For the week ending 17 January 2009 / 21 Tevet 5769

An Issue of Priority

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: In better financial times a wealthy Jew decided to allocate a substantial amount of money to a charitable project. Two options had a particular appeal for him. One was to purchase a large plot of land in northern Israel from an Arab owner and give it to an outreach organization for its activities. The other was to build a synagogue for a community that was holding its services in caravans for lack of a proper building. What was the right thing to do?

Answer: When this question was presented to Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, the rav of the Ramat Elchanan community in Bnei Brak, he unhesitatingly advised that priority should be given to the purchase of the land. The basis for this preference, he pointed out, was the ruling in the Talmud (Mesechta Gittin 8b) that if it is necessary to write a bill of sale on Shabbat in order to purchase a property in Eretz Yisrael from a non-Jew, it is permissible to instruct a non-Jew to do the writing. Although the general rule is that a Jew may not ask a non-Jew to do anything for him on Shabbat that he is himself forbidden to do, this case is the one exception because of the importance of redeeming land in the Holy Land from foreign ownership.

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