In an astonishingly vitriolic attack on progressive Jews, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar said that Reform Jews “deny more than Holocaust deniers.”
The rabbi, a former chief rabbi of Israel, made his comments the same day last week on which the High Court of Justice ordered the government to reconsider its decision to suspend its resolution to create a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.
“Today there was a hearing on the Kotel on the petition of the cursed evil people who do every iniquity in the world against the Torah – they even marry Jews and non-Jews,” said Amar, in comments first reported by the Kikar Hashabbat haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news website.
“They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray. They want to desecrate the holy. They are trying to deceive and say that extremist haredim invented [prayer arrangements at the Western Wall].
“It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing. They shout, ‘Why are there Holocaust deniers in Iran?’ They deny more than Holocaust deniers. In all of the Mishna and Gemara [of the Talmud], there was a women’s section and a section for men in the Temple. Did we invent this?” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Amar’s remarks.
“All Jews are part of one family, and the diversity of our people should always be respected,” Netanyahu said. “I categorically reject any attempt to delegitimize any part of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that Amar was one of the key figures behind the campaign to annul the Western Wall resolution and behind a wave of incitement against progressive Jews.
“His miserable comments, only reflect the lack of moral foundation for his leadership,” said Kariv.
“But we do have expectations of the leaders of the country and the city, and we have called on the president, the prime minister and the mayor to condemn these comments in the strongest way and demand that Rabbi Amar apologize to Reform Jews and to Holocaust survivors and for him not be invited to official events and that senior state officials should not go to his events as well.”
The American Jewish Committee strongly condemned Amar’s comments, saying that will distance Diaspora Jewry from Israel and weaken both the US-Israel relationship and the unity of Jewish.
“Rabbi Amar may disagree with Reform Judaism theologically, but his comparison of Reform Jews intent on worshiping at the Wall with Holocaust deniers is a perversion of both truth and traditional Jewish values of love for the entire Jewish people,” said Steven Bayme, AJC director of Contemporary Jewish Life.
“The Western Wall is an historic shrine that belongs to the entire Jewish people. Defining it as an Orthodox synagogue alienates Reform and Conservative Jews from Israel as a Jewish state,” he added.
Amar has spoken out fiercely in the past against non-Orthodox Jews, and was one of the primary public opponents of the Western Wall agreement passed in January 2016.
Amar, together with chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, publicly denounced the agreement shortly after it was approved, forcing the haredi political parties – which had allowed the agreement to pass – into a corner by delegitimizing progressive Jewish denominations.
Due to the outcry, United Torah Judaism and Shas Party leaders felt obligated to try halting the agreement’s implementation, while their position as guardians of the Orthodox status quo were being undermined by Amar, the chief rabbis and the raucous online haredi media.
Amar was also likely motivated by his rancorous feud with Shas leader Arye Deri. The opportunity to undermine his position was another inducement for the Jerusalem chief rabbi to attack the deal.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.