NEW YORK (Jun. 28)
A report by the Movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel that members of the Lubavitch movement disrupted a Conservative Bar Mitzvah ceremony in Kiryat Gat was denounced here today by the director of the Lubavitch educational system in the southern Israeli town. Rabbi Shalom Wolpo, director of "Machanaim," currently on a brief visit to the United States, said the report by Rabbi Philip Spectre, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, was "erroneous" and "scurrilous."
Spectre made the charge during a press conference at the Jewish Theological Seminary here on June 16. He said that if "extreme elements" of Orthodoxy in Israel continued to harass the Conservatice movement, "we will urge American Jews not to assist them anymore."
The ceremony, which Spectre said included both Bar and Bas Mitzvah rites, took place at the start of May. Wolpo said the rites took place in "Neve Chana," a home for children from broken homes.
CLAIMS FAMILIES ‘UPSET’
Wolpo charged, in his counter-criticism, that the families of the children, whom he asserted were all Sephardic, were "visibly upset" when the volunteer Conservative rabbi sought, at the ceremony, to introduce new customs which he asserted were "alien to Sephardic Jews" and which such Jews "consider to be sacrilegious and disgraceful." Wolpo said that the children were "deliberately misled" by the volunteer rabbi.
Spectre’s version of the "disruption" was that the Lubavitcher Hasidim came to the site of the ceremonies and asked for and received permission to join the proceedings. Spectre has asserted that Wolpo, "at the moment for the closing Blessings," told the children and their parents "they had been misled, that their celebration had been inauthentic, that Jewish Law did not permit calling women to the Torah and so forth."
Wolpo’s version was that, after receiving permission to speak, he had done so "briefly," declaring that Torah Law does not permit the new ceremonies "being introduced by the Conservative Rabbi" and that the ceremonies were "counter" to ancestral tradition.
Spectre asserted that when reports of the Kiryat Gat incident reached Conservative Jewish leaders in both Israel and North America, "the response was traumatic" as it was, he said, on the Kiryat Gat children and parents.
Wolpo flatly disputed this. He said the children and parents at the ceremony "rose and applauded him for his courage in speaking out and articulating their own feelings and the uneasiness they were being subjected to during the ceremony. They were not traumatized — they were grateful."
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, spokesman for the Lubavitch movement international headquarters in Brooklyn, charged that the Conservative movement, in calling a press conference here to accuse the Lubavitch Hasidim at the Kiryat Gat event of disrupting it, committed "an outrageous distortion of the facts." He also said that for Rabbi Spectre to refer to Lubavitch Hasidim as "less enlightened" than non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews "does not enhance the image of the Conservative movement."