Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued a statement on Wednesday taking two Israeli government ministers to task for negative comments about Reform Judaism. Their comments had been made in connection with the cabinet's approval on Sunday of a plan that will create a new egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to accommodate non-Orthodox worshippers.
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"Just a few days ago, we commended Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership in securing support for the egalitarian, pluralistic area of the Kotel. Now we find ourselves calling on him, and other Israeli leaders, to stop what has become a pattern of hate-fueled comments from members of the Israeli government," Jacobs stated.
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Tourism Yariv Levin said that the wedding of Chelsea Clinton, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's daughter, to her Jewish fiancé in a ceremony officiated by a Reform rabbi and a priest, shows the extent of assimilation among Reform Jews in the United States. "The Reform Jews in the United States are a waning world," Levin said, adding 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."
For his part, Rabbi Jacobs replied back: "Minister Levin undermined his own governmental role to encourage the struggling tourism industry by attacking Reform Jews who constitute one of the largest groups of tourists to the Jewish State."
In his statement, Jacobs also made reference to reported comments Monday by Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party regarding Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group that includes Orthodox and non-Orthodox women and is also slated to use the new player plaza. Porush reportedly said the group should be “thrown to the dogs,” to which Jacobs replied: "One can only wonder what his hateful words about Reform Judaism say about his own narrow, bigoted religious world view."
Jacobs praised Netanyahu for condemning officials' comments directed against non-Orthodox Jewish movements, but added: "It can no longer be enough to make public statements after each of these reprehensible occurrences, which are increasing in their frequency." And the Reform leader said: "The government and the State of Israel has a problem. We cannot ignore that these inexcusable statements keep coming from the cabinet level. The words of Deputy Minister Porush, in fact, come dangerously close to incitement. Legitimate differences of opinion, practice, and belief are longstanding dimensions of authentic Jewish life. But these recent outbursts of prejudice expose an ugliness that has no place within our noble Jewish tradition or within the government of the Jewish state."
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement saying: ""I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews," and affirmed: "Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect."
With reporting from JTA.