Israeli rabbi blames Shoah on Reform Jews

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

A firestorm of criticism marked the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day when a former chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel said the Reform Movement was responsible for the Holocaust.

“The Reformers started in Germany,” explained Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu in statements issued during an interview on a pirate Haredi radio station in Israel called “The Voice of Truth” (Kol Ha’emet). “Those redactors of the Jewish faith began in Germany. We learn from this that it is forbidden to attempt to change Judaism.”

According to the International Herald Tribune, when Eliyahu was asked by a radio interviewer what was the sin of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis, Eliyahu quoted a biblical verse about divine punishment for altering a ritual and added, “Those people (victims) were not to blame, but the Reform Movement began in Germany. Those tinkerers with the faith got their start in Germany,” Eliyahu continued, “and because it is written that God was angered even He did not differentiate among the righteous, it was done.”

The lesson, he said, was not to make “even the slightest change” in Jewish practice.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke out in a letter to the World Union for Progressive Judaism condemning Eliyahu’s remarks and expressing admiration for the Reform Movement’s contributions to Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora. The Jewish Agency also wrote a letter to Elihayu reprimanding him for sowing “the seeds of division and baseless hatred.”

The Reform Movement in Israel filed a complaint with the police prompting Eliyahu’s son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is the chief rabbi of Safed, to say, quoted in the Jerusalem Post, that his father had no regrets about his comments. “It is not a coincidence that the Holocaust began in Germany,” said Shmuel Eliyahu last week. “Whenever Jews try to act like goyim they are punished. It happened during the Spanish Inquisition and it happened during the Holocaust.”

Local reaction to Eliyahu’s remarks has been strong. Jean Cavender, director of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis, said: “While we can never completely know or understand why the Holocaust happened, assigning blame to the Reform movement is entirely inappropriate and dangerously divisive to the community. There is an abundance of documentation, photos, and eyewitness testimony that points directly to the real perpetrators. You can visit any Holocaust museum or learning center throughout the world and the conclusion about who was responsible remains the same. Hitler, the National Socialist movement and their collaborators orchestrated this tragic event.”

Rabbi Carnie Rose of B’nai Amoona said Eliyahu’s statements were demoralizing and that they do not do anything for the Jewish community. “These remarks are a kind of baseless and unnecessary promulgation of hatred,” Rose said. “Worldwide, there are only 14 million Jews and there is far more that unites us than divides us. As a Conservative rabbi I greatly appreciate my colleagues and brothers and sisters to the left and the right. We are stronger with a multiplicity of identities. If we want to keep Jews connected to Judaism, which is our agenda, to suggest just one way to do this is nothing short of hubris.”

Rabbi Yosef Landa director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis added, “From a theological standpoint, I disagree with any attempts to offer any sort of explanation or rationalization for what G-d did or did not do regarding the Holocaust.”

Rabbi Amy Feder of Temple Israel said, “Rabbi Eliyahu’s comments are both absurd and offensive, not only to the Reform Movement but far more importantly, to those who were murdered in the Shoah.”

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation, called Eliyahu’s alleged remarks most unfortunate. “The Holocaust was a tragedy of unparalleled scope that affected Jews from all religious and educational backgrounds. Prophecy ceased to exist amongst the Jewish people more than two thousand years ago; today, therefore, we can’t know the spiritual reason or reasons behind events of a magnitude such as the Holocaust. Accusative speculation directed toward any Jewish group or individual Jew concerning this issue only serves to fan the flames of divisiveness amongst us.”

Smason encouraged the community to cherish the memory of the millions of “holy and pure Jews who gave their lives in sanctification of the name of G-d. We would also do well in a discussion of the Holocaust to focus upon drawing strength and inspiration from the survivors — including the many here within our own Jewish community in St. Louis — who continue to proudly live as committed Jews.”

Smason said that comments like Eliyahu’s are inflammatory and lead people to believe they are less Jewish than others. He said when one group of people claims it’s better than another, people will understandably react in a negative way.

Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel said Eliyahu should be ashamed of himself and offered that he committed an even greater sin when he spoke this way of his own people. “Emil Fackenheim (Holocaust survivor and noted rabbi and philosopher) said we shouldn’t give Hitler posthumous victories,” Taub said. “I think Eliyahu is guilty of doing this. I’d like to know how his statements are helping the Jewish people.”

Taub thought it was good that voices within the global and Israeli community, both religious and secular, were calling for some type of action. He said it confirms that Eliyahu’s comments are not warranted.

Nationally, Eliyahu’s comments have sparked a series of complaints from various Jewish organizations. The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) asked the Chief Rabbinate to censure Rabbi Eliyahu.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Web site contains a statement from the ADL Israel Office: “In addition to strongly deploring attacks on a denomination that represents a very large portion of the Jewish people, such argumentative use of the Holocaust is a travesty of the memory of its victims. Rabbi Eliyahu should remember precisely that the victims of the Holocaust came from all Jewish denominations, as well as from the secular community.”

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