Even Prime Minister Bennett is "Reform"!

“Reform” as a generic invective

On the eve of Sukkot, the cover of the Shas party’s newspaper “HaDerekh” featured an interview with the party leader, Rabbi Aryeh Deri as the lead article. The first item, in order and in importance, they chose to highlight was the delegitimization of the "Reformers" (i.e. Reform Jews).

Torah reading at Robinson's ArchTorah reading at Robinson's Arch

“To join this evil government?” “HaDerekh” asks, and answers in bold, red, big letters: “That is blasphemy!" “For seventy years there has been no official recognition by the State of Israel of “Reformers”, and [now] they give them the greatest legitimacy…”

This clearly reflects the obsession that characterizes the attitude of the ultra-Orthodox parties towards the non-Orthodox denominations in particular, and to freedom of religion and Jewish pluralism in general. It must be underscored, as we will illustrate below, that when ultra-Orthodox spokesmen and their political partners talk about the "Reformers", they are not necessarily referring to the members of Reform synagogues or the Reform movement in Israel and around the world.

Rather they use this term as a generic invective, which includes not only the Reform and Conservative Jews, but all whom they demonize and want the public to shun, including the entire government, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Religious Services (both members of the Zionist Orthodox Yamina party), and others. This is what Rabbi Deri writes about Prime Minister Bennett and Minister Kahana, both of whom come from the world of Zionist Orthodoxy: “Personalities like Kahana and Bennett and represent Judaism that is on the verge of Reform. They are the great danger.”

We’ve seen an extreme illustration of this in the past when graffiti in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim appeared with the caption: “Ovadia Yosef = Reform”. Note that even his rabbinic title was removed. This followed his decision to approve the Jewish status of soldiers who converted in the IDF under Orthodox auspices.

The irony is that in this same this issue, which so emphasized hatred of the "Reformers" and the current government, the editorial highlights: “These days, during the COVID-19 pandemic, may it not come upon us, in which the virus does not distinguish between ethnicities, circles, and communities, we need to be strengthened again in the virtue of loving our fellow Jews, to love one another, and to know that we are all brothers. All Jews are responsible for one another, and thanks to this, we will soon be blessed with the coming of our righteous Messiah...” Since one can assume that an editor of "HaDerekh" reads his own paper, this anomaly is yet another demonstration of hypocrisy and deception, alluded to in Psalms 149:6 “The exaltation of God [is] in their throat, And a two-edged sword in their hand.”

On his Twitter account, Deri responded to Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai’s blessed initiative to create within his Ministry a division for Jewish renewal and fund pluralistic activities in Israel to bring Israelis and Diaspora Jewry closer. He wrote: “A sad moment for someone for whom the Jewish identity of the state is important. The Reformers that have wreaked havoc and terrible assimilation upon American Jewry are being recognized and funded by the Bennett-Kariv-Kahana government. The public is smart and recognizes attempts to harm traditional Judaism from our parents’ houses, which has kept us united as a people for generations. We will continue to fight for this and for the future of our children.”

As Hiddush has written more than once - Israel faces two conflicting worldviews regarding its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and the importance of understanding this challenge by our partners in Diaspora Jewry cannot be overstated because Deri attacks them and their lifestyles no less than he attacks the pluralistic communities in Israel.

Israel faces two conflicting worldviews regarding its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and the importance of understanding this challenge by our partners in Diaspora Jewry cannot be overstated.

On the Ashkenazi side of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the expressions and the obsession are similar. The main headline of Yated Ne'eman on August 2nd, 2021, announces an emergency meeting of the movement's rabbis, at which the movement's Knesset members raised “The complex issues at stake; first and foremost, the danger of the ‘Reformers’ invading and the fear of their evil harm.”

Chairman of Agudat Israel, MK Rabbi Litzman, illustrates the exaggeration which characterizes their speaking when it comes to Reform Judaism and the negative motives that he attributes to it and to the Israeli government. It is clear that as far as he is concerned the State of Israel fulfilling its promise of “freedom of religion and conscience” is out of the question; and any promotion of Jewish pluralism, or even broader recognition of Modern Orthodoxy is seen as the abolition of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. This is what he said on that day: “We will fight this evil Reform government that fights against the Jewish character of the state, which harms Jewish values, and is looking for any way to hurt Torah students and those who observe the commandments.”

The same clash of two opposite worldviews about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel can also be seen in relation to another controversy that concerns the political and legal system: ‘Who is a Jew’. You can read an opinion piece in the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox media these days: “The power of the State of Israel, its right to exist is to be a state of halakhah, even in the question 'Who is a Jew?' And implicitly: Who is entitled to take part in the State of Israel by virtue of the Law of Return? We must rely on Halacha, for it alone determines Jewish identity.” It does not take much imagination to understand where this perspective leads, which will not settle for anything less than Torah State.

As mentioned, these are not just spokesmen for the ultra-Orthodox parties, but also their partners in other parties, such as the Likud, that do not hesitate to express themselves in a similar spirit. For example, MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud) recently tweeted: "Bennett... wants to destroy Judaism as well. After selling his national values to the Islamic Movement, he moves on to a clearance sale of his Jewish values to the Reformers... He who appoints an extremist Reformer to head the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee means just that.”

This is not the first time that Likud leaders have spoken out insultingly and derogatively towards non-Orthodox Judaism, and unfortunately neither the Likud, nor its head, Benjamin Netanyahu, see the need to challenge them on the severity of their words, nor do they attempt to mend the damage by presenting the opposite position of tolerance and pluralism.

Moreover, even Diaspora Jewish leadership does not feel the need to strongly oppose these expressions and does not understand the extent to which this is not intended to harm only the non-Orthodox denominations. Rather, it undermines the partnership with Diaspora Jewry, especially American Jewry, and defines so many members of the Jewish community as “second-class Jews”. They aim to erode the foundations of democracy and its accepted values in the entire democratic world. They choose to close their eyes in the face of the brutal attacks on Jewish pluralism, which is the cornerstone of World Jewry.

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