Ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on the eve of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, in the town of Uman, Ukraine September 20, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – It’s not every day that a leading haredi (ultra-Orthodox) donor, a gvir, is in the news because of what he said. But when Los Angeles businessman Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz takes the stage, haredi journalists take note, and he makes headlines on haredi news websites.
Last week Rechnitz, worth an estimated $2.4 billion, spoke in Jerusalem at a Simhat Beit Hashoeva holiday celebration in the Mir Yeshiva.
He attacked liberal elements in Israel and the United States, including Jewish communities and the protest movement against President Donald Trump
He also ridiculed the Women of the Wall and other groups. But his words became harsh when he spoke about the more liberal wing of Orthodoxy. “The greatest threat to Klal Yisrael today is a group called ‘liberal Orthodoxy,’” he said. He called the movement, which is currently based in Israel and the US, and among other things allows the ordination of women Rabbis, a “new religion” comprised of “fake Jews.”
Rechnitz spoke at the event in English, and his words were translated into Hebrew by the Kikar Hashabat news website: “The greatest threat to Klal Yisrael today is a group called ‘liberal orthodoxy’ because they took our name and our definition.”
He added that if someone does not want to “keep Torah and mitzvot according to tradition but still be considered ‘Orthodox,’ he can join Open Orthodoxy.”
“Going to a synagogue does not make you Orthodox, just like a parking lot does not turn you into a vehicle,” he said. “Call it whatever you want, but this new religion is best defined in the famous words of the president of the United States: Fake Jews. It’s all fake. This idea is dangerous and should be eliminated as a malignancy. Not the people, God forbid, the idea.”
Rechnitz is an exceptional personality: a well-known figure linked to all policy makers, from the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox world to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is not afraid to express his opinion in matters of hashkafa, or haredi ideology.
In 2016 he did so at a dinner event for the Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey and this time at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem – both of them among the world’s largest yeshivas.
Last year he used the stage in Lakewood to sharply attack, in front of the astonished rabbis, the elitism of the ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, which leave out those who are not considered socially or academically superior.
As a result, publicist and writer Haim Walder attacked him for daring to express his opinion. In his column in the haredi newspaper Yated Neeman, without mentioning Rechnitz’s name, he wrote: “You have never heard of a yeshiva or Torah institution that let substantive intervention in content or dictating of an opinion or educational program.”
This time, Rechnitz kept to the official haredi line. With regard to the dissolution of the draft law in Israel, he said: “Avreichim, bachurim [married and single Talmudic students], lift your heads up! You saved the people of Israel for the past 70 years; they shouldn’t take any more soldiers. We are dealing with Jewish blood here.”
He said many people ask him why he donates so much money “to a cause that at some point will collapse,” telling him that them he keeps men from going to work.
He answers them: “First, if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. And second, even if these people are right, I will not be the one who will go up after 120 and be proud of the fact that I have succeeded in uprooting Torah learning and getting people to work. I’ll leave that to someone else. It’s not something I’d like to be proud of.”