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Does God hear the prayers of [non-Haredi] Jews?

Denouncing Religious Affairs Minister Azoulai's hateful remarks is not enough: Boot him out of office

Some years ago, a prominent American Christian Evangelical minister proclaimed that “God does not hear the prayers of Jews.” This statement obviously did not sit well with Jews, or with vast numbers of non-Jews who resented the arrogant self-righteousness of that minister. How did he dare to speak as though he knew God’s policies about hearing prayers?

This minister, and others like him, are generally the victims of serious religious brainwashing. They are taught that they, and only they, have the Truth. They hear this from their parents, teachers and friends. They rarely speak meaningfully with others who do not share their views. In their eyes, they and their group know God’s will; nobody else does. When this minister claimed that God does not hear the prayers of Jews, he probably would have said the same thing about any non-Christian, or even about Christians who understood their religion differently from the way he understood Christianity.

How would we react if this minister, or someone of his mindset, was appointed by the President of the United States to serve as head of America’s Department of Education?

We and the overwhelming majority of Americans would be outraged! How could this highly parochial and bigoted person be placed in a position of great influence? How would we react if he/she made disparaging remarks discrediting the educational systems of Jews, Catholics, Muslims or other religious groups? What would we feel if he/she declared that all those not of his/her religious persuasion were not good Americans, and that their religious views were a “disaster” for the spiritual health of our nation? I imagine that the public outcry would be so swift and so powerful that this person would immediately be removed from office. If he/she remained in office, it would be a travesty of the first magnitude.

These thoughts came to mind as I pondered one of the latest scandals in Israel. The Israeli Minister for Religious Services and Shas MK David Azoulai made incendiary comments about non-Orthodox Jews, saying that he could not describe them as Jews. He said that only people who follow Jewish law can be described as Jewish and described non-Orthodox streams as “people who try and falsify” the Jewish religion. “Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew…A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” said the minister.

He later “clarified” his remarks by saying that non-Orthodox Jews are actually Jewish, since even Jews who sin are Jews. But he underscored that they are sinners and that Reform Judaism is a “disaster” for the Jewish people.

While his comments were aimed at non-Orthodox Jews, I think it is safe to assume that he also has a highly negative view of Orthodox Jews who do not share his particular views i.e. who are not Haredi.

As could be expected, many expressed outrage at Azoulai’s remarks. Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized Azoulai’s comments—but, as far as I know, has not demanded Azoulai’s resignation. In order to maintain his narrow coalition, Mr. Netanyahu has made deeply troubling concessions, including granting inordinate power to Haredi parties. Although the vast majority of Israelis, and the vast majority of world Jewry, are pained and scandalized by Azoulai’s statements—and the worldview he represents—he remains in his position as Minister for Religious Services of the State of Israel.

What a sad state of affairs!

It is sad because it empowers an extreme minority to wield inordinate power over the whole society. It is sad because it alienates nearly all non-Haredi Jews in Israel and the diaspora. It is sad because it not only allows ugly statements to be made, but allows for Haredi power plays that undermine progress in the areas of conversion, kashruth, religious courts and councils etc. It foists a pre-modern right wing orthodoxy on a Jewish world that repudiates this worldview.

When an American Evangelical minister said that “God does not hear the prayers of Jews,” we were justifiably outraged. There was an overwhelming response against his bigotry and arrogance. It would have been unthinkable for such a person to be appointed to high (or any!) government office.

When an Israeli Minister for Religious Services speaks with self-righteous arrogance that de-legitimizes religious views other than his own, we all should be justifiably outraged.

We should be astounded, and morally offended, if such a person is allowed to remain in public office. It is a blemish on the good name of the State of Israel. It is a blemish on the good name of Orthodox Judaism — and all Judaism.

About the Author
Rabbi Angel is Founder and Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals jewishideas.org. Among his many books are Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism; Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality: The Inner Life of Jews of the Ottoman Empire; and a forthcoming book of Short Stories, Solomon's Crown and Other Stories. Rabbi Angel is a past President of the Rabbinical Council of America. He and Rabbi Avi Weiss are co-founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an association of modern Orthodox Rabbis.
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