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Minister’s Address to Reform Jews Displeases Them and Orthodox, Too

The minister in charge of religious affairs drew criticism this weekend for appearing before the 11th convention of Israel’s Reform movement.

But the minister, Uzi Baram, disappointed his audience by saying that the quest by the non-Orthodox movements for official recognition is not high on his agenda.

He said the tension between the trends in Israel is relatively small, and it is therefore useless in his view for the government to wage a futile battle on the issue.

Baram’s own situation highlights the Labor coalition’s complex position on religious issues. Baram, a non-Orthodox Laborite who serves as Minister of Tourism, is temporarily holding the religious portfolio in the hope he can turn it over to one of the Orthodox parties that has yet to join the governing coalition.

Meanwhile, Baram is attempting to ameliorate problems with the religious councils and the religious courts, whose authority over marriage and divorce brings them in contact, and frequent conflict, with secular Israelis.

“The struggle on these issues is shared by Jews of all trends,” Baram told the convention of the Movement for Progressive Judaism, as the Reform movement is known in Israel.

The movement’s chairman, Yonatan Livni, expressed hope that Baram’s appearance before the convention signaled official recognition.

But in response to questions from reporters, Baram later said that he would not take steps to grant the Reform movement official recognition.

To avoid desecrating the Sabbath, Baram took a one-hour walk from his residence in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood to Hebrew Union College, where the convention was held last Friday night.

The haredi, or fervently Orthodox, parties, such as Shas inside the coalition and United Torah Judaism in the opposition, reacted angrily to Baram’s appearance before the Reform convention.

According to one report, Premier Yitzhak Rabin also expressed dissatisfaction with the appearance of Baram, asking him, “What do you need this for?” Rabin has repeatedly had to defend his coalition from Orthodox criticism, sparked by outspoken anti-religious comments from his education minister, Shulamit Aloni.

Baram, however, denied that Rabin had discussed the issue with him.

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