Senior Israeli Minister Blasts Reform Jews: 'I Can Pass on This Judaism'

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Non-Orthodox rabbis bring Torah scrolls into Western Wall plaza to protest Israel's inaction. Conservative Rabbi Steven Wernick (L), Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Women of the Wall's Anat Hoffman (C), Conservative Rabbi Mauricio Balter, (R) Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv. November 2, 2016.
Non-Orthodox rabbis bring Torah into Western Wall: Conservative Rabbi Steven Wernick (L), Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Women of the Wall's Anat Hoffman (C), Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv. Nov. 2, 2016Credit: Women of the Wall

Interior Minister Arye Dery blasted Reform Jews on Monday, saying he "can do without that Judaism." 

Dery was responding to a question from Yesh Atid's MK Elazar Stern regarding the ongoing battle by Reform and Conservative Jews for the establishment of a non-Orthodox prayer space at Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Arye Dery speaks at a service marking the one-year anniversary of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's death, September 28, 2014. Credit: Emil Salman

Dery, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called recent protests by non-Orthodox Jews a provocation. "I want the original [Judaism], not the imitation," he said. The minister called Reform and Conservative Jews "our brothers" but added that he had "serious differences of opinion" with them.

To reinforce his point, Dery attacked the conduct of those attending a Reform synagogue in Carmiel. "On Shabbat I was in Carmiel and a friend showed me a synagogue building the state built for Reform Jews at the order of the High Court of Justice," he said.

"On Yom Kippur they placed trampolines and vending machines for soft drinks and food outside. Cars come there. There are two synagogues in Carmiel for 10 people because they have different customs. In one they play a guitar and in the other, an organ."

"I ask you, is that the Judaism we want?" Dery asked. "I'm willing to do without this Judaism, I want the original and I'm willing to relinquish these imitations. We follow the code of Jewish law and Judaism. What's the Kotel? A remnant of the Temple that we believe and hope will be built and we'll bring sacrifices there. They don't believe in that and don't want that," he said.

Joining Dery's criticism was ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Yisrael Eichler, who told Army Radio that Reform Jews violate Israel’s holy site laws and received funding for the aim of “sparking an Israeli culture war."

“Do you imagine such a thing as the Shi’ites going to Mecca or the Protestants to the Vatican, to create provocations?” Eichler said.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement, responded that “Dery’s opinion about our religious path doesn’t interest us, and we aren’t asking him for a Kashrut certificate. Our demand for equality is directed at the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people.

"We have no doubt that if the Israeli public were given a choice, a majority would prefer synagogues where prayer was accompanied by music and the entire family sitting together. Minister Dery knows this too and therefore he and his friends incite and perpetuate the discrimination from every pulpit.”

Last week, the Western Wall was a scene of chaos after Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders broke through security barriers with Torah scrolls in their arms, in defiance of the ultra-Orthodox authorities who run the holy site.

Some of the most respected people in the Jewish religious world were shoved to the ground when they resisted security officers at the Wall. The worshippers then made their way to the designated prayer plazas in a procession.

A group of about a dozen rabbis led the march, which started at the Dung Gate in the Old City and ended at the Western Wall. They were accompanied by about 200 supporters and members of Women of the Wall, the multidenominational feminist prayer group. Dozens of others later joined them at the prayer plazas.

The procession was called to protest the Israeli government's failure to heed its commitment to create a space at the Western Wall where men and women could pray together. On Tuesday, Netanyahu had appealed to the organizers not to demonstrate.

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