Our whole world is a sukkah right now. We are all in some way experiencing the vulnerability of the sukkah, the impermanent hut that we are commanded to sit in during the holiday of Sukkot. We are in some ways protected and in others totally exposed at this time. This “sukkah”-like state can have many forms: you may have contracted COVID-19, you may have lost your job, or had to cancel or change a family life cycle event. You may be having a hard time with zoom school. You may be struggling to pay rent or mortgage payments.
Over this summer, I participated in a fellowship program through Truah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Together with 7 other scholars, the Jewish Law and Ethics “Hackathon” gave us a chance to explore ethical questions that have arisen during this pandemic. My chevurta (study partner) and I explored the question of what to do about rent during the time of COVID-19.
Through our research, we discovered that Jewish law places constraints on the landlord’s right to evict. We found sources that described renters as “half-enslaved and half free”. Some sources demanded of the landlord to set renters free by cancelling or lowering rent payments.
“Half-slave, half-free,” is a beautiful way of talking about what it is to be a renter in the contemporary world: you can theoretically move anywhere, but anywhere you go, the yoke of rent is on you. The market promises choice but delivers exploitation. This situation has been intensified during the pandemic, with more than 40 million people at serious risk of eviction.
The Jewish sources I studied showed me the comfort and the protection that the sukkah also provides. Many voices in our heritage believe that rent cancellation and reduction is a human right. I am excited to continue learning and working to support those struggling with rent by donating to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
Please check out our narrative source sheet to explore how Jewish sources answer the question of what to do about rent during the COVID 19 pandemic. Also, stay tuned for more learning on this topic later this year at HaMaqom!
Tamar recently led the first of a four-part series for the T’ruah “Jewish Law and Ethics Hackathon“. You can find more resources on this topic, including a self-guided source sheet and Tamar and Raffi’s concluding guidelines, on T’ruah’s website here. You can also view the recording here.
We invite you to join us for upcoming webinars in this series, which can all be found here. The next event, “Lockdown vs. open up: How much must we give up to save lives?” with Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein and Rabbi Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, will be on Tuesday, October 13, from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PT. We hope to see you there.
Chief Program Officer
HaMaqom | The Place
Tamar Zaken, Chief Program Officer, joined HaMaqom | The Place, in Spring, 2019. Tamar grew up in Oakland and moved to Israel as a teenager. For many years, Tamar directed service-learning programs at Memizrach Shemesh, the Center for Jewish Social Activism based in Jerusalem… click to learn more