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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2008 / 5 Adar I 5768

Unfair Zoning

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: In my municipality, houses can be declared of historic importance; then the owners are forbidden to alter the structure. Is this fair?


A: In Jewish tradition we can find a number of close analogues to this practice, but on close examination we will find that each has a critical difference.


One law which seems to have particular relevance is that of a local synagogue that is customarily used by visitors. After the Mishna tells us that under certain conditions a synagogue may be sold, the Talmud adds a reservation: "This refers to a synagogue in a village, but a synagogue in a city , since people from outside come there, it may not be sold since it belongs to the public." (1)


A "synagogue in a city" is similar in many ways to a historic place, which has acquired interest and importance beyond the neighborhood, and which an orderly regulatory process has concluded belongs to some extent to the public.


However, the commentators give two explanations for this ruling. The building belongs in part to the public because an urban synagogue is typically built in the first place with the intention that it should serve visitors, or because out-of-towners typically share in the expense of building and upkeep. This would not apply to most "historic districts", where the original owners were just building an ordinary dwelling according to the characteristic style of their time - which is of course exactly what makes it "historic".


Another seeming parallel is the Jewish equivalent of "eminent domain". In Jewish law, as in secular law, the sovereign is empowered to appropriate private property when it is deemed necessary for a compelling public interest.


This is learned from the famous speech of the prophet Samuel. From the time of Moses to the time of Samuel, hundreds of years later, the Jewish people were led by prophets and judges; no king was anointed. When the people demand that Samuel anoint a king, as provided for by the Torah (Deuteronomy 17:15), Samuel is willing but warns the people of the negative consequences of this decision. Among these, he reminds the people that "your good fields, vineyards and olive groves he will take, and give them to his servants". (I Samuel 8:14.) The commentators explain that this taking may not be arbitrary, rather it is meant to serve some compelling national interest for example provisions for war.


Preserving historical districts may indeed be considered a compelling public interest. These areas make the district itself and the city as a whole attractive to tourists; often they may constitute an irreplaceable historic resource of national or even worldwide significance. So declaring historical districts could be a valid application of eminent domain.


However, eminent domain has an important condition: compensation must be paid. When Maimonides codifies Samuel's exhortation, he writes:


He may take the fields, olive groves and vineyards for his servants when they go out to war and they camp in these places and have nothing to eat there; and he pays their value. (2)


While Samuel never mentioned this, it was obvious to the codifiers that the sovereign may not simply confiscate property from citizens; whenever eminent domain is called for fair compensation must be given. Some areas do give economic incentives for the preservation of historical properties, and not infrequently property owners actually seek historical status. But in many cases there is no kind of recompense, as the question points out.


Another promising model for historical status is zoning laws. After all, laws restricting the external appearance of homes are hardly new. Many municipalities have detailed requirements regarding appearance and building materials of dwellings. Zoning in Jewish law has a distinguished pedigree, dating back to the Biblical laws of Levite cities, which dictate specific dimensions of open space outside the city and land use within (Numbers, Ch. 35). Talmudic law also gives communities significant authority to regulate building standards. The first chapter in tractate Bava Basra deals with the laws of neighbors, and the very first Mishna states: "Joint owners who agree to partition their courtyard place the partition in the middle. Where it is customary to build it out of unhewn stones, hewn stones, blocks or bricks -- thus they build, everything according to local custom." We see that local building standards are binding.


However, zoning codes are mutual agreements among townspeople to regulate building for their common benefit. The Mishna talks about "joint owners". If all the houses will be worth more if all have a minimum setback, it is reasonable for neighbors to enforce such a setback. But historical districts seem to work to the advantage of neighbors or visitors and the detriment of the owners. I have found no evidence that historical buildings in historical districts are worth more than other buildings.


Jewish tradition provides ample precedent for the power of the sovereign or the community to regulate land use for the common good, and it is reasonable that preservation of historic places be considered a compelling public need. However, these rules either compensate the owners or benefit them directly. To the extent that limitations on developing historical structures is a significant burden and doesn't increase property values, I believe owners of such structures should be offered some kind of recompense for the burden imposed on them.

SOURCES: (1) Megillah 26a (2) Maimonides' Code, Laws of Kings 4:6

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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