Ultra-Orthodox Up the Ante Against Reform Jews, but Not to Extent of Threatening Coalition

New, non-Orthodox prayer space at Western wall and official meetings for Reform rabbis with Netanyahu and Knesset members have incensed Haredi political leadership.

Two Reform Jews pray at the Robinson's Arch, the proposed site for an egalitarian prayer space near the main Western Wall plaza.
Olivier Fitoussi

Ultra-Orthodoxy's political leadership is becoming more vitriolic in its attacks against the increasing legitimization of non-Orthodox strains of Judaism in Israel, but is steering clear of threatening to leave the coalition.

Chief among the concerns of ultra-Orthodoxy is the government's approval last month of a separate prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for non-Orthodox worshippers, including women. The space is outside the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbi of the Western Wall.

The latter, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, attended a meeting of Agudat Yisrael's Council of Torah Guardians in Jerusalem on Wednesday night and explained the details of the government's agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements.

In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the Agudat Yisrael rabbis said: "With an aching heart and deep concern for the future, integrity and uniqueness of the Jewish people, we warn against the evil and dangers of the Reform, whose words and deeds are an utter forgery of the foundations of the Jewish religion."

The rabbis called on "everyone who is able to act to do whatever he can to alter the decree."

Speaking in the Knesset shortly after the meeting, Knesset Member Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said: "If the government wants to go with the Reform and celebrate with them and participate in their crusade of oppression against Haredi education, they can't be our partners and we can't be theirs."

"The prime minister and cabinet members and all those who are interested in the existence of the coalition need to understand that," he added.

Despite his tone, Eichler did not threaten to leave the coalition if the Western Wall agreement was implemented. The impression is that the Haredim are currently refraining from pushing the coalition envelope in their sharp protests against the legitimization of the Reform and Conservative movements.

The issue of the Western Wall is bound up with other expectations that UTJ has of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including lifting the limitations on funding for schools that don't teach the core curriculum and funding yeshiva students.

It appears that winning on one issue of principle and budget may make up for losing another.

Another area of concern is the recent Supreme Court decision compelling religious councils to allow the use of mikvot (purifying baths) for Reform and Conservative converts.

At the same time, the Shas Council of Torah Sages published a letter late last week in which it said that it had ordered Shas ministers Aryeh Dery and David Azoulay to subvert the moves to legitimize the Reform and Conservative movements.

The letter was intended, among other things, to give backing to the two ministers, who have been blamed in the Haredi community for allowing the steps towards legitimization.

Reform leaders notched up another success last week when they were received by Netanyahu at his bureau. In addition, hundreds of North American Reform rabbis, male and female, who are currently in Israel for the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, were received as official guests by the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee.