House prices are often referred to as a British obsession. Hardly a day goes by without a press story about them and last week, headlines were saturated with stories about asking prices having hit an all-time high.
Some may celebrate this, others will feel worried and even angry – but we should all remember there is a big difference between the cost of housing and the freedom of a home.
The renowned liberal rabbis John Rayner and Chaim Stern wrote of the home: “Most of us live in a home, whether as members of a family or a community, whether with others or alone, and therefore have a responsibility for the home in which we live: not only its physical safety… but also its spiritual atmosphere.
“We should all like our home… to have the precious intangible quality of sh’lombayit, domestic peace.”
But what is a “home”? Adequate housing was recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The UN defines ‘adequate housing’ in many technical terms and in one place mentions freedom, so fundamental a Jewish concept.
It defines freedom as protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction of one’s home, the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s home, privacy and family and the right to choose one’s residence, to determine where to live and to have freedom of movement.
As a Liberal rabbi, I’m concerned with whether people are granted the freedom to create a “home”. Abraham and Lot, and Jacob and Esau needed to separate so they didn’t get in each other’s way, and to create
a home for their families.
We might rather ask ourselves how we can afford every UK resident a proper “home”, one allowing the basic freedoms of humanity: to subsist, work, learn and grow. This would be the true definition of a shalom bayit.
υ Aaron Goldstein is Senior Rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Shul