An ultra-Orthodox Knesset member waded into a new “who is a Jew” furor Wednesday, saying that while he does consider Reform Jews to be Jewish, they are “stabbing the holy Torah in the back.”
The remarks by Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party came a day after Israel’s Religious Services Minister David Azoulay said he does not consider Reform and Conservative Jews to be Jewish, and urged them to turn to Orthodox Judaism.
Gafni told Army Radio that while Conservative and Reform Jews were “Jewish, no question about it,” the two religious denominations nonetheless “take the Torah and tear it to pieces, heaven forbid.”
Gafni further claimed that Reform and Conservative Jews were to blame for the high rates of intermarriage in the US and Canada.
“They sinned, and I pray that they will repent,” he concluded.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party was quick to respond to Gafni’s attack, writing on his Facebook page a short time later that “all Jews are Jews. Whether conservative, reform, orthodox, haredi or secular.”
Bennett, who served as religious services minister in the last government, said that Israel was the home of all Jews, “period.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday also rejected the “hurtful remarks” by Azoulay, which he stressed do not reflect the position of the government. “I have spoken with Minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as Minister of Religious Services, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism comprise the largest denominations in the United States but are in the minority in Israel, where Jewish religious life is dominated by various strains of Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the leader of Israel’s Reform Movement, said that in addition to condemning Azoulay’s remarks, Netanyahu should “immediately spark a strategic dialogue with the leaders of the non-Orthodox movements to fully recognize their equal status in Israel.”
The Anti-Defamation League criticized Azoulay’s “outburst of demeaning and hateful comments,” while also welcoming Netanyahu’s “swift rejection of the remarks.”
“One would hope that a minister charged with administering religious affairs would be a voice for respect and tolerance of the religious views and traditions of others,” outgoing ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.
The Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation also condemned Azoulay’s remarks, demanding that Netanyahu dismiss the minister if he makes any further “derogatory” comments.
AP contributed to this report.