Shlomo Amar, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, is unfit to hold his position.
Last November, following a decision by the Israeli government to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall, Amar had the gall to brand the Reform branch of Judaism as “evil.”
The Israeli government created this space last year after signing an agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Women of the Wall. Ultra-Orthodox ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet strenuously objected to the accord, threatening to bolt unless he rescinded it. Three months ago, in a disgraceful capitulation that speaks to his integrity and character, Netanyahu suspended it, much to the indignation and anger of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and abroad.
Last week, after the Supreme Court ruled that Israel should either reinstate the agreement or offer an explanation why it should renege on it, Amar blasted Reform Jews. His comments were carried on the haredi website Kikar HaShabbat.
The site quoted him as saying, “They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray at the Western Wall. But no one should think they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy.”
And then, he in an equally outrageous comment, he had the temerity to compare Reform Jews to Holocaust deniers. “It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing,” he said. “They shout about Holocaust deniers in Iran, but they (Reform Jews) deny more than Holocaust deniers.”
Unbelievable and unforgivable.
Amar’s patently false assumptions and ridiculous claims discredit him in the eyes of most Israelis and many Jews in the Diaspora. They also make a mockery of the rabbinate, an institution that wields far too much power and influence and should be cut down to size.
That a rabbi of Amar’s supposed calibre is capable of equating Jews with despicable Holocaust deniers is scandalous and beyond the pale, an insult to Holocaust survivors and Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. In short, Amar’s values are questionable, his grasp of history is limited and his understanding of reality is extremely tenuous. He needs to apologize for his unacceptable comments. In any event, why does the Israeli state tolerate a rabbi like him? Why is it paying his salary?
Netanyahu, rushing to the defence of Reform Jews, did not address any of these pertinent questions. Instead, he declared, “All Jews are part of one family, and the diversity of our people should always be respected. I categorically reject any attempt to delegitimize any part of the Jewish people.”
Fine words, these. But conveniently enough, Netanyahu neglected to criticize Amar directly, presumably loathe to offend his constituency and the ministers in the government who represent them.
On a deeper level, Netanyahu’s critique was blatantly disingenuous. If, as he claims, he cares so much about the unity of the Jewish people, he would have honored the Western Wall deal rather than abandoning it for the sake of political expediency and survival.
Netanyahu has been warned by Diaspora leaders that his failure to follow through with the 2016 agreement will have severe repercussions. It will certainly alienate countless Jews abroad. But does he really care? And is he listening?