Jewish Home MK: Reform Judaism is a ‘fake religion’

Bezalel Smotrich stokes flames of religious infighting between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements

Bezalel Smotrich (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Bezalel Smotrich (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With the struggle between Judaism’s denominations continuing to play out in Israel on conversions, ritual practices and prayer rights, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich weighed in on Thursday, asserting that Reform Judaism was a “fake religion.”

Smotrich told a gathering of his party’s volunteer youth that he was “not willing to recognize Reform conversions and their fake religion.”

The Chief Rabbinate’s Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious services has come under fire in recent years from private groups that have chafed at what they say are the institution’s increasingly stringent guidelines.

The rabbinate has come under increasing criticism for its inability to set an agreed-upon standard even for Orthodox conversions, and its frequent rejection of conversions painstakingly undertaken under the tutelage of Orthodox rabbis.

In a landmark ruling in March, the High Court declared that the state must recognize private conversions to Orthodox Judaism that are conducted outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate.

Representatives from Israel’s non-Orthodox denominations hailed that decision, and asserted that the decision would eventually apply to Reform and Conservative courts as well, as their rabbis were recognized by the state as Jewish too.

But non-Orthodox Jews have also suffered setbacks recently in their quest for equality.

On Monday the Knesset passed into law a bill that permits regional religious authorities to turn away individuals from using the state-run ritual baths. The legislation seeks to circumvent the Supreme Court’s February 12 ruling that Israel’s non-Orthodox Jewish communities may use state ritual baths for their conversion ceremonies.

“This is the first time that a mikveh, a place of purity, has become a place of exclusion,” said Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie on Monday. The lawmaker said the legislation sends a message to Diaspora Jewry that the State of Israel doesn’t “count you in. Not at the Western Wall, or in marriage, or in conversions, at the mikvehs too — you have no place in the State of Israel.”

The Western Wall, too, has become a battleground for religious groups. A planned multidenominational prayer space directly south of the Wall’s plaza, meant to soothe tensions at the holy site, has become mired in government infighting.

Reform and Conservative leaders say they will initiate legal action in Israel’s High Court of Justice to force implementation of the plan.

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