‘Real’ Judaism?

Jewish Light Editorial

He just doesn’t get it. 

The “he” refers to David Azoulay, Israel’s Religious Services Minister.

The “it” refers to Reform Judaism, which, outrageously, Azoulay does not acknowledge as legitimate Judaism.

You heard that right: While Jewish leaders around the globe struggle to build strong ties between Diaspora Jews and Israel, the man who oversees Israel’s religious institutions rejects the legitimacy of a majority of American Jews.


Azoulay’s comments, which first came to light in June and have continued despite vocal repudiation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, represent a significant blow to building unity across Jewish denominational lines. And they harm the efforts by so many to ensure lasting commitments by American Jews to Israel.

JTA quoted Azoulay from his appearance on Army Radio Tuesday morning: “A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew…These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”

Last month, Azoulay called Reform Jews “a disaster for the people of Israel,” while discussing the Women of the Wall group.

Azoulay’s comments come as the current Israeli government has undone the last Knesset’s initiative that would have eased the process for conversion to Judaism in Israel. To build a governing coalition, the prime minister chose to include the United Torah Judaism party in the mix, and the turn to the religious right has meant a reversal of the progress that had been cultivated last year.

As a result, instead of the now overturned bill (which would have given municipal rabbis the ability to perform conversions), highly strict rabbis, largely aligned with the ultra-Orthodox philosophy, once again will hold the monopoly on determining who can become a Jew.

After Azoulay’s last round of verbal missiles in June, leading Reform voices suggested his leadership in the government would not be helpful to building Jewish bridges. “Millions of Reform Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora have had it with the ugly lashings out of ultra-Orthodox politicians,” Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, told Haaretz. “If Minister Azoulay cannot function as minister for all the citizens of Israel, then he should resign.”

What are American Jews to make of all this? In this country, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews, who together comprise an overwhelming portion of the Jewish community, would apparently not meet Azoulay’s notion of what makes a true Jew. And to be honest, we’re not really sure if those who sit in the Modern Orthodox realm would either.

And here’s another great irony of Azoulay’s position. A vast number of Jews in Israel consider themselves secular, with their identification to Judaism being largely ethnic, cultural and, well, Israeli. So in condemning a brand of Judaism he considers anathema, Azoulay is indirectly pointing his finger at Israeli Jews as well, those who do not ascribe to the rituals, traditions and biblical scrutiny that apparently is required of a “real Jew.”

It is tragic, in our opinion, that such a man, whose personal mission seems dedicated to tearing apart rather than weaving together, is tabbed with the responsibility of overseeing religious services for the Israeli government. By casting aspersions upon those who have committed to incorporating Judaism not only into their own lives, but into those of their children and communities, Azoulay stands as an icon for condescension rather than cohesion.

We hope that the Knesset’s leaders will come to realize that the solidarity of all Jews across Israel and the Diaspora is more important to our future than cutting a political deal to secure a one-vote majority in the Knesset.