Netanyahu Needs to Pay for His Minister's Damage

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An archive photo from October 2011 shows Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (who served as an MK back then) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Emil Salman

Words can cause damage. While there is nothing new about this, the question that bears critical importance is how one pays for the damage caused by spoken words, seeing as they cannot be retrieved. Our Jewish sources help provide insight.  

While there is nothing new about this, the question that bears critical importance is how one pays for the damage caused by spoken words, seeing as they cannot be retrieved. Our Jewish sources help provide insight.

In the Mishna, we learn about two factors, tam and muad. The first (tam) refers to an animal with no known history of violent behavior, and the second (muad) refers to an animal known to be capable of causing damage, due to its history or otherwise.

In the Mishna and subsequent Jewish legal texts, the main difference between a tam and a muad is the penalty that an owner must pay once the animal causes damage. An owner whose animal is expected to bite, gore, shove or kick is only expected to pay half the sum he would otherwise pay.

This week, when Shas MK David Azoulay uttered - for the second time in a month - disparaging comments about Reform Jews, we began to see a pattern. He now has a proven track record of denouncing the largest Diaspora movement and further damaging our relationship with Israel.

When he said regarding Reform Jews on a radio interview that "I can't allow myself to say that such a person is a Jew, rather a Jew who has strayed," I can’t say I was surprised. He went on to state his clear position that there is one path, and that is the path of Halakha and he would love nothing more than to welcome all Jews, especially those who have strayed and are living in exile, to return to the bosom of Judaism (as he sees it). Big deal, right? It’s not breaking news that a Shas member doesn’t feel warmth and acceptance for Reform Jews. It would be one thing if this were a random occurrence that could be deemed a slip of tongue. But since it's not, the issue is the fact that we openly gave him his position of power despite being aware of his feelings toward Reform Jews.

The problem here is the prominence and role given to him first by the Israeli voter, and second by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wheels and deals to stay in power. This current government, put together by chewing gum and fishing wire, sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.

The onus is now on the prime minister to “pay for the damage” that his minister has caused. Make no mistake, I do not mean to compare MK Azoulay to an ox – but these are the metaphors and lessons from our own religious sources. Netanyahu is the owner, and must deal with the behavior that we all expected from the parties with whom he chose to partner. It is upon both the head of the Shas party and the PM who appointed MK Azoulay to the prestigious Religious Affairs portfolio who must now curb their minister and prevent further denigrating comments. 

The goal of Zionism was – and is – to create a Jewish state for every Jew to come, live, and fulfill a full Jewish life, each in his or her own way. Too often are we told by power-wielders and decision makers, “Welcome to Israel, we love you and you should live here, this is your home,” yet “You’re not really Jewish, and you need to adopt a certain lifestyle in order to be accepted.” 

If the first statement is true, it is about time for those who believe the second statement to lose both their power and their platform. Words can cause damage, and the more they are spouted irresponsibly, the more irreparable the damage becomes. It is time to stop merely condemning the statements. Netanyahu must take responsibility and remove MK Azoulay from power, showing that he sincerely and genuinely looks to pay the damages.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. He is a graduate of the HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinic Program in Jerusalem, and is currently living in New York.

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