Ultra-Orthodox Lawmakers' Remarks Proof of 'Seismic Shift' in Monopoly on Judaism in Israel, Reform Leader Says

Rabbi Rick Jacob's comments come after latest attack against non-Orthodox Judaism, in which MK Israel Eichler compared of Reform Jews to the mentally ill.

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The area where a plaza for mixed-gender prayer will be placed at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, February 1, 2016.
The area where a plaza for mixed-gender prayer will be placed at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, February 1, 2016. Credit: AP

The latest remarks by ultra-Orthodox Knesset members show that the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Judaism is being loosened, and a "seismic shift" is taking place, said Rabbi Rick Jacobs on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) launched a diatribe against the Reform movement and the High Court of Justice over a ruling that non-Orthodox converts must not be denied the right to immerse in public ritual baths. In his request to hold a debate on the matter in the Knesset, Eichler said: “Not every mentally ill person can come to the operating room and decide the rules of medicine and force the hospital to have an operation by whatever way works. it is intolerable that the directors of ritual baths will have to allow organizers of Reform religion-changing ceremonies into a Jewish ritual bath.”

"MK Eichler’s comments yesterday are yet another example of the extreme intolerance of the ultra-orthodox religious establishment," said Jacobs. "Clearly they feel a seismic shift in their decades old monopoly on Judaism," he added. "It’s time for the ultra-Orthodox MKs to learn the Torah of respect and ahavat yisrael (love of Israel), love of one’s fellow Jews and a primer on democracy is also in order."

The head of the Reform movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said on Wednesday that Eichler's comments show that the ultra-Orthodox realize they are losing the battle for public opinion in Israel.

Kariv said that "the best response to MK Eichler is the meeting that the prime minister held with leaders of Jewish Reform movements in North America and Israel this week," alongside the fact that 400 Reform rabbis visited the Knesset at the invitation of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

On Monday, North American leaders of the Reform movement met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thank him for the cabinet's decision to create a separate pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall. They also commended his rejection of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s remarks accusing the movement of leading to assimilation.

"Without taking it lightly, the extent of incitement in recent weeks by ultra-Orthodox MKs against Reform Judaism reflects that they themselves understand that they are losing the battle for public opinion in Israel," Kariv added.

Eichler's comments were the latest in a series of jabs from ultra-Orthodox MKs toward non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Last month, Levin said that within two or three generations, all of the Reform Jews will have assimilated. "The evidence is that a man who calls himself a reform rabbi is standing there with a priest and weds Hillary Clinton's daughter, and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it," he said.

The Reform movement is the largest religious movement among U.S. Jews, estimated at over a million and a half people.

"Israel must no longer be the only democracy in the world that legally discriminates against the streams of Judaism representing the majority of Jews in the world," added Jacobs.

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