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Ha'aretz, January 26, 1999

Chief Rabbi: Holocaust pales next to Reform

Chief Rabbinate seeks ways to thwart non-Orthodox

By Yossi Shalom and Shahar Ilan, Ha'aretz Correspondents


In an interview with Ha'aretz last night, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron reiterated the views he expressed earlier in the day at a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council: "The Jewish people, statistically, are being wiped out at a much greater pace and this is due to intermarriage, which the Reform encourage and condone. We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust and do everything we can to preserve the Jewish people."

Bakshi-Doron complained to Ha'aretz about what he described as an attempt by the Reform to exploit his references to the Holocaust. "Tomorrow they'll be saying that we've permitted their blood-letting."

In fact, the Reform and Conservative movements were quick to respond yesterday.

The chairman of the Reform Rabbis Council in Israel, Meir Azari, described Bakshi-Doron's comments as incitement to bloodshed and civil war. Rabbi Azari noted that there is an especially high rate of assimilation in South America, despite the fact that the Reform movement is not very active there. He lamented that the chief rabbis held contacts with the leaders of Iran and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, but are not willing to sit with Reform Jews. But Azari said he is certain that "the walls of the religious councils will fall, just as the walls of the Kremlin did."

The leader of the Conservative movement in North America, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, played down the chief rabbi's remarks, but expressed alarm about the religious legislation before the Knesset. He told Ha'aretz last night that "The effort by the Orthodox establishment in Israel to pass the Religious Councils bill is more serious than the comments of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron." The implication of such legislation, he said, is that "those belonging to the Reform and Conservative movements are not Jews." Rabbi Schorsch concluded: "The state of Israel is not an Orthodox synagogue."

The council of the Chief Rabbinate was meeting yesterday in Migdal Ha'emek to discuss how to prevent non-Orthodox Jews from making inroads in the country's religious councils. The Chief Rabbinate's council, which met for the first time outside of Jerusalem, also heard Religious Affairs Minister Eliyahu Suissa threaten to resign if he is forced to act against rabbinical instructions.

"I want freedom of religion in the state of Israel," Suissa said. "I will not implement even half a measure if it contradicts the position of the rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate Council. If any conflict arises, I will no longer be religious affairs minister."

Suissa also referred to the issue of non-Orthodox conversions, which an 11-judge panel of the High Court will consider next month. He warned of a real danger that the Conservative and Reform movements would seek to participate in choosing local rabbis and influence the selection of the chief rabbis of Israeli cities.

Suissa said that "Perhaps, heaven forbid, they will then try to become the rabbis of cities or, heaven forbid, will seek to sit around this table. We'll object as strongly as we can.


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

Bill Hurts Role of Liberal Judaism

By Emma Blijdenstein
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 1999;
8:28 a.m. EST


JERUSALEM (AP) -- Deepening the rift between Israel and American Jewry, parliament today narrowly passed a bill aimed at preventing liberal streams of Judaism from playing a more active role in Israel's day-to-day religious life.

The bill requires representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements on local religious councils to pledge allegiance to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate dominates religious and personal status matters in Israel, including marriage, divorce and burial.

The legislation, sponsored by Orthodox legislators, passed 50-49, with one abstention.

The Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are predominant in the United States, but have fewer followers in Israel. American Jewish leaders have warned that attempts by Israel's Orthodox religious establishment to prevent the liberal movements from gaining more recognition in Israel are dividing the Jewish people.

``The Knesset today pushed away two-thirds of the Jewish people and caused a split between Israel and the Diaspora,'' said Rabbi Ehud Bendel, chairman of the Conservative movement in Israel.

Bendel said the liberal streams would not be deterred by the legislation. He said Reform and Conservative members would go through the motions of pledging allegiance to the Chief Rabbinate rather than stay away from the religious councils

``They (religious council members) will sign what they have to sign ... but of course we don't see the Chief Rabbinate as the only arbiter of Jewish religious questions,'' he said.

Education Minister Yitzhak Levy, a member of the National Religious Party, said there could only be one authority on religious law. ``It is impossible to have several points of view, several religions, in the same council,'' he said.

Capping a prolonged court battle, the liberal streams only recently were awarded the right to be represented on religious councils which disburse government funds to synagogues and supervise the inspection of kosher eateries and ritual baths.

The Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Conservative and Reform movements was hailed as a major victory in their battle for recognition.

As part of the bitter debate over the religious councils, a top Orthodox rabbi sparked outrage today when he said the Reform movement encouraged intermarriage and assimilation and was eroding the Jewish population just as the Holocaust did.

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the chief Sephardi rabbi, said assimilation has reduced the number of Jews by more than the Holocaust did 50 years ago.

``I compared the numerical decimation of the Jewish people from the Holocaust, which was by one-third, with the number lost through assimilation because of Reform Jews, which is more,'' Bakshi--Doron told The Associated Press.

Bakshi-Doron said he regretted that people were offended by his statements, but said Jewish leaders have long referred to assimilation as the ``quiet holocaust.''

Still, the rabbi's comments caused anger in a country that has given refuge to hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Nazi genocide in which 6 million Jews perished.

``It's incitement, I would say, almost a call to bloodshed,'' said Bendel.


(c) Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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