Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, has denigrated the Reform movement following a High Court ruling last week recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel for citizenship purposes.
“What is Reform conversion? It isn’t Jewish,” Yosef said in footage aired by Hebrew media on Saturday.
“If a Reform convert comes before me after marrying a Jewish woman, I’ll send her away without a divorce. She doesn’t need a divorce, the marriage is invalid,” he said.
Reform and Conservative Jews “have nothing, no mitzvahs and nothing else,” he said.
Yosef made the comments this week in a weekly lesson at a synagogue in Jerusalem, according to Kikar Hashabbat, an ultra-Orthodox news site.
The bombshell High Court decision last week recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions carried out in Israel and sparked an uproar in the ultra-Orthodox community.
The decision requires Israel to grant citizenship to those in the country who convert to Judaism under non-Orthodox auspices. It will have little effect on the ground, but dents the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Rabbinate’s control over conversions in the country.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders do not view the Reform movement as an authentic form of Judaism and do not recognize Reform rabbis.
Attacks on Reform Jews by ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Israeli leaders are nothing new. A top priority of Haredi politicians in recent decades has been to preserve the monopoly of Orthodox rabbis over official religious ceremonies in Israel and prevent the government from recognizing the liberal Jewish denominations — Reform and Conservative — that represent most American Jews.
Yosef has a history of making provocative comments, including against Reform Judaism, women, the High Court of Justice and Black people.
He has called Reform synagogues a form of “idolatry” and said the movement “falsified the Torah”; suggested secular women behave like animals due to their immodest dress; and questioned the High Court’s authority on rulings pertaining to religion, while vowing to ignore its decisions.
Last year Yosef caused public outrage after doubting the Jewishness of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In 2018, Yosef came under fire after he likened Black people to monkeys during his weekly sermon, a comment that led to calls for a criminal investigation.