Religious Roundtable Mustn't 'Bow to Reform Jews' Dollar,' ultra-Orthodox Say

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Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, July 12, 2015. Credit: Emil Salman

Conservative Jews have welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s calling of a special roundtable to discuss Jewish issues, but an ultra-Orthodox newspaper warned Sunday that the country's leaders must not "bow to the Reform political backing and the Reform dollar.”

Netanyahu called for the forum after Religious Services Minister David Azoulay said last week that Reform Jews could not be considered Jews.

“We have all felt that a regular forum for strategic discussion and practical work with Israel’s non-Orthodox streams and the Diaspora aren’t just necessary but urgently needed,” said Yizhar Hess, the head of the Conservative movement in Israel.

At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu cited the tension between Israel on one side and Reform and Conservative U.S. Jews on the other.

Netanyahu said the roundtable would be headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. It would discuss “a range of topics that affect all streams of Judaism.”

“Israel is a home for all Jews,” Netanyahu said. “The Israeli government serves all of Israel’s citizens — secular and religious — and no matter what stream of Judaism they come from.”

But Netanyahu is being assailed by ultra-Orthodox Jews for his condemnation of Azoulay’s remarks.

According to a Sunday editorial in the Hasidic newspaper Yated Ne’eman, Netanyahu should have backed Azoulay but criticized him because of the “huge sums” that American Reform Jews donate to Israel.

“Netanyahu’s heart skipped a beat because of the reaction from overseas,” the editorial says. “The need to please them and calm the waters dictated his words. Deep down Netanyahu knows very well that there are no two sides to the coin here. But Israel’s need for Reform Jewry’s money was evidently the decisive factor.”

Despite Azoulay’s comments, the editorial concedes that most Reform Jews are Jews according to Jewish law.

“There are Reform Jews,” the editorial says. “There is no Reform Judaism . The country’s leaders must not bow to the Reform political backing and the Reform dollar, lest they seize even the tiniest opening and use it to breach walls.”

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