(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Conservative (Masorti) Movement in the US is reacting fiercely to comments made by Chief Rabbi David Lau against the denomination in his criticism of Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday.
Referring to a visit Bennett made to one of the Solomon Schechter schools of the Conservative Movement in New York earlier this month, Lau said it was “forbidden” to deliberately speak to the Conservative community in such a manner; that education in Conservative schools “distances Jews” from their tradition; and that the movement was “losing its children and grandchildren.”
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis, labeled Lau’s comments “insulting and inaccurate” and asserted that his perceptions of the Conservative Movement and its congregants was erroneous.
“We are a stream that engages our brethren and keeps our congregants and peers involved in Jewish life, both inside and outside the synagogue,” reads the Rabbinical Assembly statement issued on Thursday.
The Conservative rabbis also pointed out that Conservative Jews make up nearly one-fifth of the American Jewish population, and that according to the 2013 Pew report on US Jewry, “98 percent of self-identifying Conservative Jews are “proud” to be Jewish, 93% feel that “being Jewish” is “important” to their lives, and 90% regard Israel as “an important part of being Jewish.”
“Chief Rabbi Lau’s recent comment that the Conservative movement ‘distances Jews from the path of the Jewish people’ is not only misinformed but offensive,” continued the Rabbinical Assembly statement, while welcoming Bennett’s visit and saying that Lau should follow the sentiment of the education minister and embrace not distance Jews from one another.
“As Rabbi Lau speaks out on threats to the Jewish future, he must first look at how his ignorant and narrow-minded remarks such as these are alienating young Jews in the Diaspora,” concluded the Rabbinical Assembly. “Only through engaging the Diaspora community worldwide will we maintain our strength as a Jewish people. As Hillel taught in Avot 1:12, ‘[love] your fellow creatures and [attract] them to the study of Torah.’” Lau himself visited a pluralistic school in Washington DC in October during a visit of his own to the US. According to the Washington Jewish Week, the chief rabbi made a stop at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital and spoke with pupils “about the connectedness of all Jewish people.”
The school describes itself as “an independent, pluralistic Jewish day school” and “non-denominational,” although it was founded at the Adas Israel Conservative Congregation in Washington DC in 1988.
Girls at the school lead prayers and read from the Torah, and the teaching staff includes teachers from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform denominations, while the Jewish education is non-denominational.
Lau’s comments come amid tensions between the non-Orthodox Jewish movements in the Diaspora and Israel and the Israeli religious establishment.
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of the haredi Shas party has criticized non-Orthodox Jews on two separate occasions, while a recent promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel with government funds evinced outrage from United Torah Judaism MKs who took the opportunity to berate non-Orthodox Jewish denominations and pledged to halt such funding.