual observances.

In addition other texts specifically define housing as one of the obligatory types of tzedakah (charity). The Bible commands that a poor person be granted “sufficient for what lacks, according to what is lacking to him.” One text from the Talmud understands each phrase in that command as referring to a specific type of assistance one might grant a poor person.
“Sufficient for what he lacks'-this is a house.
“What is lacking'--this is a bed and table.”
Significantly, this text imagines the primary needs of a poor person as being related to housing.

Adequate Housing
...permanent housing should allow a person to live a full and dignified life year-round, and not only for a week (a reference to a skimpy, open dwelling built for the harvest festival of Sukkot). Furthermore, permanent housing should look permanent....In the contemporary context, we might consider whether a homeless shelter or transitional housing would meet these criteria....

Landlord-Tenant Relations
Jewish law also offers much insight into the ideal landlord-tenant relationship. ...the primary concern ...seems to be the question of permanence. Landlords are forbidden from evicting tenants without due warning, and may not evict tenants during the winter months....According to Moses Maimonides (a very important 12th century commentator), a landlord must give the tenant sufficient notice before terminating a lease “so that (the tenant) can look for another place and will not be abandonned in the street” Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot S'khirut 6:7).

In addition to protecting tenants from … eviction, Jewish law requires landlords to keep rented units habitable....At least one authority emphasizes that it is the tenant, and not the landlord, who determines what repairs the home needs (Jacob ben Asher, a 14th century sage).

Central to all of these laws is a concern that housing be safe, secure, and permanent, and that every home allows its inhabitants to live a full and dignifies life.