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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.”

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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11 Responses to “MK Who Excluded Reform Jews from Judaism Was ‘Misunderstood’”

  1. David Blatt says:

    Clearly Reichsfuhrer Himmler would have divested of Mr. Rotem of his ridiculous assessment that Reform Jews aren’t really Jewish.

  2. Alan Kardon says:

    I am a Reformed Jew. I did not know I have to report to Knesset Member David Rotem. Who died and made him the supreme authority?

  3. Apology accepted. Do not discount brothers and sisters whose soul is Jewish. Orthodox will not accept us if we cannot prove our lineage. This is wrong and divisive as stated in the above article. For those Haredi who think they are too grand to lay down their lives for Israel in my opinion for what it is worth are most unlikely Jews. Israel was given to us to atone for the great crime against all Jews in WWII. This was by no means the only persecution but it was the worst. Many of us were lost partly out of fear for admitting to our Jewish identity. All we had was our name. Many of are grandchildren and great children or orthodox ancestors and cannot trace beyond 1939. Those Orthodox lucky enough to escape Holocaust be grateful and show tolerance and kindness to your brothers and sisters.

  4. Stuart Kaufman says:

    He was right!

  5. Gerald Sussman says:

    It's time for the Orthodox community to realize that they are not the only Jews out there. When Orthodox Rabbis make Psak Halachah they should think about how it effects those outside of their own community which is what the great Rabbis of the past did. The Reform do not help matters either, they do things such as patrilinial descent and then expect that everyone will accept them. Both Orthodox and Reform should think about how what they do effect the other.

  6. Rotem is correct. Reform Judaism is not Judaism, if for no other reason than their basic tenet is that the Torah is not the Word of Hashem given at Sinai. They believe that it was written by humans,and Judaism is a cafeteria in which you can pick and choose what you wish to believe in and practice. The word "mitzvah" is translated as "good deed," not as a commandment from Hashem to the Jewish People to be followed for all time. Many Reform congregations brag that there are more non-Jews who are members and are intermarried with Jews than there are Jews as members. And that's even given their warped definition that someone with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother is Jewish. No apology was necessary. There are many halachically-Jewish Jews who call themselves "Reform" or "Conservative" or "Reconstructionist," just as there are halachically-Jewish Jews who call themselves "Christian," "Buddhist," etc. That doesn't mean that what they're practicing is valid or true. We need Mashiach now!

  7. Gary Harper says:

    As a Goy, I read something interesting the other day. Long, long ago, those who rejected the many forms of idolatry and accepted that there was only one God were counted as being among the Jews. How did it get to this point, where the children of Israel all argue over who is a true child of their fathers? I see God as far more forgiving and merciful. But then, I am a Goy, an outsider. Perhaps Israel's blood is in me; perhaps not. My perspective is that politics gets in the way of the whole nation's rapprochement with God far too often. If Israel is not accepting of its own diversity, what hope is there for the Kingdom to come right now? It is obvious that the nation apart has remained so for generations. You will never be assimilated, so do not fear that. So with that in mind, I get back to my original question. Is that which is always being argued over found within the original words of the five Books? And did not all of your greatest heroes sometimes do otherwise than what the Word requires? Moses, Jacob, Abram, David, Solomon, Saul, Sampson come to mind. You also have Rahab, Balaam, and others to consider. The different Jewish sects not getting along is both puzzling and problematic to me. I cannot understand it. But, I am a Goy on the outside…it is fascinating, that you remind me so much of the Christian denominations, in your arguments with one another. How can the Kingdom ever come, when all on earth cannot even get along with their own? God knows the heart and soul of a man or woman, and that is all that really counts in the end. If I could trace my lineage back to Moses, Jacob, Abram, David, Solomon, Saul, Sampson, Rahab, Balaam, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, or Jeremiah, what would be accomplished? Is not the convert counted as an equal among you, as commanded by God Himself in the desert? There is much I do not understand about the Jews and Christians both, that appears to be counterproductive to God's purpose. This also holds for the children of Ishmael.

  8. Gail Nestel says:

    This speaks not to one Rabbi's comments but to the control orthodoxy maintains on Israeli society and religious policy. Yeshiva boys in the military?…No! The Israeli state must remain a secular state with level of practice and choice of Rabbi for marriage and Mitzvot a personal one.

  9. Gail Nestel says:

    PS…Your characterization of Reform Jewry as anti-Zionist is grossly overstated! check the statistics…and the last time I checked Halacha, the only thing that defines a Jewish child is a Jewish mother…or conversion, again by a Rabbi of one's choice.

  10. It is time to reform judaism, the same are now doing the Catholic Church, it is a shame that between jews are racists, jews are racists to christians saying to them "goyem or shikse", this has to end, that is why there are anti-semits.

  11. Blue Beyond says:

    You've misunderstood. Those that are Jews according to Halachah remain Jews. It's a club you can't quit. But their religious practices are not Jewish. They are Judaism's "Unitarians" if you will on their way to loss of the culture entirely.

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