And just like any other society they have arguments and disputes among themselves. At the moment within Israeli society there is a lot discussion about who is a Jew after an Israeli Minister said that Reform Jews are not Jews. There are several strands of Judaism. Reform Judaism is more liberal and open compared to more traditional forms of Judaism. Naturally arguments can occur among these differing strands of the Jewish religion.
At age 13, Seth fulfilled a lifelong dream and celebrated his bar mitzvah atop the ancient Jewish fortress Masada. The intense July heat was made barely bearable by an infrequent desert breeze. But to the group, singing Israeli folk songs and ancient prayers under a canvas tent on the poignant historic site overlooking the Dead Sea, the experience was joyous and meaningful.
Seth was raised in a Charleston, South Carolina, Reform synagogue, where he went to Hebrew school every week. His father is Jewish, his mother is not. And although he was converted by a rabbinical court in a ritual bath as a baby and raised as a Jew, he’s not considered Jewish by the Israeli chief rabbinate.Were Seth to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, this proud Reform Jew and Zionist would not be allowed to marry — or be buried — in Jewish ceremonies. And naturally for Seth, like for the majority of Diaspora Jews who do not practice Orthodox Judaism, this is puzzling — and insulting.But the dissonance between the stance of official Israel and the phenomenon of legions of committed non-Orthodox Jews was spotlighted this week when Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay was pressed on the question of the legitimacy of Reform Jewry by interviewer Razi Barkai on Army Radio Tuesday.
“A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” said Azoulay. (In Hebrew slang, “reformi” connotes any Jew whose religious practice diverges from traditional Orthodoxy.) (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Reform Jews can die for Israel, but not all would be buried as Jews, The Times of Israel, July 8, 2015.)
Ironically, the exchange began with Azoulay saying he did not wish to determine who is or is not a Jew. That is, before he casually excommunicated 35 percent of American Jews — the single biggest Jewish denomination in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center — in the blink of an eye.
Azoulay’s comments sparked international outrage. The Anti-Defamation League slammed his “demeaning and hateful comments.” In Israel, he was denounced by religious freedom advocates and both sides of the political spectrum. Minister of Education and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennet rebuked him, saying “every Jew, whether he is Conservative, Reform, ultra-Orthodox or secular, is Jewish.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly admonished him, saying Azoulay’s views “do not reflect the position of the government” and clarifying that Israel “is home to all Jews.”
Eventually, Azoulay was forced to apologize. Conspicuously, he did so without apologizing at all. (Asher Schechter, Israel tells Reform Jews: You’re not really Jewish, but your money is just Jewish enough, Haaretz, July 10, 2015.)