No one expected Rabbi Shlomo Amar to like the recent decision by Israel’s attorney general to compensate some Reform and Conservative rabbis for their work as rabbis.
The Israeli attorney general decided that the Ministry of Culture and Sports will pay salaries to rabbis of non-Orthodox councils and rural communities — a groundbreaking move in the fight for religious pluralism in Israel.
If Amar, Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, had simply made a public statement saying he respectfully disagreed with the A.G. and would work within the system to overturn the decision, we would have been OK with that.
But Amar’s statement went further — too far, in fact.
In a June 17 interview for an Orthodox radio station, the contents of which were later reported by Israel’s daily Haaretz, Amar attacked the Reform and Conservative rabbinates, laying the problem of assimilation at their feet.
He said the decision by the A.G. could “uproot all the foundations of the Torah.”
These words go beyond mere expression of opposition; they show a complete and utter lack of respect for Jews who profess a more liberal brand of Judaism.
And they came the same week that nearly 300 Jews from the Pittsburgh area, the vast majority of whom are Conservative and Reform, arrived in Israel on the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Centennial Mega Mission to show their support for the country — a trip that is making headlines in the Israeli media.
Talk about bad timing!
While the Reform and Conservative movements share responsibility for assimilation, they are not the root cause of it. In our own interview with Rabbi Miri Gold, the first Reform rabbi in Israel to be paid under the new rules, we learned that a growing number of Israelis are attracted to Reform Judaism, and find meaning in it. Drawing Jews to Judaism is the exact opposite of assimilation.
Orthodox Judaism bears its share of responsibility for the assimilation problem, too. For her very fine book, “Off the Derech,” Faranak Margolese, herself a proud and committed Orthodox Jew, interviewed hundreds of formerly Orthodox Jews who left that life, as well as psychologists, educators, rabbis and other experts to determine why. Her goal, by the way, was not to embarrass Orthodoxy, but to correct existing problems so that many more Jews would find fulfillment within it.
No less a figure than Rabbi Abraham Twerski endorsed her book as “mandatory reading for every rabbi, teacher and parent.”
We won’t go into why Margolese said people leave Orthodox observance; that’s not the point of this editorial. The point is that all streams of Judaism must bear responsibility for Jews who reject Jewish observance, and all streams ought to work together to resolve the problem.
But Amar looks at the problem with blinders on, and, in doing so, insults the majority of his Jewish brethren the world over. That’s behavior unbecoming a rabbi of his stature.