JERUSALEM (Aug. 8)
Israel’s newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs Eli Suissa dropped two bombshells this week, immediately after receiving the much-contested portfolio.
Suissa, who is also the interior minister, told reporters that the Religious Affairs Ministry should be dismantled.
“The subject needs to be investigated, though it will arouse opposition from some political parties and rabbis, and so it must be done with great sensitivity,” he said.
He proposed placing local religious councils under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, with other religious matters being handled by the Ministries of Education and Justice.
Suissa, a member of the Orthodox Shas Party, also took a swipe at the Reform Movement, saying that the phenomenon of Reform Judaism should be stopped. He also charged that the movement wields power disproportionate to its numbers in Israel.
“It is not feasible that less than 2,000 Reform Jews here will influence the country as if there were 200,000 or 200 million Reform Jews here,” he said.
He added that in religious matters, “the criteria to be applied is that which is fitting to a Jewish state.”
Uri Regev, director of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, called Suissa’s remarks “a very disturbing new page in the way the government is establishing its Jewish agenda.”
On the one hand, Regev said he was “flattered” that his movement’s “successful advocacy work gives the minister the impression that we’re running the affairs of the state.”
On the other hand, “his alarming statements run contrary to every aspect of Israel’s character as a democratic state governed by the rule of law.”
Regev said any strides made by non-Orthodox Jews in Israel in recent years were achieved through legislation, not arm-twisting.
“It’s not the Reform who have created new avenues for religious-Jewish expression. It is the Supreme Court of the State of Israel,” he said, referring to recent decisions that paved the way for possible favorable legislation.
Regev charged that the minister’s remarks were “motivated by ideological objections to liberal movements.”
He predicted that “forcing his theology [on others] will undermine the role of the judiciary and further push Israel into a collision course with the Jewish people, the majority of whom are [religiously] liberal.”