A Bitter Confrontation Ends Amicably

A bitter confrontation between Reform and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Baka suburb ended amicably when the local Orthodox chief rabbi, Eliahu Abergil, promised in writing not to interfere again with Reform services.

The Reform rabbi, Levi Weiman-Kelman of the Kol Haneshama Congregation, agreed in return to drop criminal charges against Abergil and 20 of his followers who disrupted Simchat Torah services at the Reform congregation last Friday evening.

Abergil led a group of 20 ultra-Orthodox Jews who entered the local community center where the services were being held and attempted forcibly to wrest Torah scrolls from the congregants while hurling curses at them. He was arrested and released on bail.

In a handwritten letter to Kelman on Tuesday, Abergil condemned violence regardless of “different opinions” and pledged “not to interfere” with Weiman’s congregation. By mutual agreement, copies of his letter were distributed “to every mailbox in the neighborhood.”

After the charges were dropped, the two rabbis embraced outside of the local police station. The agreement, in effect, recognized Reform Judaism’s right to exist in Israel, an almost unprecedented concession by the Orthodox.

Kol Haneshama Congregation consists of about 50 families in the south Jerusalem suburb. It conducts services in the community center gymnasium because the Orthodox have prevented it from renting other premises. Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek has offered the congregation land to build a house of worship and has promised to assist in raising funds for the new building.

CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT CONDEMNS THE DISRUPTION

(In New York, six presidents of Conservative Jewish organizations condemned the disruption of the Reform Simchat Torah services and criticized Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Minister of Religious Affairs Zevulun Hammer for their failure to speak out against the disruption. The Conservative leaders said Thursday in a statement:

(“Violence against the free practice of religion is a most dangerous threat to civil rights and against the principles of a democratic society. The outrageous events in the Kol Haneshama Congregation on October 24 are essentially contrary to the historical practice of Judaism and Ahavat Yisrael — love of Judaism.”

(The statement was signed by: Rabbi Kassel Abelson, president, Rabbinical Assembly; Franklin Kreutzer, president, United Synagogue of America, Selma Weintraub, president, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; Simon Schwartz, president of MERCAZ, the Conservative Religious Zionist organization; Jules Porter, president, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs; and Marshall Wolke, president of the World Council of Synagogue.)

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