Israeli religious affairs minister again draws fire for belittling Reform Judaism

Israeli Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO.

( Israeli Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay has again drawn fire for controversial comments that belittle Reform Judaism.

“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” Azoulay told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday. “These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”

Last month, Azoulay—a member of Shas, an Orthodox political party in the Knesset—also harshly criticized Reform Judaism, calling the movement “a disaster for the Jewish people.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Azoulay’s “hurtful remarks” do not reflect the position of his government.

“I have spoken with Minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as Minister of Religious Affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.

Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs applauded Netanyahu "for his unequivocal rejection of Minister Azoulay’s offensive comments about Reform Judaism."

"We appreciate the Prime Minister’s strong and welcome words, while noting that the time may well come soon when he is forced to make clear that Minister Azoulay has forfeited his right to be a member of the [Israeli] government," Jacobs said.

Azoulay’s comments were swiftly condemned by other Jewish organizations.

“Diaspora Jews, and especially Jews in America, where Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish religious affiliation, are critical to Israel’s sense of wellbeing and security,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which prioritizes the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations. “Representatives of Israel’s government should treat them accordingly.”

Ruderman added that Netanyahu should make it clear that “further derogatory comments will result in the minister’s dismissal.”

“It is unconscionable that for a second time in the less than a month, Minister Azoulay has publicly demeaned Reform Jews,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “His disturbing comments come at a time of widening divisions between the Rabbinate and non-Orthodox Israeli Jews, and growing tensions with the non-Orthodox Jewish Diaspora. Instead of bridging those divides, Azoulay’s disturbing remarks contribute to an atmosphere of exclusion and growing mistrust.”

Posted on July 7, 2015 .