Israeli rabbi slams Reform, Conservatives
The Reform and Conservative movements “constitute a great danger for Judaism and Israel” and have done “enormous damage in the Jewish Diaspora” through conversion policies that have led to assimilation, Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi told The CJN.
Rabbi Shlomo Amar was the special guest at a June 4 gala organized by the Centre sépharade de Torah in Laval to honour Rabbi David Banon, the founder and spiritual leader of the centre.
In an exclusive interview with The CJN, Rabbi Amar spoke of his admiration for the Jewish community of Montreal, describing it as “a model of unity and solidarity for the entire Jewish People.”
Rabbi Amar spoke in Hebrew through an interpreter. The interview took place at the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Quebec, where he was the special guest of Rabbi David Sabbah, Sephardi chief rabbi of Quebec.
Canadian Jewish News: On May 29, the Israeli government officially decided that Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel will be paid from public funds, as are Orthodox rabbis. What is your opinion of that decision?
Rabbi Shlomo Amar: For Israel, the problem of the Reform and Conservative movements is unquestionably greater than that of the Palestinians or the repeal of the Tal Law [which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer national service]. We should not delude ourselves. The Reform and Conservative movements constitute a great danger for Judaism and Israel. These movements have done enormous damage in the Jewish Diaspora. The very harmful conversion policies practised by the Reform and Conservative movements have led to the assimilation of part of the Jewish People.
After the Holocaust, there were some 14 million Jewish souls. Today, the number of Jews in the world has decreased to approximately 13 million. The dangerous ideology advocated by the Reform and Conservative movements has greatly contributed to that alarming tendency.
The two movements are not a religious force in Israel, but they are supported by rich American patrons and have succeeded in gaining political recognition by buying off several Israeli politicians. They are still a small minority, but if the government of Israel doesn’t wake up, we will be facing a great danger that seriously risks mortgaging the future of the Jewish People and the people of Israel. We must not underestimate the enormous danger that is weighing down the Jewish People today.
CJN: Doesn’t the repeal of the Tal Law by the Knesset next July present a huge challenge to the Orthodox Israeli rabbinic world?
Rabbi Amar: To reach an agreement on this important question, all parties concerned have to sit down around the table to talk and to find a satisfactory and equitable agreement for all Israeli Jews, regardless of their degree of religious practice. We absolutely must find a solution calmly and with mutual respect.
The replacement of this law became important, because the majority of Israelis were absolutely certain that general elections were imminent. Each party sitting in the Knesset wanted to make political capital by using the Tal Law for its own purposes… Extreme, very unrealistic positions were firmly defended by politicians who were worried about solidifying potential election platforms. But now that the possibility of new elections has been put off and a national unity government is in charge, we hope that calm will return and we will be able to find an equitable solution to this problem together.
CJN: Some 350,000 Russian olim are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel today. Many Israelis believe that the refusal of the Chief Rabbinate to convert these citizens, who have integrated perfectly well into Israeli society, is a deplorable, radical position. How does the Chief Rabbinate of Israel deal with this problem?
Rabbi Amar: Conversion to Judaism is not a political or social question, but a religious one that falls within the realm of Halachah… Throughout history, the Jewish People have faced this problem… Conversion to Judaism is a complex question that can’t be resolved by waving a magic wand. It’s a long, demanding process that requires perseverance and a lot of patience on the part of the non-Jewish person who has chosen to belong to the Jewish religion. It takes time. Conversion to Judaism doesn’t mean receiving an honorary title or an Israeli identity card. To be a Jew means to agree to adhere with conviction to a certain number of halachic rules that are thousands of years old.
In Israel today, there are some 300,000 Israeli citizens of Russian origin whose fathers and mothers were not Jewish. Many of them are adults age 30, 35 or 40. We cannot ask them to radically change their way of life by converting to Judaism, a religion that is foreign to them.
What could motivate these Russian Israelis, who already fully enjoy all the civil rights that Israel offers its citizens, to embrace a religion with which they have no affinity? The process for undergoing conversion should have begun in Russia, not after they made aliyah. Those who really wanted to immigrate to Israel would then have been motivated to convert, with strict respect for Halachah.
CJN: But a number of these Israelis of Russian origin would like to convert to Judaism.
Rabbi Amar: This question can’t be resolved except within the framework of Halachah. There is no other way. Quick conversions done on the fly would create divisions among Israelis. In fact, the majority of Israelis would never recognize lame conversions done outside the framework of Halachah. You must understand that a non-Jewish person can’t be converted in the space of one day or a few days. Conversion is a very demanding process that takes time.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Translation by Carolan Halpern.