Pluralist streams set to clash with Bennett

Smotrich says he is glad Reform movement losing support in the US

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev, Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai and Head of the Northern Command Police District Shimon Lavie seen during a ceremony after the largest ever police operation against illegal gun dealers, in Tel Aviv, November 9, 2021.  (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev, Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai and Head of the Northern Command Police District Shimon Lavie seen during a ceremony after the largest ever police operation against illegal gun dealers, in Tel Aviv, November 9, 2021.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

Disputes between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the heads of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States are set to escalate this month when those leaders come to Israel.

Reform movement head Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Conservative movement head Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal are both set to meet with Bennett when they come. They will express their anger and disappointment that the prime minister has said his government would not implement the plan to formally establish an egalitarian section at the Western Wall.

Jacobs and Blumenthal are also expected to take part in Rosh Hodesh (beginning of the Hebrew month) prayer services at the Western Wall with the Women of the Wall and at the current egalitarian prayer site in the Southern Wall archaeological site that is in disrepair.

Bennett’s cabinet secretary Shalom Shlomo promised the movements on January 10 that the site would be repaired immediately, but nothing has been done since then. He also promised the pluralist groups that they would receive a monthly update, but no meeting has been set for February.

“Even the crumbs that Shalom Shlomo said we would get have not been advanced,” a source present at the last meeting said.

When Jacobs comes, he intends to meet with the leaders of all the factions in the Knesset and key ministers. Besides the Western Wall agreement, he intends to deal with the government’s conversion plan and how the word Reform has been used as a slur by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and religious-Zionist MKs.

 Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2021. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich visited the United Kingdom and France over the weekend and wrote on Facebook that he was glad that the Reform movement is relatively “small and marginal” in those countries and getting smaller in the US, according to a recent study that he cited.

“The synagogues of the Reform Movement are emptying,” he wrote. “As sad as that is, it was probably inevitable.”

The main reason for Smotrich’s European trip was to cultivate opposition to Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana’s conversion reform. He said rabbis in England and France told him that if the reform becomes law, they would no longer be able to automatically trust conversions performed in Israel.

“The privatization of conversion in Israel and the dissolution of the Chief Rabbinate from key powers on the ground could have dangerous and far-reaching consequences for the [London and Paris] Jewish communities, both in conversion and in fighting assimilation,” Smotrich warned.

“They define it as an existential threat; their outcry to reconsider the reform cannot be ignored.”