JERUSALEM (JTA) — The chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, called Reform Jews worse than Holocaust deniers because they reject traditional Jewish law.
Amar, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, in his weekly class last week referenced the Israel Supreme Court decision handed down hours earlier calling on the government to either reinstate the Western Wall agreement with non-Orthodox groups or explain why it should not force the state to honor the deal.
Last November, he had called Reform Jews “evil” in a newspaper interview.
“They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall],”Amar said during his lecture, first reported Tuesday on the haredi Orthodox news website Kikar HaShabbat. “But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy. They are trying to deceive and say that extremist haredim invented” separate prayer at the Western Wall.
“It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing. They shout about Holocaust deniers in Iran, but they deny more than Holocaust deniers. In all of the Mishna and Gemara there was a women’s section and a section for men in the Temple. Did we invent this?” he also said, referring to the Talmud.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Amar’s remarks, calling for respect for all Jews.
“All Jews are part of one family and the diversity of our people should always be respected. I categorically reject any attempt to delegitimize any part of the Jewish people,” he said.
“Although I defend Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s right to hold hateful, odious beliefs about me and the Reform Movement, what I find indefensible is that his salary is being paid by the Israeli government,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “On Monday a 39 year-old resident of the ultra-orthodox Bnai Brak was indicted for issuing death threats against me and my Israeli colleagues Rabbi Gilad Kariv and Anat Hoffman. Is anyone unclear as to where this man could have learned to hate Reform Jews?”
The hearing was in answer to a petition filed by the liberal Jewish movements in Israel and the Women of the Wall calling for the implementation of the agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections; it would be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.
In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The government’s haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Netanyahu to scrap the agreement.
In an interview with Israel Hayom newspaper last November, Amar made his remark about Reform Jews being evil also in reference to the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. In the same interview he called homosexuality an “abomination,” leading to protests outside his Jerusalem office. At least two complaints were filed with police, characterizing what he said as incitement to murder against homosexuals.