Why Jerusalem renters are wary of the Messiah's arrival

Many Jerusalem rental contracts include the unusual stipulation that if and when the Messiah arrives, tenants must move out so the landlord can move in and enjoy the ensuing paradise.

By , Contributor

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    A Jewish man looks towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Dec. 9, 2013.
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Many Jerusalem residents believe not only that the Messiah will return, but that his arrival is imminent – so imminent they have taken legal precautions to ensure they can return to Jerusalem immediately upon his return. 

In apartment contracts around the city, there are clauses stipulating what will happen to the apartment if or when the Jewish Messiah, or mashiach, comes. The owners, generally religious Jews living abroad, are concerned that he will arrive, build a third temple, and turn Israel into paradise – and they will be stuck waiting for their apartment tenants' contracts to run out before they can move back.

It is prophesied in the Jewish scriptures that there will be no more war, murder, or theft, the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt (all that remains today is the Western Wall), and all the Jews will return to the land of Israel upon his arrival. This period is known as Olam Haba, or the World to Come.

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Because rental contracts are handled privately, rather than by the municipality, there is no count of how many leases in Jerusalem contain such a clause. But although not standard, the Messiah clause is requested enough that every Jerusalem property manager and real estate lawyer contacted by The Christian Science Monitor had heard of it, and all except one had dealt with it firsthand. 

Joshua Portman, a Jerusalem-based lawyer, wrote it into a contract for one of his clients, though he says it's not part of his standard lease. Sarah Eiferman, a real estate agent and owner of Eiferman Properties, has had three clients in her career make this unique request. These clauses were relatively lax, giving tenants two to three months to vacate the property, so potential renters voiced no opposition in any of the cases.

But some contracts are less relaxed. Tikvah Blaukopf Schein was told she and her husband would have to vacate their apartment in a week if the Messiah arrived when they moved in last August.  A difficult negotiation ensued when she decided to take the clause seriously and wasn't about to let them get evicted.

"I said, 'That's not nice behavior,'" Ms. Schein says. "Where would we go?  What would we do?"

Eventually the owner and the renters reached an agreement: If the Messiah showed up, the Scheins would move into one of the two rooms in the apartment for the remainder of the lease, while the owner and his family would get the other one.

But what if the apartment owner says the Messiah has arrived and the renter doesn’t agree? This particular disagreement has come up before in Jerusalem’s history, although it was about 2,000 years ago.

Opinion among the property managers and real estate lawyers was unanimous that their clients would know the Messiah when they saw him. “When he comes, we’ll know.  It’s in the Old Testament," says Mrs. Eiferman. 

“The way I worded it was that if the seller gives notice due to the Messiah coming, then the renter has three months to get out so it avoids that issue,” Mr. Ben Menachem said. The renter conceded to that amendment in exchange for being given three months to leave, rather than vacating immediately as the owner originally requested.

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