Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (Shas) provoked a storm of controversy Tuesday morning, saying in a radio interview that he did not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish.
"Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew… A Reform Jew, once he does not follow the religion of Israel – then let us say, there is a problem. I cannot allow myself to say that he is Jewish,” he told Army Radio.
Reform and Conservative leaders were quick to condemn the comments as offensive – particularly to Jews in the US, where the Reform Movement is the largest Jewish stream (unlike in Israel, where it is relatively small).
Among those condemning the comments was Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, who called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to censure his minister.
"Prime minister Netanyahu should make it clear to the minister and the public that such statements do not represent the position of his government and that any further derogatory comments will result in the Minister's dismissal," Ruderman stated.
Orthodox Jews – who strictly adhere to the laws of the Torah - view Reform and other non-Orthodox theologies as illegitimate, due to its departure from Jewish law and even rejection of the Divinity of the Torah.
As such, "conversions" carried out by non-Orthodox streams – including Reform – are not recognized by Orthodox rabbis.
Even so, Azoulay's comments that Jews who merely identify as "Reform" should not be considered Jewish have no basis in any interpretation of Jewish law.
Azoulay did attempt to reach out to Reform Jews in the same interview, adding: "These are Jews who took a wrong turn along the road and we need to ensure that every Jew will go back into the fold of Judaism and accept everyone with love and joy… we would like for all of those Jews to go back to Judaism according to halacha [Jewish law]. That is all."
However, critics were not impressed, with Ruderman warning of the consequences of alienating the majority of American Jews via such insensitive comments.
"Diaspora Jews, and especially American Jews where Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish religious affiliation, are critical to Israel's sense of well being and security. Representatives of Israel's government should treat them accordingly."