OPINION: Yes, Jews can and do become homeless too

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

OPINION: Yes, Jews can and do become homeless too

Dr Margaret Jacobi and Elliott Karstadt speak about their work to tackle homelessness, and reflect on the way it affects the community

Homeless people (Allan Warren/Wikipedia)
Homeless people (Allan Warren/Wikipedia)

One of the most worrying passages in Torah is this: ‘If you take your neighbour’s garment as a pledge, you shall deliver it to him by sundown; For that is his only covering, it is the garment for his skin; Where shall he sleep? And it shall come to pass, when he cries to Me, that I will hear; for I am compassionate.’ (Exodus  22:25-26).  

There are many other verses with threats of terrible punishment, but this passage rings true.  How poor must someone be that the only thing they can give as a guarantee is their own garment? As a society, we are all responsible and – Torah reminds us – will be held accountable for keeping people in poverty. It is easy to accumulate wealth while others fall behind. As our prophetic tradition reminds us, those who ‘join house to house’ until no others remain will ultimately end up being harshly judged (Isaiah 5:8).

It can be easy to put homeless people into a box, and assume that only certain kinds of people face homelessness. There is an assumption that only those spending the night on the street are homeless, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, people living in temporary accommodation, in a B&B or on a friend’s sofa are all homeless too.

Finally, there is an assumption that there are no Jewish people among those who are homeless, or even that there are no Jewish people who face discrimination because they receive Housing Benefit. These assumptions are simply not true.

At the Together in Barnet Night Shelter (for which a number of Masorti, Reform, and Liberal synagogues act as venues, working alongside local churches and mosques), we accommodate homeless people from all walks of life and all

Elliott Karstadt and Margaret Jacobi

backgrounds in the London Borough of Barnet – including people from Jewish families. Our guests experience many problems, such as family breakdown,
mental health crises or unemployment. But what unites them are the structural
problems that have pushed them into homelessness: unaffordable, unstable
private renting, housing benefit cuts and a lack of social housing.

Many have also experienced housing benefit discrimination, which Tzelem and Shelter are campaigning against; us Jews are not immune to this.

‘No DSS’ practices (DSS being a shorthand for those receiving Housing Benefit) exclude those who have state support to help pay the rent from applying to a home. They make their search for a home even harder.

We cannot say with complete certainty that our safe and secure homes will last forever. There is no one type of person who will become homeless. If one person suffers, it is because our society somehow has failed them. Our Jewish tradition reminds us that our ability to feel secure is directly related to the way we treat each other.

If you are a member of a synagogue or a Jewish community, then we call on you to help to reverse these structural problems by, for example, identifying a local housing charity such as Together in Barnet and finding out how the community can help to take action.


υ Elliott Karstadt is a student
rabbi at Leo Baeck College and
chair of Together in Barnet. Dr Margaret Jacobi is rabbi of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: