Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger spoke out fiercely against the Reform and Masorti Movements on Tuesday at an emergency conference of rabbis organized by Amar.

Approximately 150 rabbis from around the country attended the meeting, along with Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias, Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi and several religious MKs.

Amar said during his address to the assembled clergy that while secular people in Israel are “thirsty” for spiritual input, the non-Orthodox movements “are poisoning the well of holiness and taking people to a nethermost pit.”

The Sephardi chief rabbi explained that the struggle he has undertaken against state recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis is “to protect the Jewish people” from the danger of an irreparable split that might be engendered by the “real halachic dangers” of recognizing non-Orthodox movements in Israel.

“The most frightening thing, God forbid it should happen, is if we will need to make marriage records and the Jewish people is split into two, because we won’t be able to marry among each other any more,” Amar said. “For this there is no cure.”

He issued a direct call to the prime minister and the legal system “not to allow Judaism and Torah to be uprooted, which has protected us throughout the generations and continues to do so today.”

Several dozen members of the Reform and Masorti streams held a small demonstration outside the headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate in protest of Amar and the rabbinical gathering, describing it as “incitement and hateful.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that the conference would only strengthen the progress of his movement: “Any meeting of this kind reminds the Israeli public of the radicalization and ‘haredification’ of the rabbinic establishment, and of the need for Judaism in Israel to be welcoming and honest.”

“Rabbi Amar and his friends will continue on their journey of incitement and we will continue to build communities and to establish centers of education, convert immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and to work towards social justice and tolerance,” Kariv vowed.

The conference was called by Amar to protest last month’s decision by the attorney-general to recognize non- Orthodox rabbis working in regional council jurisdictions and small communities as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities,” and fund their wages from state coffers.

Metzger was also in attendance despite reports that the leader of the non-hassidic haredi world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, had expressed opposition to the initiative.

Speaking to the assembled rabbis, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi was more measured in his criticism of the attorney-general’s initiative, describing homiletically how rabbis “are not the owners of the Torah, but are instead subject to it.”

He also cited the results of the US National Jewish Population Survey that looked at different streams of Judaism, and showed that the second, third and fourth generations of Conservative and Reform Jews decline rapidly in numbers, whereas those of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews increase – dramatically so in the case of the ultra-Orthodox.

“Our call here is not against anyone personally, but a principled call... to defend the future of the Jewish people,” Metzger said.

He also denied claims that the rabbinate and Orthodoxy in general are not open and welcoming towards nonreligious people.

“We are also sympathetic and friendly,” Metzger told the massed ranks of rabbis. “Who among us does not want to do outreach [to secular Jews] and does not want to embrace and love all Jews,” he asked.

Rabbi Benny Lau, an influential figure in the national-religious world and head of the Ramban synagogue in south Jerusalem, said following the conference that “cursing the Reform and Conservative Movements would not save one Jew from assimilation.”

“Delegitimization and war doesn’t work,” he said. “The best way to reach out to people not connected to Judaism is to do what is good and what is right, to be professional, to serve the community, to provide the best possible service.”

“Then the public will chose those who are good in their eyes,” said Lau.

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