Rabbi Rick Jacobs: Israeli Ministers Must Stop Their Hate Speech


Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154

New York, NY, Feb 3, 2016 – Statement by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ):

We are outraged by the statements about the Reform Movement made by two ministers in the Israeli government following the decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem.  

Just a few days ago, we commended Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership in securing support for the egalitarian, pluralistic area of the Kotel. Now we find ourselves calling on him, and other Israeli leaders, to stop what has become a pattern of hate-fueled comments from members of the Israeli government.

The most recent examples are the words of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush. Deputy Minister Porush called for women gathering for prayer at the Kotel “to be thrown to the dogs.” One can only wonder what his hateful words about Reform Judaism say about his own narrow, bigoted religious world view. Minister Levin undermined his own governmental role to encourage the struggling tourism industry by attacking Reform Jews who constitute one of the largest groups of tourists to the Jewish State. And just days ago, Moshe Gafni, chair of the Knesset finance committee also unleashed a slew of harsh invectives about Reform Jews. 

We commend the prime minister for speaking out against, and disassociating himself from, these most recent disparaging and divisive statements. But it can no longer be enough to make public statements after each of these reprehensible occurrences, which are increasing in their frequency. We should be able to expect more civility and respect from every person, and especially so from those in positions of power.

The government and the State of Israel has a problem. We cannot ignore that these inexcusable statements keep coming from the cabinet level. The words of Deputy Minister Porush, in fact, come dangerously close to incitement.

Legitimate differences of opinion, practice, and belief are longstanding dimensions of authentic Jewish life. But these recent outbursts of prejudice expose an ugliness that has no place within our noble Jewish tradition or within the government of the Jewish state.

We hope and pray for a day when Israel will truly be a state where Jews and non-Jews of all beliefs and practices live side-by-side in harmony and with respect.

In the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Yoma 9b, our sages teach that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred among Jews. From the new pluralistic, egalitarian prayer space, affirmed on Sunday by the Israeli cabinet, one can look down on the very stones that fell when the second temple was destroyed. As we pray in our new space we will be reminded of that dark time when our people was riven by internal hatred. I hope the Orthodox leaders who disparage our place at this holy site will learn from our people's painful history and work to shape a brighter, more respectful and loving future for the Jewish people.


About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay adept and agile, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.

Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with almost 900 member congregations and work that inspires millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.

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