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September 24, 2016 / 21 Elul, 5776
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MK Who Excluded Reform Jews from Judaism Was ‘Misunderstood’

An Israel Knesset Member got a whack on his tongue for angering the Diaspora.
An orthodox Jewish man argues with a reform Jewish woman wearing a prayer shawl at the Kotel.

An orthodox Jewish man argues with a reform Jewish woman wearing a prayer shawl at the Kotel.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Reform Jews really are not another religion after all, says Likuid-Beiteinu Knesset Member David Rotem, who claimed on Thursday that his reported remark to the contrary was “misunderstood.

There is no video available to see and hear what MK Rotem, an Orthodox Jew, really said at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that he heads.

He was quoted on Wednesday as having stated, ““The Reform movement is not Jewish … they are another religion,” during a discussion on a bill concerning adoption.

Such comments are par for the course in Israel, where the remark was duly noted as another moment of entertainment for the Israel public between soccer games. The Reform Movement in Israel, of course, was furious, but most secular Israelis have too much respect for Jewish tradition than to consider the Reform idea anything more than a curiosity, if not one of those strange concoctions that could succeed only in the United States and , lest we forget, pre-Nazi Germany.

“I have never said belonging to the Reform Movement makes anyone less Jewish,” Rotem wrote on Facebook Thursday. “While as an Orthodox Jew, I have theological differences with the Reform Movement’s perspective, I maintain the greatest respect for all Jews, regardless of their denomination and background. I apologize for any misunderstanding and all offense generated by the content of my comments yesterday.”

His quick apology was smart, much smarter than his faux pas. Many if not most  Reform Jews indeed are Jews by any definition of the term. But a disturbing number of Reform Jews are far from Jewish under Jewish law, and some of them are even “rabbis.”

The whole question of whether a Reform Jew, or any other person, is  a Jew or not brings into focus the entire problem with the reform Movement, parts of whose theology often appear to be not a stream of Judaism but a stream apart from Judaism.

Like the Biblical Korach, it has decided that their leaders whom they call rabbis can decide just as well as Orthodox Jews who is a Jew and what is Jewish law. It is somewhat like a natural health therapist calling himself a doctor. Why study medicine for six years, and why study Torah for many more years,” when you can take a shortcut through McDonald’s, eat a cheeseburger on the way to Yom Kippur prayers, and call the congregants Jewish because they like being called that?

Regardless of the theological problems with Reform Judaism, Rotem made a big mistake by saying that fellow Jews belong to another religion just because they are Reform.

“I hope that this clarification can generate the necessary debate on how to further unify the Jewish People, both in Israel and the Diaspora, around our shared vital interests and concerns, rather than limiting it to the differences that exist among us,” Rotem added on Facebook.

Israeli politicians like Rotem who are Israeli from top to bottom have no knowledge of the Diaspora. They don’t realize that Jews outside the country, especially in the United States, may be armchair Zionists  if not armchair Jews, but that doesn’t mean they should be shunned as “non-Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called Rotem’s comments, although he later said they were misunderstood, “inappropriate, offensive and unjustified.”

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, wrote MK Rotem, “We are deeply disturbed by reports of comments attributed to you about the Reform movement ‘not being Jewish.’ Such views are inappropriate, offensive and unjustified. The suggestion that Jews throughout the world who identify with the Reform movement are somehow not a part of the Jewish people is an unacceptable characterization of a proud, highly engaged and committed group of Jews.

“Among many U.S. non-Orthodox Jews, rejectionist rhetoric of this kind fosters divisiveness and feelings of alienation towards elements of Israeli society. As someone who has long been engaged in the issue of Jewish identify, we are surprised and saddened that you expressed these views. For the sake of Jewish unity and in the spirit of the pluralistic ideals of our beloved Israel, we call on you to retract your comments and issue a quick and unequivocal apology for your statements.”

Rotem has apologized, and whether he actually said what was reported makes no difference. The damage was done on two fronts.

He wrongly wrote tens of thousands of Jews out of the pale and he also missed an opportunity to characterize the Reform Movement as one whose roots in the United States are strongly pro-American and blatantly anti-Zionist and which claims an increasingly larger following by redefining the term “Jew.”

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


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