Who is a Jew? Almost nobody, according to Minister Azoulay (Shas)

Religious Services Minister, David Azoulay (Shas) recently made a statement that is not only a dangerous statement but one with widespread negative ramifications. He said that only people who follow Jewish law can be described as Jewish. He further stated: “Any Jew who observes Torah and commandments is for us a Jew. A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law, I can not allow myself to say he is a Jew.”

I want to use the Minister’s words to show how  misguided he is and beyond that to show how his statement is antithetical to the tenets of the very same Torah in whose name he professes to speak.

First off, let us get one part straight: In Orthodox, Torah-based law, when the father of a child is not Jewish, then that child is indeed not halachikally considered Jewish. I am not addressing that issue at all. I want to respond to the Minister’s statement about how following Jewish law determines a person’s Jewish status.

I know people who speak Lashon Hara (evil, slanderous speech) so since they do not follow Halacha which prohibits such speech, they are not Jewish, according to Minister Azoulay.

I know people who do not remember to say blessings before eating food, so since they are not following Halacha, they are not Jewish, according to Minister Azoulay.

I know people who do not follow every single rule about Shabbat and Kashrut, so since they are not following Halacha, they are not Jewish, according to Minister Azoulay.

You get the picture here?! His categorical statement that if you do not follow Halacha, you are not Jewish is a self-destructive and absurd statement! Black and white by him…in or out…day or night. How utterly nonsensical! By his statement, he has more or less said that there are no Jews left in the world. You do not follow Halacha, you are not Jewish. Period…

But beyond that, his statement negates one of the basic precepts in Judaism: ישראל אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא (A Jew, even if he has sinned, is still considered a Jew). We are always given the chance to do Teshuva (repent) and are always given the chance to change our lives. Of course, the ideal is that we all follow the Law completely. But to state that those who do not are not considered Jewish is not only an affront to all of those who are not observant, it is an affront to observant Jews, and dare I say an affront to G-d Himself! Yes, I want all Jews to be observant. Yes, I want all Jews to follow the Torah and all of the Mitzvot (including the one about making Aliya). But in the meantime, how dare the Minister of Religious Services make such a reprehensible comment!

We are now in the period known as The Three Weeks, the time period from the Fast of 17 Tammuz through the Fast of 9 Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples. It is axiomatic that the Second Temple was destroyed because of Sin’at Chinam (baseless hatred).

This pronouncement of the Minister is pure Sin’at Chinam. He owes the ENTIRE Jewish People an apology.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.
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