JERUSALEM (JTA) – Jewish groups in the United States slammed Israel’s religious services minister for saying that Reform Jews cannot be considered Jewish.
“It would be one thing if Minister Azoulay’s ignorant and myopic views of Reform Judaism were nothing more than this his own semi-coherent ramblings,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The real danger is that he now sits at the Cabinet Table, and is in a position to turn those views into governmental policy.”
Jacobs was responding to comments made earlier in the day by David Azoulay of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party.
“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” Azoulay said on Army Radio. “These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”
Last month, Azoulay in an interview also called Reform Jews “a disaster for the people of Israel.”
“One would hope that a minister charged with administering religious affairs would be a voice for respect and tolerance of the religious views and traditions of others,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Tuesday.
Both Foxman and Jacobs welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repudiation of the remarks. Netanyahu said they do not reflect the position of the government.
“I have spoken with Minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as minister of religious affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation, called for Azoulay’s dismissal should he make any further remarks against non-Orthodox Judaism.
“Diaspora Jews, and especially American Jews where Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish religious affiliation, are critical to Israel’s sense of well-being and security. Representatives of Israel’s government should treat them accordingly,” Ruderman said in a statement.
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which represents Orthodox rabbis, in a statement on Wednesday reiterated that under Jewish law, “all Jews, regardless of their observance or belief, are full members of the Jewish people, and are our brothers and sisters.” The statement also defended Azoulay, saying that “from the context it seems clear that he meant to question the validity of their religious expression rather than their essential Jewishness.”
The RCA “has well-known objections to some of the fundamental tenets of Reform Judaism,” RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky said. “There is no question, however, that we certainly embrace all members of the Jewish community.”
In Israel, Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett wrote in a Facebook post, “All Jews are Jews. Whether Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, haredi or secular. And Israel is their home. Period.”
Haredi Orthodox Knesset member Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party, in an interview Wednesday with Army Radio, acknowledged that Reform and Conservative Jews are indeed Jewish, but said that they “take the Torah and tear it to pieces.” He also blamed the movements for the high rate of intermarriage, adding, ““They sinned, and I pray that they will repent.”