A group of progressive activists petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday demanding disciplinary action against Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar for inciting against Reform Jews, members of the local LGBTQ community and a feminist prayer group that holds a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall.
The petition was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center on behalf of the Reform movement in Israel, the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance and Women of the Wall. The petitioners said they had filed dozens of judicial complaints over five years about Amar’s offensive remarks, but to no avail. Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit are named as defendants in the case, along with Amar.
Amar, who has been in his current position since November 2019, was previously Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi for 10 years.
“Regretfully, the defendant exploits his unique and lofty position in order to target and incite against entire communities in Israeli society, among them the Reform community, Women of the Wall and the LGBTQ community, which he treats in a hurtful, degrading and humiliating way,” the petition said.
Such behavior, it argued, violates Israel’s civil service laws, and by not prosecuting Amar or issuing any formal complaint against him, the Justice Ministry and attorney general are remiss in their duties.
Among the statements cited in the lawsuit, Amar has referred to Reform Jews as “evil people who commit every injustice in the world against the Torah.” He has accused Women of the Wall of “eradicating the Torah, trampling and degrading the dignity of the Torah.”
And he has described the annual Pride march in Jerusalem as “a march of abomination,” saying that “even animals don’t behave that way.” The suit provides a list of 20 such statements by the rabbi in recent years.
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Last September, the High Court ordered that Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu face a disciplinary hearing for “insults and incitement” against the country’s Arab citizens and members of the LGBTQ community. It was the first time a municipal rabbi in Israel was subject to such action. The ruling came in response to a petition by the Israel Religious Action Center.
“For years, time after time, Rabbi Amar has proved that he is not worthy of the title ‘rabbi,’ all the more so ‘chief rabbi of Jerusalem,’" said the center's director, Rabbi Noa Sattath.
"His remarks, which can only be called baseless hatred steeped in ignorance, offend the same Israelis and Jews who pay his salary. The foot-dragging and evasiveness of previous justice ministers and the attorney general are even more infuriating – after all, they know only too well that his profanities and incitement are not Jewish or moral acts, certainly not when they come from the mouth of a public servant and end up pushing more and more people away from the murky Judaism he represents.”
Asked for Amar’s response, a representative of his office said the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, in all his years in public service, “has honored and respected every person for who he is, from all the religions.”
“Rabbi Amar would be happy to show respect as well to those who are called Reform [Jews], if only they declared that this new religion they’ve invented is a separate religion, like Christianity or Islam,” the office said in a statement. It said Amar was greatly pained that members of the Reform movement would rather “disguise themselves as a Jewish denomination and distort Judaism as they wish.”
“The big concern is that innocent Jews around the world will begin to think over time that this is in fact the authentic Jewish religion,” the statement added.
It said Amar was keenly aware of the activities of the Reform movement around the world and “the great harm” it had inflicted on the Jewish people through intermarriage and assimilation.
“Rabbi Amar will continue to fight with all his power, as he is obligated by the Torah, against the Reform religion until it declares itself a different religion in all respects,” the statement said, adding that the threat of disciplinary action against Amar, or the prospect he might lose his job, would not change his mind.
The statement did not address his attitude toward the LGBTQ community or Women of the Wall.