ExclusiveUTJ MK likens Reform to 'an idolator in the Temple'

Orthodox MKs vow to shun Labor Reform rabbi as partner for coalition — or minyan

Shas, UTJ and National Religious Party lawmakers pan Knesset hopeful Gilad Kariv, say he represents a dangerous ‘cult’; Kariv: Proof of need for non-Orthodox representation

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Rabbi Gilad Kariv at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem before the start of a hearing about public transportation on Shabbat; September 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Gilad Kariv at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem before the start of a hearing about public transportation on Shabbat; September 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several Orthodox Jewish MKs have vowed to boycott Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv if, as appears likely, he enters the Knesset with the center-left Labor party in next month’s general election.

The religious lawmakers ruled out any coalition with Labor because of Kariv, branding his stream of Judaism a dangerous cult, and some said he will not be considered as part of a minyan (prayer quorum) in the Knesset synagogue.

Kariv, in response, said their assault on non-Orthodox streams of Judaism only underlined the imperative for voices of inclusive, moderate Judaism to be heard in the Israeli parliament.

Representatives from Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Religious Zionist party told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that Kariv follows a distorted religion that seeks to destroy the foundations of Judaism. They said cooperation with Kariv, who is the director of the Israeli Reform Movement, is forbidden and that any contact with him is dangerous.

“Torah Judaism can’t tolerate all sorts of cults and faiths that aren’t connected to the pure Judaism of Shulchan Aruch,” Shas MK Moshe Abutbul said, referring to a prominent Jewish legal codex.

Shas MK Moshe Abutbul at the Knesset on September 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He added: “There are all kinds of clownish religions from abroad and now the Labor Party decided to bring them here. We won’t cooperate with this type of people who are destroying traditional Judaism.”

Fellow Shas MK Michael Malchieli said the party won’t be part of a coalition with Kariv.

“If he wants to sit with us [in a coalition] he must agree to our platform, which is based on connection to the tradition that we have been maintaining for 3,000 years,” Malchieli said.

In the view of some rabbis cited in the context of the MKs’ critique of Reform Jews, Kariv is not permitted to join a minyan or complete one. (In Orthodox Judaism, a quorum of 10 men is necessary to perform certain prayers.) A senior United Torah Judaism MK said they won’t expel Kariv from the Knesset synagogue if he prays there, “but we’ll make sure we have a minyan even without him.”

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri (L) speaks with Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party on September 2, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If elected — as appears likely as he is fourth on Labor’s electoral slate — Kariv will be the first Reform rabbi to serve in the Knesset, a prospect that has triggered fierce emotions.

“For us he is even worse than Yair Lapid, [Avigdor] Liberman or Amir Ohana, who we had a problem with,” the senior UTJ MK said.

Lapid and Liberman, who respectively head the Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties, are secularists who have campaigned against the ultra-Orthodox parties and their prominence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Ohana, the first openly gay minister in Israel’s history, is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party but has voted for gay rights legislation opposed by the Haredi parties.

Those politicians “aren’t unacceptable in religious terms,” the UTJ MK said, but Kariv “is coming to fight us on issues of faith that are dearest to our hearts — on the Western Wall, conversion, religious councils. It’s an idolator in the Temple. Kariv is not just any Reform [Jew], he’s the most senior man in the progressive movement. He’s a symbol. He can’t be seen there,” the UTJ member said.

Other religious politicians have also recently come out against Reform Judaism, including Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionist slate.

MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)

“We need to make sure that we do not give formal recognition to all kinds of streams that are not part of Judaism,” Smotrich said in an interview last month. “One can love, one can embrace, one can feel responsibility for all the people of Israel. In the State of Israel, we cannot give a foothold to the distortions of Judaism.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads Shas, said last week at the B’Sheva Jerusalem Conference that, because of Kariv, right-wing party chiefs Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett must rule out forming a “blocking bloc” with Labor to prevent Netanyahu’s right-wing religious alliance from building a majority coalition.

“Labor has become worse than Meretz. It put a Reform rabbi there as number four. Unfortunately, the rabbi is battling everything connected to traditional Judaism and the status quo. Will [the prime minister’s right-wing rivals] make a single bloc with [Labor] to block Netanyahu?” Deri said.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv takes part in prayers on Israel’s independence day at Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, in 2018. (Courtesy Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism)

Kariv, who in a recent interview with The Times of Israel called for a “new deal” with Israel’s Haredi community, said Thursday the comments by the Orthodox lawmakers hostile to Reform Judaism and to him underlined the importance of his likely election to the Knesset.

“Their responses… only prove the need for representation in the Knesset of liberal streams and the pluralistic renewal movement, both in order to defend the rights of these movements and their members, and so that a tolerant, inclusive and moderate Jewish voice is heard in the Knesset,” he said.

Kariv also predicted efforts to shun him wouldn’t last long.

“In light of the fact that Shas representatives and recently also representatives of Ashkenazi Haredi Judaism sat shoulder to shoulder with me on the board of the World Zionist Organization, and the fact that Deri and [UTJ MK Moshe] Gafni were full partners in the negotiations on the matter of the [abrogated agreement regarding conditions for pluralistic prayer at the] Western Wall, I have no doubt that slowly they’ll learn to argue with me instead of boycotting me,” he said.

In a subsequent response, Kariv said that he recognized that there will be lawmakers in the next Knesset who will refuse to work with him.

“I believe that most Israelis from all communities and circles are interested in a different reality — an inclusive and tolerant one,” he said.

“I do not intend to boycott others,” he said.

Modern Orthodox Movement Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah said it was shocked by the comments from religious legislators. Religious disagreements were “welcome and desirable, but boycotting a man due to his religious views is entirely objectionable,” it said.

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