US Federations slam chief rabbi’s criticism of funding for non-Orthodox rabbis

Leaders accuse Shlomo Amar of alienating fellow Jews

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in April (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in April (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The Jewish Federations of North America issued Wednesday a rebuke in response to deprecating comments made by Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar regarding a decision that would allow non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state funding.

Amar told Radio Kol Barama, a Haredi radio station, on Sunday night that he sees the decision as a dangerous precedent that could damage the office of the chief rabbi of Israel, and that he plans to fight it as furiously as possible.

The statement circulated by the The Jewish Federations of North America read: “JFNA condemns in the strongest terms the statement reportedly made by Israel’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar. 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.”

The JNFA decried what it described as Amar’s lack of respect for diversity: “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.”

Amar pulled no punches in his Sunday interview, saying “the greatest danger for our generation is the danger of assimilation, and we need to be strong and steadfast in our fight. It is forbidden to remain silent, because there is nothing more serious than this measure.”

According to the JNFA press release, “statements such as those made by Rabbi Amar only serve to alienate our fellow Jews from our religion, our people and the Jewish State.”

In Israel the Chief Rabbinate, a government institution which is run by the Orthodox establishment, is responsible for all aspects of religious life for Jewish citizens of Israel, from birth to marriage to death. Marriage ceremonies conducted inside Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized by the state, and non-Orthodox conversions are invalid.

However, according to a survey which was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in 2009 and released in early 2012, more Israelis define themselves as Reform or Conservative than Haredi. Further, 61 percent of Israelis “agree that the Conservative and Reform movements should have equal status with the Orthodox in Israel.”

Hillary Zaken contributed to this report.

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