A raft of Jewish organizations and religious leaders covering the entire spectrum of North American Jewry condemned Religious Services Minister and Shas MK David Azoulay on Tuesday for saying, among other remarks, that “the reform Jews are a disaster to the nation of Israel.”
Speaking on Army Radio on Tuesday, Azoulay also said, “Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew... A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew.”
Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the US, along with the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Anti-Defamation League vociferously criticized the minister’s comments as wrong, myopic and divisive.
All welcomed the swift response to Azoulay’s comments
by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said on Tuesday that he “rejects the religious services minister’s hurtful remarks about Reform Judaism, which do not reflect the position of the government.”
Rabbi Gilad Karib responds to inflammatory about reform Jews
In response to the furor over his comments, Azoulay attempted, while addressing the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, to clarify what he had said by blaming it on others. “Elements with a vested interest have taken advantage of my words in order to increase incitement and division among the people,” he told the house.
The minister invoked a Talmudic maxim by saying, “It’s clear to everyone that Jews, even though they sin, are Jews. Having said that, we see with great pain the damage that Reform Judaism has done, which has brought the greatest danger to the Jewish people of assimilation. We will continue to pray that the entire Jewish people returns to the faith and we will do everything do be a beacon of light and values to everyone.”
The head of the Reform Movement in the United States, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, on Tuesday night described Azoulay’s remarks as “semi-coherent ramblings” and expressed concern about his ongoing tenure as a cabinet minister.
Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism of North America, welcomed Netanyahu’s criticism
, but told The Jerusalem Post
that the Reform Movement in the US was worried about the direction of government policy on issues of religion and state.
“It would be one thing if Minister Azoulay’s ignorant and myopic views of Reform Judaism were nothing more than this his own semi-coherent ramblings,” said Jacobs. “The real danger is that he now sits at the cabinet table and is in a position to turn those views into governmental policy.”
He said the Reform Movement appreciates Netanyahu’s “unequivocal rejection of Minister Azoulay’s offensive comments about Reform Judaism,” adding that Azoulay might “forfeit his right to be a member of the government” if he repeats such sentiment in the future.
“These troubling comments come at a time of widening gaps between the Chief Rabbinate and non-Orthodox Jews in Israel, as well as mounting tensions with non-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora,” Jacobs observed.
“Instead of bridging these divides, Azoulay’s disturbing remarks contribute to an atmosphere of exclusion and increasing distrust.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, described Azoulay’s remarks as “wrong and offensive” and said he distanced US Jewry from Israel by making such comments.
“We would like to assume that the minister of religious services is the representative of all Jews in Israel and seeks to serve the needs of all Jews in Israel without prejudice,” Schonfeld told the Post
She added, “He is alienating Israel’s staunchest advocates around the world and he harms his own people by creating a rift between Israel and world Jewry.”
The Rabbinical Council of America, an association representing Orthodox rabbis in the US, issued a statement rejecting Azoulay’s comments, saying that it is “the wellknown position of halachic Judaism that all Jews, regardless of their observance or belief, are full members of the Jewish people and are our brothers and sisters.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, stated, “We fear that Minister Azoulay’s comments will hamper the efforts we all support to bring all Jews closer to their religious legacy, and alienate many with whom we work daily to strengthen both the State of Israel and our own community.”
The Orthodox Union, a rabbinic partner of the RCA, said that it supports the RCA’s response.
Jerry Silverman, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that Azoulay’s comments were disrespectful and demonstrated a failure to understand his role as a minister of the State of Israel.
“We’re at a time where we as a Jewish people need to be coming together as a community,” Silverman told the Post
. “To have Israeli leaders disrespecting other Jews in this way doesn’t say much for their leadership or their understanding of their responsibility as leaders.”
Silverman also criticized United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni for comments he made on Wednesday during an interview on Army Radio.
Said Gafni, “The Reform and Conservatives are Jewish and there’s no argument on that,” said Gafni. “But they have stuck a knife in the back of the holy Torah.”
Silverman said Gafni’s remarks were “disturbing” and that he was simply “pouring fuel on the fire.”
The Anti-Defamation League also weighed in on the controversy, saying in a statement that Azoulay’s “hateful” remarks were increasing tensions between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
Bayit Yehudi chairman and Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett took to the social media in support of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. Writing on his Facebook page he said, “All Jews are Jews. Whether Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, haredi or secular. And Israel is their home. Period.”