Haredi party likens Reform and Conservative converts to dogs with kippot

United Torah Judaism campaign clip suggests High Court, which recently recognized non-Orthodox conversions, would also accept canines as members of the tribe

Screen capture from a campaign video released by the United Torah Judaism party. (YouTube)
Screen capture from a campaign video released by the United Torah Judaism party. (YouTube)

United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party, released an election campaign video Tuesday night that seemingly compares people who convert to Judaism through non-Orthodox denominations to dogs wearing kippot.

The video, published online, drew condemnation from opposition leader MK Yair Lapid, who said that with this message, UTJ had joined the ranks of anti-Semites who often compare Jews to dogs.

The campaign video was released after the High Court of Justice ruled earlier this week that Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism conducted in Israel would be recognized for citizenship purposes. The decision, which dents the Orthodox monopoly on religion in Israel, was widely condemned by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, who vowed to pass a law to overturn it.

In the video, a series of photos were shown featuring dogs wearing the traditional Jewish kippa on their heads and wrapped in a talit, or prayer shawl. The images were apparently drawn from so-called Bark Mitzvah events held by some US Reform and Conservative Jews for their pet dogs.

As the images paraded on the screen, a narrator declared, “In the High Court of Justice, this is a Jew” while joking of one dog that “his grandfather was a rabbi, of course he is Jewish!”

The video ended with the message that only the UTJ party “will protect your Judaism, that of your children, and your grandchildren” and the campaign slogan “First of all the Jews.”

Lapid, who leads the secularist, centrist Yesh Atid party, criticized the video and recalled that his father, Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, once told him that during World War II there was a big sign on the parliament building in Budapest declaring, “No entry for Jews and dogs.”

Lapid wrote that “anti-Semites in every generation always compare Jews to dogs. Now UJT has joined them. Disgusting.”

Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, January 5, 2021. (Elad Guttman)

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal Orthodox group, also slammed the campaign clip. “Another red line was crossed today in relation to our brothers, who represent millions of Jews around the world,” it said in a statement.

“As an Orthodox movement, we are very concerned. When ignorance and polarizing discourse work together, we reach a nadir of fraternal hatred.”

The clip followed comes on the heels of another scandal involving UTJ. On Monday, the day of the High Court decision, party lawmaker Yitzhak Pindrus said women who convert to Judaism through the Israel Defense Forces’ conversion program are considered shiksas, using a pejorative term for non-Jewish women. Following a backlash, he later apologized for using the term, but maintained his position that the IDF’s conversion system was not religiously legitimate.

The army’s Nativ program, founded in 2001, is the only state-recognized conversion system in the country not controlled by the Chief Rabbinate. Hundreds of soldiers, most of them non-Jewish immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, enter the army’s conversion system each year. Thousands have successfully finished the program and converted to Judaism through the IDF’s rabbinic court, which is Orthodox.

The High Court ruling was denounced by right-wing religious politicians, who vowed to advance legislation in the next parliament to overturn it, and by the chief rabbis of Israel.

The heads of UTJ denounced the ruling as “disastrous for the significance of the term ‘Jewish state.’” Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni said that they would demand the advancement of a so-called override clause, allowing the Knesset to overturn High Court rulings.

Fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas said that the ruling underlines the court’s disconnection from the majority of the Israeli people, “who want to maintain the Jewish state and preserve Judaism according to traditions that go back thousands of years.”

Both parties said they would not join a future coalition that was not committed to overturning or legislating against the ruling.

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