Rabbi at Tel Aviv synagogue bars autistic child from attending prayers

Father records video of rabbi dismissing his 10-year-old son, saying, ‘With a child like that, you are not praying’; rights group says incident violates anti-discrimination laws

A rabbi at a Tel Aviv synagogue refuses entry to a father and his autistic son. (Screenshot/YouTube, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
A rabbi at a Tel Aviv synagogue refuses entry to a father and his autistic son. (Screenshot/YouTube, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

A rabbi at a synagogue in Tel Aviv has barred a father from entering the building with his autistic son, according to a Thursday report.

The father last year sought to pray at the Hafizov Synagogue in the southern part of the city with his 10-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with autism.

The rabbi at the synagogue, Shlomo Tmaiv, blocked the boy from entering, saying he made noises and disturbed other worshipers.

“A year ago I came with my son to the synagogue for the first time and every time I’ve brought him and my other children, I explained to Rabbi Shlomo Tmaiv that he’s in special education,” the father told Channel 12. “He said the boy cannot come in under any circumstances.”

“I asked him what the reason was and he said, ‘This is a private place and he cannot enter,’” the father said.

The father recorded an argument he had with the rabbi as his son was refused entry to a Torah lesson.

“You can pray at home. With a child like that, you are not praying in a synagogue,” the rabbi said.

A non-profit group that supports autistic children, Alut, sent a letter to the synagogue through a lawyer asking that the child be allowed to pray and attend Torah classes. The letter warned that preventing the child’s entry violated laws against discrimination.

The group said the synagogue was considered a public space under the law, and subject to legislation guaranteeing equal rights to the disabled. Preventing the child from attending could expose the synagogue to civil penalties, the letter said.

The father also appealed to the synagogue with references from other rabbis saying that the boy had prayed in other synagogues in the past, but the father said the effort had no effect on the rabbi.

“He said ‘There’s no such thing and the boy is not going into any synagogue.’ I showed him the approvals I have from other rabbis and he still wouldn’t agree to let him in,” the father said.

This week, a member of a non-profit that supports people with disabilities, Shavvim, accompanied the father on a visit to the synagogue and recorded an exchange with the rabbi.

“He talks, he shouts. I don’t have to let him in. I’m not a nurse,” the rabbi said of the boy.

“You’re not giving him a chance,” the father said.

“I can’t give a chance to a child who isn’t normal,” the rabbi said.

The father told Channel 12 that exposing the case wasn’t meant “to cause harm to the rabbi, but to raise awareness.”

“I want them to treat my son in a normal way,” he said. “I would expect him as a human being to come and talk, to discuss how to accept the child. It could also contribute to his students and people in the community.”

The Religious Council of Tel Aviv said in response that immediately after it was made aware of the situation, “We made contact with Rabbi Tmaiv to find a solution to the problem.”

“We agreed that he will meet with the father to find a way to allow them to join the synagogue in prayers. We see this issue as important,” the council said.

The Conservative Movement said, “We’re stunned to see that a rabbi would act this way toward people with special needs. This is not the way of Judaism.”

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