(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday condemned as "hurtful" and "spurious" comments made by former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu that the victims of the Holocaust were made to suffer because of the sins of the Reform Movement.
In a letter to Steven M. Bauman and Rabbi Uri Regev, the chairman and president, respectively, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Olmert wrote: "We recently marked Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day here in Israel, and I was disturbed that it was precisely at this painful time that certain spurious comments were made regarding the cause of the horrors inflicted on our people, and unequivocally condemn any such hurtful expressions.
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"Let me be clear," Olmert wrote, "the murder of more than six million of our brothers and sisters in the Holocaust was perpetrated by the evil and immoral Nazi regime and its collaborators. The only 'sin' committed by the victims was being born Jewish.
"The Reform Movement is a vital and vibrant part of modern Judaism, and the government and people of the State of Israel admire your contribution to Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora," Olmert concluded.
Other angry responses to Eliyahu's remarks continued to be heard.
"Removing our Reform brothers and sisters from the camp does not contribute to unity, but rather sows the seeds of division and baseless hatred," Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski wrote to former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu this week.
"Rabbi Eliyahu should remember precisely that the victims of the Holocaust came from all Jewish denominations, the secular along with the religious," suggested the Anti-Defamation League's Israel Office in a statement Thursday.
Olmert and the organizations were reacting to an interview given on pirate haredi radio station Kol Ha'emet ("The Voice of Truth"), in which Eliyahu was asked for what sin the Holocaust victims were punished. He replied that the victims were not to blame, but rather were made to suffer because of the sins of the Reform Movement.
"The Reformers started in Germany," he explained. "Those redactors of the Jewish faith began in Germany. We learn from this that it is forbidden to attempt to change Judaism."
Bielski told Eliyahu he "was shocked to hear your words relating the Holocaust to the rise of the Reform movement in Germany," and insisted that "your words could be interpreted as removing from the Nazi tyrant the responsibility, passing it on to our Jewish brothers."
The Anti-Defamation League further noted that Eliyahu's "argumentative use of the Shoah" was a "travesty of the memory of its martyrs."
Reflecting on Eliyahu's statements, Rabbi Michael Marmur, dean of the Jerusalem campus of the Reform Movement's Hebrew Union College, said he believes "the problem here is the deep perversity of claiming to know what it is that has caused the greatest cataclysm of Jewish history. It's saying, 'I, Rabbi Eliyahu, read about the Shoah, and it turns out there's an identifiable group to blame.'"
A child of Holocaust survivors, Marmur insisted that "calling [Eliyahu's statements] insulting hardly does them justice.
"What is it that allows a man like Eliyahu to give himself the right to behave in this kind of way?" he asked. "I think here there are political explanations. It's been our experience for years as Reform Jews in Israel that whenever a religious political party needed a boost, a little bit of Reform-bashing went a long way."
Eliyahu, who rarely consents to be interviewed, could not be reached for comment by press time.