Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the Shas party’s late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, will be compensated to the tune of NIS 20,000 ($5,600) by a rabbi who called her “Reform” and “an accursed wicked woman,” a court ruled Monday.
Bar-Shalom had sued Rabbi David Benizri, a prominent supporter of Shas, saying he had defamed her with his comments.
In the libel suit, the adjective “Reform” was clearly listed among the slights made against her.
The dispute began just after a woman was elected mayor of the city of Beit Shemesh, which has a significant ultra-Orthodox population.
Bar-Shalom spoke in favor of women’s rights during the campaign, sparking the rabbi’s fury.
Benizri was seen in a video calling her Yosef’s “Reform daughter, the accursed wicked woman,” adding “Bitter will be her day of judgment, bitter will be her day of reproach.”
Among many of Israel’s Orthodox, “Reform” is considered a strong insult. Benizri, brother of a former Shas lawmaker, quickly realized he had crossed a line applying the term to Bar-Shalom, whose father was a seminal leader of Shas.
He apologized in an op-ed published in the Keren Or local news site.
“I had a complicated few days, including insomnia,” he wrote in a rare apology for a rabbi of his stature. “I never should have said what I did and I feel bad about it. So I want to convey here an apology and I hope she accepts it.”
But Bar-Shalom said she had no intention of burying the hatchet and sued. The eventual sum of compensation was agreed upon in a mediation process between the sides. Bar-Shalom had originally demanded NIS 300,000 ($85,000).
“I am not Reform and his intention was to defame me and my family. I will not let it go,” she said. “People like him harm the Haredi public terribly and he should learn his lashing out has its price.”
In surveys conducted in recent years, people who describe themselves as Reform Jews comprised 3 percent to 11% of Israeli Jewish respondents.
American Jewry offers a mirror image of those results. In a 2013 Pew Research study, Reform Judaism remained the largest American Jewish movement, at 35%. Conservative Jews were 18%, Orthodox 10% and smaller groups made up 6% among them.
Haredi Orthodox leaders often display hostility toward Israel’s small Reform community, and incidents of vandalism have been aimed at Reform synagogues.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar last year compared Reform Jews to Holocaust deniers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned his remarks.