U.S. Jewish Organizations Slam Israel's Chief Rabbi for Criticism of State Pay for non-Orthodox Rabbis

In radio interview, Rabbi Shlomo Amar said non-Orthodox rabbis uproot the foundations of Judaism and enable assimilation.

The Jewish Federations of North America slammed Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar's criticism of the Israeli government's decision to pay the salaries of some non-Orthodox rabbis.

"It is a fundamental Jewish virtue to love your fellow as yourself. We condemn comments that disparage fellow Jews and, in particular, well-established branches of Judaism that represent 80 percent of North American Jewry," JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman said in a statement.

Amar said in an interview Sunday with the haredi Orthodox Kol Berama radio station that he would convene the Chief Rabbinate Council, made up of Orthodox rabbis throughout Israel, to discuss ways to reverse the decision. The meeting reportedly will take place next week.

The greatest danger for our generation is the danger of assimilation, and we need to be strong and steadfast in our fight, Amar said. It is forbidden to remain silent because there is nothing more serious than this measure.

He added that the decision to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis could uproot all the foundations of the Torah.

Silverman said in his statement, "We condemn comments that disparage fellow Jews and, in particular, well-established branches of Judaism that represent 80 percent of North American Jewry.

"Federations believe in a pluralistic, inclusive Jewish people and work hard to bring members of our people closer to their heritage. We know that the Chief Rabbi's comments and language are completely rejected by the millions of Jewish people whom we represent from all streams, including our Orthodox brethren. Statements such as those made by Rabbi Amar only serve to alienate our fellow Jews from our religion, our people and the Jewish state.

The agreement announced last month came three weeks after a panel of Israeli Supreme Court judges called on the attorney general to intervene during a hearing on a petition filed more than seven years ago calling for the state to recognize and pay the salaries of rabbis of all streams of Judaism.

Under a settlement negotiated out of court, the non-Orthodox rabbis have the moniker rabbi of a non-Orthodox community, and financing for the positions comes from the Culture and Sports Ministry. The decision is limited to regional councils and farming communities and is not intended for large cities.

The Rabbinical Assembly also condemned Amar's statements, saying that that "incendiary language can result in devastating consequences."

"In support of our Masorti rabbis in Israel, we speak as a worldwide Conservative community in demanding that this threat to their physical safety, not only their personal integrity, be defended in the strongest possible way," Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the Rabbinical Assemblys executive vice president, and Rabbi Gerry Skolnik, RA president, said in a statement issued Thursday. "The Talmud (Arakhin 15b) teaches that hateful speech has the potential to kill. Rabbi Amars language places all Jewish people at risk of violence, all because the Attorney General on behalf of the government of the State of Israel directed that non-Orthodox rabbis in agricultural communities could be paid salaries from non-religious budgets."

The statement also asked that "the resources of the Jewish state be devoted to teaching and propagating a love of Judaism and the Jewish people."

Rabbi Amar has sent a letter to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis in Israel calling on them to fight the state's decision to recognize and fund Reform and Conservative rabbis.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar March 16, 2011 (Daniel Bar-On)
Daniel Bar-On