In the wake of a firestorm sparked by recent inflammatory made by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers comments regarding Reform Jews, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of the remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.
“Israel is the home for all Jews, the Israeli government serves all citizens of Israel — both religious and secular regardless of the stream [of Judaism] they’re from,” the prime minister told the cabinet, according to the Kikar HaShabat website.
Last week, Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay said in a radio interview that he did not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish, and urged them to turn to Orthodox Judaism.
“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” he said.
Azoulay, a member of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, added, “These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”
The outrage over his comments was compounded a day later, when MK Moshe Gafni of coalition partner United Torah Judaism said that non-Orthodox Jews were “stabbing the Torah in the back.”
Netanyahu quickly rejected Azoulay’s “hurtful remarks” and said in a statement they did not reflect the position of his government.
Over the weekend, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem convened a roundtable of representatives from Jewish religious movements and government ministries to address the concerns of the Reform, Conservative and modern Orthodox movements in Israel. JAFI head Natan Sharansky and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit chaired the committee aimed at promoting intra-religious dialogue.
Azoulay’s comments came days after the cabinet voted to reverse an initiative aimed at easing the conversion process to Judaism. It marked a blow to attempts by parties in the previous government to end the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on religious life in Israel.
The conversion initiative, which was passed by the Knesset Law Committee last year, was considered one of the previous government’s major achievements before elections were called and the legislation process was halted. But the policy was repealed Sunday in fulfillment of part of the coalition agreement between the Likud party and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.
Under the soon-to-be defunct measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would have been approved to conduct conversions. Currently there are 33 rabbis and only four conversion courts that can legally perform conversions throughout Israel.