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Reform Leaders in Israel to Fight Harder for Official Recognition and Equal Rights for Non-orthodox

Leaders of the Reform movement said Tuesday that the attempted disruption of a Reform congregation’s Simchat Torah services by Orthodox zealots here last Friday night has spurred them to fight harder than ever for official recognition and equal rights for non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel.

They also said they would press charges against Orthodox rabbi Eliahu Abergil and 20 of his followers who allegedly interrupted the services in the community center in the Baka suburb of Jerusalem and forcibly tried to wrest Torahs away from the congregants while hurling curses at them. Abergil was arrested on suspicion of violating the Criminal Code. He was released on bail Sunday.

The Reform spokesmen said at a press conference here Tuesday that they would use the incident to support their demands for equality with Orthodox Judaism in Israel. Specifically, they want the right of Reform and Conservative rabbis to officiate at religious ceremonies, and funding for non-Orthodox synagogues and institutions.

The Reform movement will hold a rally in Jerusalem next Saturday night in support of freedom of religion. Reform leaders said they expected many Orthodox Jews to lend their support.

The Reform movement also intends to lodge a complaint with the police against Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu for slandering the Reform congregation in Baka. Eliahu said in a radio interview after the Simchat Torah disturbance that men and women were dancing naked with Torah scrolls at the Reform service.

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