Katsav Blasts Yoffie for Going to Media

Amiram Barkat
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Amiram Barkat

President Moshe Katsav yesterday harshly attacked Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, saying Yoffie "should approach the appropriate authorities" if he is unhappy with how Katsav addresses him.

Haaretz reported last week that Katsav refuses to call Yoffie by the title "rabbi" because he says the state does not recognize Reform rabbis and because he is personally accustomed to only addressing Orthodox-ordained rabbis in that manner.

Yoffie told reporters in response that he would not visit the President's Residence on his current visit to Israel, after Katsav addressed him as "Mr" and "Sir" in previous encounters.

Katsav, who spoke yesterday at the opening ceremony of the Jewish Agency Assembly in Jerusalem, said, "It is inappropriate to debate me via the media. I hear I'm being boycotted. No president of the Reform Movement will boycott the president of the state or the state. He [Yoffie - A.B] wouldn't dare do that to the president of the United States. I am the president of a sovereign state."

In response to a question from UJA Federation of New York CEO John Ruskay on relations between the different streams of Judaism, Katsav said, "I have opened my home to all the streams more than any president before me."

Katsav explained the he had decided to use the title "Reform Rabbi" to address the rabbis of the movement as a compromise proposal.

"There is a problem," the president said. "The chief rabbi opposes calling Reform rabbis 'Rabbi' so I call them 'Reform Rabbis'. In this way I avoid an argument with the Orthodox rabbis. The president of the state doesn't decide on titles, and Yoffie can go to the proper authorities. It's too bad they have made something marginal into their defining issue."

World Union for Progressive Judaism President Rabbi Uri Regev said in response that he regrets Katsav's comments. "The more Katsav tries to explain, the more he complicates the situation. It is sad and regrettable that the president doesn't understand the make-up of U.S. Jewry. The way Katsav looks at the Jewish people doesn't suit reality."

The Reform Movement in Israel stated that it respects the presidency. "However, the movement representing the largest stream in the Jewish world, expects the presidency to respect its rabbinical leaders." The movement also said it was Katsav who announced in the media that he doesn't recognize Rabbi Yoffie as a rabbi. The movement also noted that in contrast to Katsav's comments that Reform rabbis are not recognized in Israel, 15 years ago the Supreme Court recognized the status of Reform and Conservative rabbis in the Diaspora as the same as that of Orthodox rabbis for the purposes of conversion and other matters.

On the subject of the Falashmura, Jewish Agency Secretary General Josh Schwarcz said the 518 worldwide delegates were anxious to hear when the government planned to implement the previous government's decision to bring the Ethiopian Falashmura community to Israel. "It is important to Jewish communities to bring this affair to a close," Schwarcz said.

Schwarcz also said the Agency will help with the West Bank convergence plan however it can. Several months before the Gaza disengagement, then prime minister Ariel Sharon asked the Agency to help resettle Gush Katif residents in the Negev and Galilee.

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