Extreme Religious Zionists willing to dialogue with Reform Jews

“The Reform Jew is my brother, I would vouch for him if needed,” said Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, a member of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit Party.

 Ruderman Foundation event at the Anu Museum. (photo credit: THE REUT GROUP)
Ruderman Foundation event at the Anu Museum.
(photo credit: THE REUT GROUP)

Two candidates from the Religious Zionist Party said this week that they were willing to engage in dialogue with the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism. One of them went so far as to say the Western Wall (Kotel) compromise, which the Israeli government buried after initial approval, could possibly be discussed again.

“Reform Judaism isn’t a stream in Judaism. There is one Judaism. I am completely at peace with a person who considers himself a Reform Jew. He is my brother. I will fight for him, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with him.”

Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu

“The Reform Jew is my brother, I would vouch for him if needed,” said Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, a member of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit Party, said during a conference celebrating 50 years of the Gesher organization.

But Eliyahu, son of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is also a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, added, “Reform Judaism isn’t a stream in Judaism. There is one Judaism. I am completely at peace with a person who considers himself a Reform Jew. He is my brother. I will fight for him, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with him.”

Eliyahu said he participated in one of the Gesher organization’s panel discussions to get to know Diaspora Jewry better. He noted that he changed some of his opinions and has worked to create awareness within a rabbinical organization he headed, focused mainly in Sephardi religious-Zionist communities.

 Ruderman Foundation event at the Anu Museum. (credit: THE REUT GROUP) Ruderman Foundation event at the Anu Museum. (credit: THE REUT GROUP)

Eliyahu called for the “neutralization” of dialogue with Diaspora Jews. He added that he thinks Israel needs to invest more funds in Diaspora Jewish education.

Israel invested more than one billion shekels in Diaspora communities in the past decade, according to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. “That’s not enough,” Eliyahu said. “As the State of Israel invests in education, it is necessary to help the Jews of the world. Why should Jewish education be so expensive there?”

Fellow panelist Amira Aharoniwitz, director-general of the Jewish Agency, said, “Finally, we have found something that all three of us agree upon.”

Eliyahu added, “A billion shekels is not a fraction of what needs to be invested in this issue of six million Diaspora Jews.”

Asked if he will meet with Reform rabbis as an MK, Eliyahu answered, “Depends on the context. In the State of Israel, the Reform movement is very problematic, to say the least.”

Panel at the Anu Museum

On Wednesday, a political panel took place at the Anu Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv that focused on the candidate’s agenda regarding Diaspora Jews. During the event, organized by the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Reut Group, candidate Ohad Tal – #12 in the Religious Zionist Party – discussed the importance of dialogue with Diaspora Jews and even proposed further dialogue in order to solve the complicated issue at the Western Wall.

“Our agenda is that we think every Jew should feel at home at the Kotel,” Tal, former director-general of the World Bnei Akiva movement, said.

Asked how Israel could make sure that every Jew feels at home at the Western Wall, he said, “I do not know. It is possible to sit, discuss and come to this matter in agreement. The ultra-Orthodox are also our brothers and they have something to say in this discussion. We cannot create a Kotel plaza for every type of Jew... agreements need to be reached so that everyone will reach understandings at the Kotel.”

The issue of Israel-Diaspora relations

TAL DISCLOSED that he is expected to publish a platform for his party together with its chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich on the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations.

Asked by moderator and Army Radio anchor Nurit Canneti if this included all streams of Judaism, Tal said, “Certainly yes.” He explained that “the entire Jewish people are seen as part of the responsibility of the State of Israel.”

MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) said, “Your party will demote you to the 17th place.” Kariv is a Reform rabbi who served as CEO of the Reform movement in Israel.

“A broad and representative spectrum of parties give a more central space in their political platform to the relationship with the Diaspora. We expect the Knesset and the next government to act in order to profoundly change the relationship between Israel and world Jewry, and to internalize the strategic importance of this relationship.”

Reut Group CEO Eran Shaishon

Kariv said he wasn’t sure the Religious Zionist Party agreed with his attitude toward Reform Judaism. “The leaders of your party have voiced blasphemies, slanders and apostasy on our legitimacy,” he said, adding that the party “consists of people who despise and who are hostile to the liberal communities in the Jewish world. This is not a quarrel between brothers, but an incitement and an attempt to violate our rights.”

Kariv added, “The ones who dismantled the Western Wall outline are the extreme parts of the religious-Zionist groups. The ones who destroyed our Tisha Be’av prayer service at the egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel were the members of the Orthodox movements. We will never agree to be second-class Jews in the state of the Jewish people.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll (Yesh Atid) said, “Jewish pluralism should be allowed, including the outline of the Western Wall and other liberal issues, such as the rights of the LGBT community, should be addressed. Most of [the progressive and young American Jews] identify less with Israel because their Jewish identity is changing. The critical voices [of Israel] are a minority.”

Haredi parties and the Likud didn’t send any candidates to the panel, Kariv noted.

Bayit Yehudi MK Yomtob Kalfon said, “The number-one problem of Diaspora Jews is assimilation and that they will cease to be Jews. The State of Israel must invest in the fight against assimilation among Diaspora Jews.”

National Unity Party MK Alon Tal, who is a member of an Israeli Conservative (Masorti) community, said, “I would give cancel all of the shluchim [emissaries] promoting aliyah in the Diaspora because nowadays, with the Internet, you can do everything remotely. I am mainly concerned about the younger generation, most of whom no longer attend Jewish day schools and have no basis that can really be used to strengthen their relationship [to Israel or Judaism].”

In the audience were representatives from the Jewish Peoplehood Coalition, established by the Reut Group. Shira Ruderman, CEO of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said, “While in the past Israel relied on the support of the Jews of the world, today the equation has changed. The State of Israel is strong and steadfast, while throughout the world Jews face significant challenges and difficulties, alongside unprecedented waves of antisemitism.”

Reut Group CEO Eran Shaishon said, “A broad and representative spectrum of parties give a more central space in their political platform to the relationship with the Diaspora. We expect the Knesset and the next government to act in order to profoundly change the relationship between Israel and world Jewry, and to internalize the strategic importance of this relationship.”