Publication of the opinion sparked denunciations from leading Jewish institutions such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority and top functionaries, while philosophers and jurists have taken to the airwaves to argue that the rabbis were perpetuating discrimination while ignoring many of more universal concepts in Jewish tradition.
"Their statement shames the Jewish people,” said parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin. “A person cannot say that, in the name of the Jewish state, he is permitted to discriminate or set up a dividing line between one citizen and another, or between a citizen and a resident, or even between a citizen and a guest.”
Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday launched a legal assessment to determine whether the letter is criminal, while Yad Vashem criticized it as a "severe blow" to Jewish values.
"We know that the Jewish people, that knew suffering and persecution and experienced ostracism and the revocation of basic rights, has expressed its stance on matters such as these with voices different than those we have heard today with this [ruling]," said Yad Vashem, also on Thursday.
The move to discourage transactions with Arabs began in October in the northern Israel city of Tzfat, where the chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, called on residents not to rent apartments to Arab students enrolled at a college in the city. That call was formalized into a religious ruling distributed among clerics in public positions.
Rabbinic signatories to the letter insisted that the legal opinion does not promote discrimination, but rather aims to protect Jews' hold on cities and the country from non-Jewish encroachment. They argued that in a case of a clash between the religious law and secular laws of the state, the former should prevail.