Rivlin Invites non-Orthodox Rabbis to His Home in Bid to Mend Rift

President seeks to soothe relations with Reform and Conservative movements; last month, Rivlin refused to allow Conservative rabbi to officiate at a bar mitzvah ceremony for disabled children.

Tomer Appelbaum

Aiming to patch up relations with the non-Orthodox movements in Israel, President Reuven Rivlin will be hosting a special multi-denominational study session at his residence that will include some of their rabbis. The event will take place next week during the traditional nine days of mourning that precede the fast of Tisha B’Av.

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; Uri Sherki, a well-known Orthodox rabbi who serves as chairman of the Brit Olam, Noahide World Center, and Dr. Moti Zeira, a founder of Hamidrasha at Oranim College, who is a leader of the Jewish renewal movement in Israel.

The president’s office said the purpose of the event was “to bring together the communities of the Jewish people in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and of learning and studying, to discuss the importance of Jewish unity and the need to work together to build understanding and respect.”

It also noted that “in recent weeks there have been several incidents which have highlighted difficulties in the relationship between the various streams in Judaism, and the State of Israel.”

Rivlin was embroiled in a major confrontation with the world Conservative movement last month after he refused to allow one of its rabbis 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.

Last week, a member of the Netanyahu government sparked a huge outcry when, for the second time in recent weeks, he referred disparagingly to Reform Jews. In a radio interview, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay said that Reform Jews could not be considered Jewish. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized on his behalf.

The learning event at the president’s residence, which will be held next Thursday, was organized in conjunction with the Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent think tank based in Jerusalem.