JERUSALEM (JTA) – World leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement criticized Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s decision to host a joint bar mitzvah for physically disabled boys under the exclusive auspices of an Orthodox rabbi.
The celebration was moved to the president’s residence in Jerusalem after the mayor of Rehovot in April canceled the ceremony in his city because it would be held at a Masorti synagogue in Rehovot. Rivlin said he would host the program under the auspices of both an Orthodox and a Masorti rabbi.
Conservative movement leaders in Israel charge that at the last minute, they learned last week that only an Orthodox rabbi would preside at the event.
“It is painful to say it, but this is an act of cruelty in which disabled children and their parents are being denied a service that would help them and the sole reason for this denial is the contempt of Israel’s leaders for the sponsors of this program, the worldwide Conservative/Masorti movement,” the movement’s leaders said in a letter sent to Rivlin on Sunday.
The signers included Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis in the world, and Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, as well as Masorti leaders in Israel and Conservative leaders from around the word.
“Our love for the State of Israel is unconditional. But Israel must live up to her claims about herself,” the letter said. “A modern, scientific, humanitarian, democratic state cannot deny a program to disabled children simply because of your loathing for our Jewish philosophy and practice, not in the ‘City of Science’ and not in the President’s residence.”
Rivlin’s office, responding through the Israeli media, said that alternative options for the ceremony had been proposed but were rejected by the Conservative movement.
“Unfortunately, religious figures seeking to advance their agenda through the cynical use of children refused to respond to every framework proposed by the President’s Office, and we are saddened by this approach,” his office said, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Rahamim Malul, a former lawmaker for the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, in preventing the April 30 celebration said that even though the event was planned by a city secular school, there were several Orthodox students with disabilities in the program who were uncomfortable going to a non-Orthodox synagogue. The program is celebrating its 20th year.