Members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leadership assailed Sunday the newly chosen head of the Jewish Agency after his remarks about his daughter's bat mitzvah service in a Reform synagogue decades ago resurfaced this week.
Speaking at a gathering attended by leading Reform figures from both the United States and Israel at Kibbutz Shefayim, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, who was designated for the position on Thursday, recalled the coming-of-age of his now 43-year-old daughter.
“When she was 12 and her bat mitzvah was approaching, she said I’m going up to the Torah,” he said in a video published by the Walla news site. “My wife and I didn’t know much about the community or Reform synagogues, but she found out… She went up to the Torah and there was great joy. The picture of her tallit from that moment of the haftarah is hanging in our house.”
In Orthodox synagogues, only men can read from the Torah or don the tallit prayer shawl.
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Representatives of Israel’s religious right were quick to condemn Almog’s comments. Walla quoted Shas lawmaker Moshe Arbel as saying that his "quick and unnecessary flattery of the Reform movement indicates that he is unworthy of his new position.” He also accused Almog of "choosing factionalism over unity."
According to Walla, the head of the Liba Center, a group that fiercely opposes egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, likewise condemned Almog’s remarks. The organization stated that "today it became clear that the appointment of Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog was intended to please the Reform minority and force anti-traditional distortions on the entire nation.”
Yizhar Hess, deputy chair of the World Zionist Organization and a former leader of the Conservative movement in Israel, shot back at the criticisms, telling Walla that the Jewish Agency was "the executive arm of the Zionist movement and represents the entire Jewish people, many millions of whom belong to Reform and Conservative Judaism."
Almog, 71, currently serves as the chairman of the Adi Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village and formally commanded the IDF Southern Command. He was selected by the Jewish Agency’s nominating committee last week. His appointment is expected to be approved by the full Jewish Agency Board of Governors at its next meeting in Jerusalem next month.