Judaism and the Homeless

Jewish law demands that everyone have adequate and permanent housing.

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In addition to protecting tenants from premature eviction, Jewish law requires landlords to keep rented units habitable. Landlords are required to fix doors, windows, and ceilings, and to perform other repairs generally done by specialists. At least one authority emphasizes that it is the tenant, and not the landlord, who determines what repairs the home needs. According to the Tur (Jacob ben Asher, a 14th century sage)the landlord must fix broken windows "if the tenant needs light...even if there is a lot of light (Hoshen Mishpat 314:1). The landlord, in other words, cannot refuse to repair the windows based on his or her assessment that the house does not need more light.

While Jewish laws does place some demands on tenants, including requiring the tenants to give the landlord sufficient notice before ending a lease, and doing basic home repairs such as affixing a mezuzah, the bulk of the responsibility remains with the landlord. Tenants, Jewish law suggests, are a class in need of protection, and whose safety and security depends on the landlords.

Jewish law offers a number of criteria for evaluating the condition of housing and a number of suggestions about the responsibility to ensure that the poor have adequate housing. Central to all of these laws is a concern that housing be safe, secure, and permanent, and that every home allow its inhabitants to live a full and dignified life.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.