Israel’s Two Chief Rabbis Say That ‘reform Jews Are Jews, Just Like Us’

Israel’s two Chief Rabbis appear to be extending an alive branch to Reform Judaism.”Reform Jews are Jews, just like us,” Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliahu said in a joint Rosh Hashanah eve interview here with representatives of the overseas Jewish media.

The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis denied that they, in any way, “fail to recognize” the Jewishness of Reform Jews. This was a major departure from the position held by many Orthodox Jews here and abroad.

The two Chief Rabbis also contended that the controversial “Who is a Jew?” issue was “wrongly portrayed” as one of “recognition or non-recognition” of other Jews. The fact is, said Shapira, the only issue at stake is the conversion procedure practiced by Reform rabbis.

“We do not interfere or comment on these rabbis’ activities in any other areas. But in the matter of conversion, Jewry is like a club. You cannot join unless all the rest of the membership agrees to the terms of your joining, ” Shapira said.

Eliahu said he considered the demand for pluralism in conversion as a contravention of the spirit of unity. He likened that spirit to the one which motivated the creation of a national unity government and stressed that it required further strengthening in face of troubled times.

EXPLAIN STAND ON FURLOUGH FOR PRISONERS

They explained why they had petitioned the government — without success — to release 20 suspected members of the Jewish terrorist underground from custody to allow them to spend the High Holidays with their families. According to the Chief Rabbis, this was “in no way out of the ordinary.” They said they frequently received appeals before festivals from the families of prisoners and always responded by attempting to secure furloughs for those in custody.

In this case, the suspects are on trial and under remand. The Chief Rabbis said they were told that the chances of furlough were slim. “But we do not accept this distinction on moral grounds,” Shapira said. “A man is held innocent until proved otherwise.”

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