Minister refuses to walk back comments about Reform Jews

Levin said on Sunday that the pluralistic prayer site would not be needed in two or three more generations, because there would no longer be Reform Jews due to assimilation.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 4, 2016 02:56
2 minute read.
Yariv Levin

Yariv Levin. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) declined to express remorse on Wednesday for the statements he made sharply criticizing Reform Jews following Sunday’s cabinet vote to upgrade and legally sanction an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

Levin said on Sunday that the pluralistic prayer site would not be needed in two or three more generations, because there would no longer be Reform Jews due to assimilation.

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The statement was condemned on Monday by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Kulanu MK Michael Oren. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads Levin’s party, joined the chorus of condemnations on Wednesday.

“I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews,” Netanyahu said in a statement delivered to the press around the world. “Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect. This is the government’s policy. This is my policy.”

But Levin said Netanyahu had not told him he was upset with him. He learned about the prime minister’s statement hours after its release from The Jerusalem Post and he was unfazed by it.

Hundreds of Reform rabbis, lay leaders, and activists are coming to Israel soon for the annual Central Conference of American Rabbis annual convention, which begins on February 23. The rabbis will run in the Tel Aviv Marathon on February 26, meet with Israeli officials, and show support for the Jewish state.

The CCAR, in a statement released by its president Rabbi Denise Eger and chief executive Rabbi Steven A. Fox, called upon all Israeli and American Jews to come together and stand against Levin’s comments.

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“Minister Levin is entitled to his private beliefs,” the rabbis said. “However, as a minister in the government of all Israel, he has an obligation to support the religious practice of all Israelis. His remarks on the supposed waning presence of US Reform Jews reveal a bias against a religious movement that includes over a million-and-a-half people.”

Eger and Fox wrote that CCAR members work hard every day to draw their communities closer to Torah and to the Jewish state they love.

Words like Levin’s can only serve to alienate members of the communities they serve from Israel, they said.

“His remarks are particularly offensive as CCAR heads to its annual convention,” they wrote. “Alongside CCAR’s repeated statements and actions in support of the Jewish state over decades, the conference demonstrates that Minister Levin’s words disparaging Reform Judaism could not be further from the truth.”

Informed by the Post about the statement by the CCAR and the fact that hundreds of Reform tourists were on their way to Israel, Levin’s spokeswoman said, “The tourism minister stands by what he said, and he would likely say it again.”

Likud officials said it was likely that by the time conference begins, Netanyahu will promote Levin to economy minister. The new tourism minister is likely to be coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), who has a better understanding of the US and has family connected to Reform synagogues in Florida.

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