Rabbi Yaacov Perlow, a prominent leader of Agudath Israel of America, has called for healing and dialogue between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Israelis.
But Perlow, addressing Agudah’s 73rd national convention last week, coupled his call for dialogue with a lashing out at what he described as the “false ideology” of non-Orthodox Judaism.
His remarks came amid rising tensions among Jews both in Israel and the United States in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Perlow, who heads the Novominsker yeshiva in Boro Park, Brooklyn, and is widely respected by Chasidic and non-Chasidic Orthodox Jews, is one of five members of the Council of Torah Sages, the religious leadership of Agudath Israel, an organization representing the interests of the fervently Orthodox.
Perlow, who formerly ran Breuer’s yeshiva in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, was the keynote speaker at the convention, held t the Parsippany, N.J., Hilton Hotel.
More than 3,000 constituents of Agudah gathered for the four-day event that began Thanksgiving Day.
The American holiday celebrating religious freedom was pointedly ignored by the assembly of haredi Jews gathered, who feel that it is “just too close to Christianity because it was Christians who first celebrated it,” said Agudah spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran.
In his address, Perlow spoke of his pain over the assassination of Rabin by an Orthodox Jew, terming it a “chillul haShem (desecration of God’s name) of cosmic proportions, as is the subsequent wave of defamation and hatred against religious people.”
He condemned confessed assassin Yigal Amir’s claim that God instructed him to kill Rabin, and said the classification by some religious authorities in Israel of Rabin as a “rodef,” or pursuer, was wrong.
Jewish law permits a Jew to kill another person only if his life is being directly threatened by such a person, a “rodef,” he said.
“How can serious people, among them talmedei chachamim (wise students of Judaism) entertain such ideas?” said Perlow.
“The moral foundation of our family have been shaken” by the assassination, he said. “There are times when inner peace is missing, when the very pillars of our holy community are shaken and under attack. I, for one, have no inner peace these days,” Perlow told the Agudah constituents.
Perlow also said he is worried about the breach between Orthodox and non- Orthodox Jews in Israel.
“This is a serious problem,” he said. “There is no relating between us in any way but for verbal stone-throwing. Our responses cannot be limited to ideological warfare.”
Perlow prefaced his comments, however, with strong criticism of the non- Orthodox Jews Campaigning for the government of Israel to recognize non- Orthodox forms of Judaism as legitimate.
“The forces of the left are conducting a concerted drive to erase the fundamental features of our religion,” said Perlow in his speech.
The Reform movement is spearheading “Operation Equality,” whose goal is get the Knesset to pass legislation that would allow non-Orthodox rabbis to officiate at weddings and other life-cycle events.
Now, only Orthodox rabbis are allowed to officiate.
A countercampaign is being mounted by the Agudath Israel World Organization, and led by Agudath Israel of America President Rabbi Moshe Sherer.
It is “a battle of light and darkness, a battle of Jacob and Esau for the soul of Eretz Yisrael,” Perlow said. “The Kulturkampf raging in Israel today is for the very soul of our people, which wants to cling to some remainder of tradition.”
“Chilonim (nonobservant) in Israel and America are always ready to bash the religion. To them yeshivas train misfits, rabbis advocate terrorism and murder,” he said, decrying those who make no distinctions between different segments of the Orthodox community.
He urged his listeners “to consider ways and means to engage” the non-Orthodox, “to convey our message and vision, to reach out to the entire family of Jews.
“After all the fighting, we are one family of people,” he said.
The Council of Torah Sages also published an ad last Friday on the op-ed page of The New York Times condemning Rabin’s killing in unequivocal terms.
The confessed assassin’s “shocking claim that his act was based on halachah (Jewish law)” is “erroneous – indeed a total distortion of fundamental Jewish values,” he said.
“The assassination should remind all Jews – no matter what their views on the Middle East peace process or any of the other policies of the current Israeli government – that inflammatory rhetoric and hateful invective often toxify the atmosphere,” the ad said.