Stuart Katz

Judaism and the Challenge of Perfection: Stop the Divisiveness

What I like to think was righteous indignation was stirred in me all day Tuesday when Minister for Religious Services and Shas MK David Azouli made a string of incendiary comments about non-Orthodox Jews – and not for the first time. Speaking Tuesday on Army Radio, Azouli stated that only people who follow Jewish law can be considered Jewish. He then described non-Orthodox Jews as “people who try and falsify” the Jewish religion.

Azouli stated, “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.” Translation: non-Orthodox Jews are not really Jewish.

When asked about the fact that the majority of U.S. Jews are non-Orthodox, Azoulai claimed that they were Jews who had “erred along the way.”

“Those of the Reform denomination living in the Diaspora are in the majority people who have erred,” he explained. “We would like for them to return to the lap of Judaism and we will accept them gladly and with blessings.”

Only last month, Azoulai drew ire when he was quoted by Yisrael Hayom as stating that Reform Judaism “is a disaster for the Jewish people.”

Upon reading all these remarks, I was not prepared to wait for our Prime Minister to condemn the individual that he appointed to be Israel’s Minister of Religious Services. For what it was worth, I was prepared to do so on my own. So I took to my Facebook page and poured out my frustration and concern:

“There are 613 commandments to be fulfilled. If the Minister is in fulfillment of all 613, I will keep my mouth shut and retract this post – if not, I suggest the labeling and scorecard be kept by the One above.”

In the comments, I went on to say, “I do strive for perfection in all I do and at the top of the list is attempting to recognize the good that each person possesses and following in the ways that G-d instructed us to do – a challenge that as a people we accepted.”

In all honesty, I must acknowledge that I have yet to meet a perfect Jew, embracing all of G-d’s 613 commandments. It seems an unreachable standard that in order to be classified as a “true” Jew, one must achieve total compliance with G-d’s laws, unless one’s religious pedigree meets with the Minister of Religious Services’ approval.

Although I tend to avoid labels, I make these observations not as an “outsider,” but as someone who was brought up in the Orthodox or traditional Jewish denomination and have passed this tradition on to my children. Part of what I have taught my children is the message that no person is perfect. We all must do the best we can and accept each other for what we are and what we do. We must do what we think is right.

Most importantly, I have never met a Jew whom I felt a needed to judge.

After setting down my keyboard, I was pleased to find that I was by no means alone in my opinion. Response to Azoulai’s comments has been swift and critical, with most exhorting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repudiate Azoulai’s remarks. Azoulai’s comments were referred to by such descriptions as “deeply hurtful” and “spurious.” Groups ranging from the U.S. Anti-Defamation League to private foundations expressed dismay and called upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to make it clear that Azoulai’s statements did not represent the government’s position. Many called for the government official’s dismissal if his highly critical remarks continued.

Late Tuesday Prime Minister Netanyahu  responded to the outcry, issuing a statement renouncing Azoulai’s “hurtful remarks about Reform Judaism, which do not reflect the position of the Government.” He confirmed that he had spoken to Azoulai, and reminded him “that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as Minister of Religious Affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens.”

Netanyahu’s response was welcomed by many. I join them in thanking the Prime Minister for his comments. I am particularly glad that there was no further delay in responding to Azoulai’s increasingly inflammatory remarks over recent weeks.

Now I pray that our Prime Minister’s admonition will be heeded, and that further religious divisiveness will not be created through government officials’ ill-chosen remarks. I remain a proud citizen of the State of Israel, a country that values all its citizens.

Quotations cited in this article came from a series of articles in the Jerusalem Post.

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis
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