Netanyahu, Reform Jewish leaders meet in Jerusalem

Netanyahu, Reform Jewish leaders meet in Jerusalem

Members of Central Conference of American Rabbis thank prime minister for decision to allow egalitarian prayer at Western Wall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Knesset on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Knesset on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

American and Israeli Reform Jewish leaders thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the creation of an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall during a meeting at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem Monday.

The Reform leaders thanked the prime minister for the historic move at the end of January to allow an egalitarian prayer area at the Jewish holy site, and for his rejection of senior Israeli officials’ statements berating Reform Judaism, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

They also affirmed the movement’s commitment to supporting the state of Israel and said they expected the government to advance pluralism and freedom of religion.

Leaders from the Central Conference of American Rabbis also met with officials at the Foreign Ministry.

The meeting came a day before the kickoff of the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Tel Aviv.

Earlier this month Netanyahu spoke out against statements by government ministers and MKs in the wake of the approval of an egalitarian section at the Western Wall.

“I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews,” Netanyahu said in a statement at the time. “Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect.”

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, was reported as saying that the Women of the Wall organization should be “thrown to the dogs,” and expressed satisfaction that the new egalitarian section will be in an “out-of-the-way corner.”

He also said “the Reform are responsible for the terrible intermarriage that we’ve been witnessing in the United States.”

Yariv Levin of the Likud party, who is himself secular, also attacked the Reform movement on Sunday during a discussion of the agreement approved by the cabinet, saying: “Reform Jews in the United States are a dying world. Assimilation is taking place on a vast scale. They are not even tracking this properly in their communities. It is evidenced by the fact that a man who calls himself a Reform rabbi stands there with a priest and officiates at the wedding of the daughter of Hillary Clinton and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it.”

Following the vote, Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker who chairs the Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee, said he would not recognize the decision and called Reform Jews “a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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