A court of law in Israel may soon have to decide whether to call someone Reform is an insult. Adina Bar Shalom – the daughter of the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the sister of the current incumbent of that office and the wife of a prominent Tel Aviv rabbi – is an ultra-Orthodox feminist, active on behalf of women’s rights. People speak very highly of her; I’ve even heard her name mentioned as a potential successor to Reuven Rivlin as Israel’s next president.
Rabbi David Benizri, a member of the Shas party in which Bar Shalom’s family has been very prominent, was upset that she supported the woman who is now the new mayor of Beit Shemesh, a town near Jerusalem where many ultra-Orthodox Jews reside. Calling Bar Shalom Reform he added: “I pity his [Ovadiah Yosef’s] daughter, the accursed wicked woman, who came here and spoke in the name of the Rabbinate and for the so-called Women’s Council of Beit Shemesh. Bitter will be her day of judgement, bitter will be her day of reproach.”
Though he later apologized – claiming insomnia – Adina Bar Shalom intends to go ahead with the libel suit claiming $80 000 in damages because “I am not Reform and his intention was to defame me and my family.” I am also insulted that a person should be insulted for being called Reform.
Like many of my friends and colleagues I bear the term Reform with pride. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not offended when people who should know better abuse us because we’re Reform Jews. An abuser currently in the news is Yariv Levin, whom Prime Minister Netanyahu has given a third portfolio in addition to the two he already had – that of immigration and absorption minister – which he’ll keep at least until the general election on April 9.
Like the ultra-Orthodox Benizri, the ultra-secular Levin is on record as having insulted Reform Jews. According to the Jerusalem Post, he said In February 2016 that “the Western Wall’s pluralistic prayer site would not be needed in two or three more generations, because there would be no longer Reform Jews due to assimilation.” And the Times of Israel cites Levin to have described Reform Judaism as a “dying world” that has succumbed to assimilation.
Though the prime minister is said to have condemned Levin’s statement at the time, he has nevertheless appointed him to handle Israel-Diaspora affairs. The largest denomination within American Jewry is Reform. It and the Conservative movement comprise about half of American Jewry. Together with likeminded Jews in other countries, they constitute much of the Diaspora.
The leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel have issued statements condemning the appointment of Levin. Dr. Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, asked rhetorically whether it is appropriate to give the job to a person who is in contempt for the people he’s expected to deal with.
Hess’ Reform counterpart, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, is reported to have said that “it is unfortunate that the post was given to a minister who does not miss a chance to clash with non-Orthodox streams and heighten tension with Diaspora Jewry.”
Is it unreasonable to ask whether the prime minister’s choice of Levin was also an attempt at insulting non-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora?
Jerusalem 24.12.18 Dow Marmur