To Build or Not?

To Build or Not to Build?

Often, people who wish to build houses in the communities of the Shomron search for Jewish contractors who employ only Jewish labor, and are disappointed to discover that the price they charge to build a house is almost double the cost of houses constructed with Arab laborers. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, Jewish laborers are more expensive. For example, if you have six Jewish workers building a house for a period of eight months, this adds up to a considerable amount of money. Since Arabs are paid less, the job will cost much less. Another factor is that the Jewish laborers tend to live in the large cities, and transporting them to work in the Shomron involves considerable expense in hiring vehicles and drivers to bring them back and forth from work, and in travel time which has to be paid. Arab laborers, on the other hand, often live nearby in the Shomron, and thus travel-related costs are considerably lower. Thus, on numerous occasions I have been asked, given that the cost of Jewish laborers is much higher, must people who wish to build homes in the Shomrom still choose to employ Jews over Arab workers? Often, the question is even weightier because, as a result of the costly price, the demand to use Jewish laborers will make building a home impossible for some people, or cause them to make do with a smaller house.
The answer involves several factors. One of them is the principle to always prefer Jewish labor over the work of non-Jews, owing to the mutual responsibility we share in looking after the well-being of our Jewish brethren. Parallel to this is the important mitzvah of tzedakah – to help a man earn a respectable living. However, if there are no Jews who are presently seeking employment in this field, consequently, there is no problem in hiring non-Jews. And even if there are Jews who are looking for jobs in construction, if they demand much higher wages than non-Jewish workers, there is no obligation for private individuals to pay them salaries that will double the price of building the house. However, in this case, we are confronted with the complication that by giving work to Arab laborers we strengthen their presence in the Land, which runs counter to the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz (settling the Land), and the mitzvah of “Lo Tichanaym” (“You cannot give a non-Jew ownership in Eretz Yisrael”).” Nonetheless, the overriding consideration is the importance of building another Jewish home in the Shomron, for our main goal is to strengthen Israel’s hold over all of the Land of Israel, and from this standpoint, obviously, the fundamental factor is building the house so a Jewish family can live there, especially in a place of such strategic importance as the Shomron, where our enemies are striving to weaken our presence. Therefore, if it is impossible to build the house with all-Jewish labor, it can be built with Arab workers.

All the same, a person who builds a house with Arab laborers should endeavor to hire as many Jews as possible. Certainly, the contractor can arrange that some of the workers are Jewish. For example, it is not difficult to find Jews who are expert in flooring, painting, electric installation, and plumbing. The driver of the van which brings building materials to the site can be Jewish, and the materials themselves can be purchased from factories and supply warehouses owned by Jews. Therefore, if a contractor who uses all Jewish labor cannot be found or afforded, a person building a house should seek a contractor who employs as many Jews as possible. It is also important to stipulate in the building contract that specific jobs will be fulfilled by Jews. With the help of God, more and more Jews will return to the sacred occupation of building homes in the Holy Land when they see the demand for their services increasing on the part of their brethren who are willing to pay more for the privilege of owning a house built by all Jewish labor.

Modernization in Building

For years, many attempts have been made via government incentives and government sponsored contractor courses, as well as private incentives, to return Jewish workers to the field of building. Generally, these efforts did not prove fruitful. Encouraged by financial grants, many people began to learn the different building professions and started working in the building industry, but discovered that the salaries they earned, although usually above the national average, were not commensurate with the difficult work of construction. Seeing that their friends were earning higher salaries while working in far less taxing jobs, they gave up building. Those who remained were largely people who received great satisfaction from their work and developed skillful proficiency and success in their fields. They often became private contractors themselves, or worked for established firms. Others remained in the trade simply because they failed to find better jobs in other fields of employment, and in general, their work is not of the highest standards and nets them minimum wages. Thus it became difficult to find a Jewish contractor with an all-Jewish crew who could tackle all of the various tasks in building a house in the customary methods.

In the community of Har Bracha, we had to deal with this problem. It became clear that if we insisted on using only all Jewish labor, the building of the settlement could not advance at the required pace of a few dozen additional houses per year. Faced with the question whether to hire Arab workers, who very likely hated us, in order to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding community, or not to hire them, and fail to reach our potential for absorbing several new families, the halakhic decision was made that it was necessary to continue to build with non-Jewish workers, including Arabs if necessary.

However, in order to minimize the negative aspects of this decision, we discovered that the proper solution was to adopt and develop modern methods of building whereby the need for menial labor is lessened. Some people voiced doubts about the worth of modern methods, since the proposed new prefab housing did not look like the houses of old, and besides, who knew if they would stand the test of time? Nevertheless, the modern prefabricated methods of building enabled Har Bracha to supply, in a quick and efficient fashion, dozens of new homes to meet the ever-increasing demand, while greatly reducing the need for Arab workers. And in addition, housing costs even became more affordable.

By adopting modern building techniques, we were able to reduce reliance on foreign workers. For example, if standard building methods required six workers for a period of eight months, by using industrialized prefab housing, with ready-made walls and roofing, three workers could do the job in two months. This cuts down on worker salaries immensely. Along with this, as the work becomes more modernized and industrialized, more Jews enter the field of employment.

With this blessing of increased and rapid building, may it be the will of God that we merit to witness the fulfillment of the prophecy:

“And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of the trees shall the days of My people be, and My chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like an ox, and the dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:21-25).
At that time, the nations which persecuted Israel will turn in repentance and come to assist in the building of our Land, as it says: “And the sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall serve you” (ibid, 60:10). “And aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the stranger shall be your plowmen and your vine growers. But you shall be called Priests of the Lord, and men shall call you Ministers of the Lord. You shall eat the riches of the nations, and you shall gain grandeur by their wealth” (ibid, 61:5-6).

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: