Rafi Peretz slammed for comparing intermarriage to 'second Holocaust'

Peretz’s comments “are a reflection of a flawed religious outlook and contempt for the Holocaust,” says Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutch, dean of Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.

Israel's Education minister Rafi Peretz (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)
Israel's Education minister Rafi Peretz
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)
Education Minister Rafi Peretz has caused a storm after he called intermarriage, particularly in the United States, “a second Holocaust.” He claimed that “we [have] lost six million Jews in this way [due to assimilation] since the Holocaust.”
Peretz made the remarks during a government meeting on Tuesday while speaking about the massive scale of assimilation among world Jewry.
He was quickly challenged by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who argued that not only is “assimilation not a critical problem” but that “we must stop looking down on Jews who live in America.” Steinitz added that not all Jews define their Jewishness via faith, and many view their Jewish identity instead as a cultural and historical one.
The figure of six million Jews allegedly “lost” to assimilation may be a misinterpretation of a real quote by the late prime minister Golda Meir, who said she thinks that anyone who assimilates has made a choice to “join the six million” who perished in the Holocaust.
Following the comment, Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutch, Schechter Rabbinical Seminary dean, told The Jerusalem Post in a statement that Peretz’s comments “are a reflection of a flawed religious outlook, and contempt for the Holocaust.”
Novis-Deutch explained that “the use of the term ‘Holocaust’ in connection with human behavior resulting from choice affects the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors, and it also contains some element of xenophobia and racism.”
“My colleagues in the United States do a great deal to bring Jews closer to heritage and tradition, to experience meaningful Jewish experiences and to educate their children in Jewish education – even in cases where couples are not Jewish according to Halacha or with the children of such couples,” he continued. “They understand that rejecting people and excluding them from the Jewish community is not the way.”
The seminary ordains conservative rabbis in Israel, including gay rabbis. Though its point of view is more liberal, it says it is completely halachic.
The Anti-Defamation League also slammed Peretz for his comments, saying that: “The use of the term ‘Holocaust’ to describe intermarriage is unacceptable and constitutes contempt for the Holocaust.”
“In addition, this contributes to the already existing tension between Israel and American Jewry,” the ADL said in a statement. “As education minister and head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties [URP], we call on Rafi Peretz to promote a respectful dialogue and to resolve existing disputes responsibly.”
Adding to this, ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that “it’s inconceivable to use the term ‘Holocaust’ to describe Jews choosing to marry non-Jews. It trivializes the Shoah.
“It alienates so many members of our community,” he said. “This kind of baseless comparison does little other than to inflame and offend.”
ITIM: The Right to Live Jewish, condemned Peretz’s remark, calling it “hurtful,” adding that: “ITIM is working to bridge the divide between Israel and world Jewry, and is working to undo the damage such statements cause the Israel-Diaspora relationship.”
In 2013, the Pew Research Center released data suggesting that before 1970, only 17% of US Jews married a non-Jewish person, while in 2005 that figure was 58%.
The issue of how Jewish people maintain their identity while living in an open, democratic society, like the US or other Western societies, has not been fully resolved. An example of this is how religious Jews view intermarriage as a path of no return, while secular Jews point to such households as celebrating Jewishness along with other values.
 This is not the first time such comments have been made by a religious politician. In 2014, National Union MK Eli Ben-Dahan – who was deputy religious minister at the time – called intermarriage a “silent Holocaust.”