In marmur

According to the infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and countless other anti-Semitic tracts, the Jews rule the world. According to Yinon Azulay, Member of Knesset on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi political party Shas, Reform Jews are worse in his eyes than he himself may be in the eyes of Jew-haters.

In a debate in the Knesset whether to extend the facilities at the Kotel, the Western Wall, to non-Orthodox Jews, he referred to the earthquake earlier this week in Northern Israel as evidence of a seismic reaction to the issue under discussion. The earthquake was minor, perhaps just a warning to the Knesset. Imagine what would happen if the politicians actually approve the extension!

Azulai claims to have it on impeccable authority that it’s God who reacted against the potential wrong in giving Reform Jews the same rights as others. As far as he’s concerned and in his own words, Reform Jews aren’t even Jews. Of course, his link between the Knesset debate and the earthquake could also be interpreted, according to the same warped logic, as a sign of divine wrath if the Knesset doesn’t pass the law, but – surprise, surprise – that may not have occurred to him.

Choosing to see Reform Jews as non-Jews resonates also with secular Israelis. That’s perhaps why the very secular ministers in the Netanyahu government Miri Regev and Ayelet Shaked didn’t want to be associated with the passing of the law. Ms. Regev admitted that she has encountered Reform Jews in Argentina but hoped, as she put it, that they’d stay there and not come to Israel.

In her characteristically simplistic and wrong-headed way – and contrary to the Zionist call for continued aliyah – she was echoing the view of many Israelis that non-Orthodox Judaism is for the Diaspora only. I’ve come across many visiting Israelis who were moved by the Reform services they attended abroad but wouldn’t dream of setting foot inside a Reform synagogue in Israel.

Israeli politicians, at times even the prime minister, ride high on the canard that Reform and Conservative Jews aren’t really Jewish. They are anxious to point to the high intermarriage rate among them thus implying that they’re on the way out of the fold and, therefore, can happily be thrown under the proverbial bus if it’s expedient to do so.

It seems impossible to persuade the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public that the non-Orthodox religious streams in Judaism abroad are the most effective bulwark against assimilation. Had they not existed, the majority of Jews may by now have been lost to Judaism. The expectation that they would have joined Orthodox congregations and remained observant is, of course, ludicrous.

One reason why many Israelis, religious or not, harbour such views is because they believe that the more extreme a religion is, the more authentic it must be. That’s why, as the saying has it, the synagogue most Israelis don’t go to must be Orthodox.

Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel are fighting battles on two fronts: against the bigoted Orthodox of the Azulai ilk and against indifferent and uninformed, ostensibly secular, Jews of the Regev and Shaked kind. Given these stumbling blocks, it remarkable how well Reform Judaism is doing in Israel, even if it still has a long way to go before it becomes a force in the land.

Jerusalem 5.7.18                                                                                                                                               Dow Marmur

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