Israel’s top government official for religious affairs said Tuesday that he does not consider members of the Reform Jewish tradition to be actual Jews.
Giving an interview to Army Radio in Israel, Minister of Religious Services David Azulai particularly singled out American Jews who adhere to the Reform and Conservative strains of the religion. According to The New York Times, he said they “try to fake and do not carry out the religious law properly, and give it other interpretations.”
In his mind, if a Jew “stops following the religion of Israel,” he said that he “cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew.” (RELATED: Why Israeli Politicians Are Backing Mandatory First-Grade Arabic)
Nearly half of American Jews follow Reform and Conservative Judaism, according to a comprehensive 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.
But Israeli Jews tend to classify their religious identities differently, along a spectrum from “secular” to “traditional.” Many identify themselves as at least partly observant, though a Gallup poll this year found that 65% of Israelis are “either not religious or [are] convinced atheists.”
American denominational labels have little traction in Israel: while Conservative and Reform synagogues exist, their total number is only around 100. Otherwise, the official religious establishment is dominated by congregations that American Jews would call Orthodox. (RELATED: Jewish Extremists Set Fire To Israeli Church)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Azulai’s remarks, saying they “do not reflect the position of the government” and reminding him that “as minister of religious affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens.”
Netanyahu retained power after the latest election by assembling a narrow coalition between his Likud party and a number of religious nationalist factions, including Azulai’s Shas party. Those parties have pushed to give Orthodox rabbis greater religious authority, through strict enforcement of government rules regarding Jewish conversion, marriage and burial. (RELATED: Netanyahu Forms Ruling Coalition Less Than 2 HOURS Before Deadline)
Israel’s small Reform Jewish community also responded to Azulai’s remarks. Its leader, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, joked on Facebook that “it is also hard for us to see him as the minister of religious services.”
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