Israeli mayor blasted for nixing Masorti bar mitzvah for disabled kids

Masorti leaders lambasted an Israeli mayor who canceled a bar mitzvah for disabled boys because the venue was a synagogue affiliated with the Jewish movement.

Rahamim Malul, a former lawmaker for the Orthodox Shas party and current mayor of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot, earlier this week prevented the bar mitzvah, which was planned for April 30, because the venue was the city’s Masorti synagogue, according to the news site Walla.co.il.

“To slam a door on a Jewish teen at the moment they are about to enter the fellowship of the Jewish People is terrible; to do so to a young person with disabilities is unforgivable,” Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, wrote in a statement this week. He said Malul was using children as pawns in a political game directed against the Masorti movement.

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Like Israel’s relatively small Reform Jewish communities, the smaller Masorti communities, which are analogous to Conservative congregations in North America, have been waging a legal and public relations battle for equal treatment by the Orthodox establishment and tolerance by Orthodox Jews.

But the city defended its actions, citing the fact that the ceremony was organized by a public school, the Lotem High School for children with special needs, with pupils from Orthodox families, who opposed the selection of a Masorti synagogue and could not participate for that reason, Walla reported.

“Let any parent have a bar mitzvah for their children wherever they want, but not through a public school whose actions are supposed to be consensus,” a municipality spokesman told Walla. “Otherwise this would have led to religious coercion.”

Complicating matters further, according to Walla, is the refusal of some Orthodox rabbis to allow the mentally disabled to have bar and bat mitzvahs – the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood and the religious commandments that come with it – because some are regarded as unfit to accept the onus of those duties. Conservative and Reform movements are less strict on this issue, according to the report.

But the city spokesman told Walla that the children’s disability had nothing to do with the event’s cancellation.

Following the cancellation, organizers wanted to hold the event as an extracurricular activity, the report said, but the school’s staffers, who were needed to provide assistance, could not be replaced at short notice.

— JTA