Orthodox Rabbi Who Called Reform Jews 'Heretics' Bows Out of Jewish Unity Event

Judy Maltz
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President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence, November 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Judy Maltz

A prominent Orthodox rabbi who had planned to participate in a special Jewish learning event with Conservative and Reform rabbis at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has canceled out at the last moment. The event was scheduled to take place on Thursday.

Responding to a question from Haaretz, Rabbi Uri Sherki, a well-known figure in the religious Zionist movement, said he would not attend because of “technical reasons.”

Rabbi Uri Sherky.Credit: Imri Pearl

He did acknowledge, however, that he had come under considerable pressure in Orthodox circles to absent himself from the multi-denominational event.

Earlier this week, Sherki was quoted in the Orthodox website Kipa saying that Reform Jews are “total heretics.”

“I don’t come for them,” he said, “but for the president and he invites heretics as well.” In addition, Sherki told Kipa he intended to speak his mind at the event about the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. He also said that he had resisted pressure to decline the invitation “because that would portray us as frightened about dealing with them.”

Among the participants at the event will be Meir Azari, who has served as the head rabbi at Beit Daniel, Tel Aviv’s Reform congregation, since its establishment in 1991, and is considered a prominent figure in the movement in Israel.

Other participants are Chaya Rowen-Baker, the rabbi of the Conservative-Masorti congregation Ramot Tzion in Jerusalem, and Dr. Moti Zeira, a founder of Hamidrasha at Oranim College, who is a leader of the Jewish renewal movement in Israel.

Rivlin organized the event to help reduce tensions with the non-Orthodox movements, whose leaders were offended by his decision last month to refuse to allow a Conservative rabbi to officiate at a bar mitzvah ceremony for disabled children that was to have taken place at his residence. The children were all graduates of a special program operated around the country by the Conservative movement.

The learning event at the president’s residence, scheduled to coincide with the traditional nine days of mourning that precede the fast of Tisha B’Av, is to be devoted to the topic of Jewish unity. It was organized in conjunction with the Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent think tank based in Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the President's Residence said, "The event is set to go ahead as planned, with a replacement representative of the Orthodox rabbinical community."

Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, responded to news of Sherki’s decision with the following statement: “I am very sorry that Rabbi Sherki decided to cancel his participation in the event. Jewish history has proven that our ability to maintain a discourse of debate has built us as a nation. I am convinced there will be many Orthodox rabbis who will be happy to fill this honorable function in place of Rabbi Sherki. Boycotts and excommunications among the Jewish people must come to an end. Therefore, the president was right to convene us all at his residence precisely before Tisha B’Av.”