Shlomo Amar and Reform

If any reasonable Jew could agree with the vitriolic remarks of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar who, in a poisonous speech stated that “Reform Jews are worse than Holocaust deniers”, he should have his head examined or his tongue cut out.

Among the six million of our murdered brothers and sisters, two-thirds of them were not Orthodox. And still, Reform, Conservative, atheist, agnostic Jews were gassed and burned together with Orthodox Jews.

We can die together but are denied the right to pray together !

Rabbi Amar is totally ignorant, as are most of our Orthodox rabbinate in Israel, of Jewish history since the Reformation of 1848 in Germany. Suddenly the gates of the ghettos were flung open and Jews could venture into the outer world around them for the first time.

Universities now accepted some Jewish students. Many studied the art of medicine and brought healing to their communities. In time, Jews in Germany became leaders in their professions. They put the Talmud behind them (who could make a living from Talmud study?) and entered the world of the arts and sciences.

Why did Reform Judaism begin in Germany? Because they saw enlightenment that could never have been seen in the darkness of the ghettos. Leading Jews became famous as financiers, well-known outside the borders of Germany.

The early rabbis of the Reform movement had been brought up in Orthodoxy. No other religious denomination had been available prior to 1848.  Men like Geiger sought to interpret a new form of Judaism, throwing out what was considered by the reformers as out of fashion. Kashrut was the first thing to go.

There had been choral and instrumental music in the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Reform Jews re-introduced both into the worship service. In order to appear as good Germans of the Mosaic faith, they changed the Shabbat from Saturday to Sunday. And of great significance, they translated the siddur into German so that worshippers could clearly understand the meaning of the Hebrew prayers.

German society at first welcomed the Jews. But the welcome was so open that many Jews intermarried with non-Jews. One of our greatest Orthodox scholars, Moshe Mendelssohn,   had a grandson who had converted to Christianity. His name is known throughout the entire world as the great musician and composer, Felix Mendelssohn. It is of interest to note that under the Nazi regime in Germany it was forbidden to play his music. Although a Christian, the Nazis considered him a Jew. His music?  Verboten !

Rabbi Amar claims falsely that Reform Jews do not observe Shabbat nor fast on Yom Kippur. Neither statement is true albeit with immense changes from traditional observance. Reform Jews go to their Temples on Shabbat but they ride in their vehicles to get there. And most fast on Yom Kippur even if it includes breaking the fast with some non-kosher food.

The number of Orthodox Jews who supported Herzl’s proposed Judenstaat in Basel could be counted on the fingers of two hands. The majority of the more than two hundred delegates were non-Orthodox or even non-observant Jews.  American Jewish Zionists are aware that two of their outstanding Zionist leaders, Stephen Weiss and Abba Hillel Silver, were both ordained Reform rabbis of distinction.

And most of the early chalutzim and first Aliyah were liberal Jews who saw religion as holding back Jews from modernity. Their dream, as is ours, was to create a Jewish state for the Jewish people…ALL the Jewish people. Israel is called the Democratic Jewish State of Israel, NOT the Orthodox State of Israel.

A democratic state must confer freedom of religious expression to all its citizens.  We must remember that in pre-State days there was no mechitza separating us at the Western Wall. There is no formal statement in our religious texts specifically forbidding women to wear a tallit, tefillin or even to read from the Torah. That is Judaism  d’rabbanan, not d’oraita.  It is based on the idea of “kvod ha tzibur”, respecting the  (observant)  public.

If rabbis have for centuries been permitted to interpret the written law for their times, so too are they free to do so today. Regrettably, while that can happen all over the Jewish world, only in Israel is it denied.

It is said that only twenty percent of Israeli Jews are observant. The other eighty percent can enjoy the beach on Rosh Hashanah. Most Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur. And if anyone wants to ask why so few observant Jews in the Jewish homeland, it is because of the hatred, divisiveness and ignorance of most of our Orthodox rabbis.

Shlomo Amar should not be referred to any longer as a Chief Rabbi. His unkind and hateful remarks make him rather a Cheap Rabbi.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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