(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
We are saddened by the contempt that Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardi chief rabbi
of Israel, expresses for Reform and Conservative Judaism at this High Holy Day
The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are small but
vibrant, and growing rapidly. This growth comes despite long-standing government
policy that funnels taxpayers’ money only to Orthodox institutions, forcing
Conservative and Reform Jews to fend for themselves.
recognition and equitable funding of Reform and Conservative rabbis and
synagogues would lead to even faster growth, and polls consistently show
overwhelming majority of Israelis favor such recognition.
demonstrate the massive unpopularity of the Chief Rabbinate and its
bureaucracy, which sanctions discrimination against the majority of
Coercive, punitive, inefficient and often corrupt, this bureaucracy has
Jews from Judaism and brought the Torah into disrepute. We find it
that Rabbi Amar prefers Israelis to be secular than to identify as Jews
Reform and Conservative institutions.
THE CONSERVATIVE and Reform
movements were backbones of the Soviet Jewry movement and have remained
engaged in efforts to support Russian olim. We have always supported
elements of the conversion bill proposed by MK David Rotem that would
flexibility to the current conversion system and truly help those
interested in conversion.
We doubt very much, however, that the Rotem
bill would have helped Russian immigrants in a significant way. Because
demands are so stringent, it is likely that it would have helped only a
underlying the rhetoric about helping Russians convert halachicly is a
play to grant the Chief Rabbinate far more authority over conversions
Israeli law now provides.
If the Chief Rabbinate were given total
authority over conversions, we know what would happen: It would use this
authority to change the definition of conversion under the Law of
rejecting Reform and Conservative conversions done in the Diaspora. Some
rabbinical courts have already begun to do this. The jurisdiction of the
Court in cases related to the rights of our converts would also be
Under current law, we have yet to lose such a conversion case
before the Supreme Court. But with the law changed, the Chief Rabbinate
reverse the results of our important past victories.
THIS EXPLAINS the
alarm that swept North American Jewry, where 85 percent of Jews are
non-Orthodox. Rabbi Amar is fooling himself and his followers if he
our movements artificially generated this anger. It was the heartfelt
of Jews throughout North America who were outraged by proposals to
legitimacy of our rabbis and the way we practice our Judaism.
Amar asks why members of the US Congress should care about this bill, he
remember that the vast majority of the Jewish caucus in Congress
Reform and Conservative Jews.
Indeed, there are 535 senators and
representatives in Congress, and the great majority of the rabbis they
synagogues they visit and the Jews who vote for them are Reform or
They are gravely concerned when our rabbis and movements are
If Rabbi Amar and others are worried about the reactions of
the American Congress, they should remember this: It is perilous to
schisms that will alienate our friends and split the Jewish people, and
should be prepared to take responsibility for their own actions.
stunned by the suggestion that Israel’s religious monopoly represents
Such a system exists nowhere else in the democratic world. We
appreciate Rabbi Amar’s commitment to his understanding of Jewish
we wonder why he lacks the confidence to give Israelis free choice in
matters. The Jewish state should support all religious streams equally,
We have very different ideas on how to assure Jewish unity.
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that Reform and Conservative
must be recognized for the purposes of obtaining citizenship. The
that Israel was not founded “in order to drive a wedge into the people
in Zion, and divide it into two peoples, Jews and Israelis.”
Jewish state takes an inclusive approach to the Jewish people, unity
At this most sacred season, let us set aside the ugliness that
too often invades our hearts, and let us affirm the ties that bind us,
Rabbi Eric Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform
Judaism.Rabbi Steven Wernick is executive vice president and CEO of the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. This article first appeared in