The leader of an ultra-Orthodox Israeli party doubled down on his party’s portrayal of Reform Jews as dogs in a campaign video, defending the ad as “merely showing the truth.”
“The way I see it, the video presented a true story,” Moshe Gafni, leader of the United Torah Judaism party, part of the government’s ruling coalition said in an interview on Army Radio.
“We didn’t compare anyone to dogs. We said: here, look that’s the way it is … You want to understand what is Reform? So you should know that they have such a thing as Bar Mitzvahs for dogs. I don't understand all these people who are kicking and screaming and complaining about it now and attacking us. What is their problem with dogs? That’s what they do … We’re only showing reality.”
The controversial video, released across social media on Wednesday morning, and later removed by Facebook, depicted dogs wearing ritual items like kippot, tallit, and tefillin, along with sidelocks and glasses. A narrator asserts that “only United Torah Judaism will protect your Judaism, your children’s Judaism, and your grandchildren’s Judaism!”
The dog images in the United Torah Judaism ad were introduced with a clip of a family in the United States celebrating a “Bark Mitzvah,” a humorous party trend among U.S. Jews dating as far back as 1958. The “Bark Mitzvah” trend is frowned on by Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. as being disrespectful to religion. In Israel, it has long been used by ultra-Orthodox parties to denigrate the Reform movement as twisting Jewish traditions. Unlike Gafni’s assertion and the video’s implication, the “Bark Mitzvah” parties have no direct association whatsoever with Reform or Conservative Judaism.
The ad was released in the aftermath of a ruling by Israel’s High Court ordering the state to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism performed in Israel for the purpose of obtaining Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, angering ultra-Orthodox rabbis and the community’s political leadership.
In his radio interview, Gafni said that his party would refuse to enter any post-election government coalition “that doesn’t offer a legislative solution to the situation that the High Court has created.”
“I won’t be in a coalition with people who will stab Judaism in the back,” he vowed.
Gafni asserted that while, “the Jewish people, like any civilized society, have a book of laws according to which they operate, while the Reform don’t have any book of laws. A Reform rabbi from anywhere in the world can take 10,000 goyim and decide to stand on the roof and shout “you’re Jewish” and then they all become Jewish.”
If non-Orthodox streams are empowered to perform conversion, Gafni warned, “a goy from anywhere in the world can become Jewish and in that there is a national danger … all of our foreign workers can just go to a Reform rabbi and he will convert them and they will become Jews with full rights.”
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A much harsher ad than the dog video, he suggested, would show “a huge group of foreign workers in South Tel Aviv … and show what can happen with them if we recognize the Reform’s right to convert them to Judaism, allowing them to enter the Jewish people. Then we won’t be able to do anything about them and won’t be able to move them out of here.”
Responding to Gafni’s remarks, Reform rabbi Gilad Kariv, who is running for Knesset on the Labor Party list, told the radio station that “Gafni and his friends are liars” who “insult millions of Jews around the world, both in Israel and the Diaspora”
Such “hateful rhetoric is the reason the majority of Israelis reject the rabbinic establishment and haredi politicians and it's the reason we have to take away control of religion from their exclusive control and promote civil marriage and divorce,” Kariv said, declaring that “Judaism can’t continue to be held hostage to people who are full of hate and lacking integrity.”