Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar became the center of controversy Thursday when it was revealed that he wrote a letter to fellow rabbis expressing concern over non-Orthodox Jewish movements' interference in Israeli policy. Foreign-based non-Orthodox “liberals and reformers” have brought Israel to a “spiritual low point,” he said.
The Diaspora movements involved in attempting to shape Israeli policy are “sticking their claws into those living in Zion and trying to dictate our lifestyle,” he charged. He accused the movement's representatives of “spreading fear,” in what may have been a reference to warnings that non-Orthodox support for Israel will wane if Israel adopts laws that recognize only traditional Jewish law (halacha) as valid.
Rabbi Amar said religious Jews should try to counter non-Orthodox movements' influence by exerting their own influence on policy-makers, and in addition, should pray that the movements' leaders “return to the right path.” Those seeking to implement non-Orthodox policies in Israel are “our brothers, our flesh and blood” despite their actions, he said.
Yizhar Hess of the Conservative movement said in response that Rabbi Amar's letter was “hateful.” The Conservative movement has a place in Israel as well as abroad, and has established “a real position” in Israeli society with “hundreds of communities across the country,” he said.
Orthodox leaders are the ones whose policies are a problem, he added, saying "the Orthodox monopoly will crash" because the traditional Jewish law it espouses "became irrelevant for a growing public."
Rabbi Amar had previously expressed concern over attempts by the United States-based Reform and Conservative movements to derail a proposed bill on conversions to Judaism in Israel. The bill would reduce bureaucracy for prospective converts. It also would put conversions under the auspices of the Orthodox Rabbinate, a clause that angered non-Orthodox movements.
Rabbi Amar said the clause was nothing new, as conversions in Israel have always been governed by the Rabbinate. He cast doubt on the cause for non-Orthodox intervention, noting that in Israel, “fewer than one percent” of Jewish residents are affiliated with a non-Orthodox movement. The bill would not affect conversions conducted abroad.
If Jews living abroad immigrate to Israel, they will be welcome to struggle to see their preferred policies implemented, he said.
Representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements had filed suit in the Supreme Court demanding that the state recognize non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. They agreed to put their suits on hold only after the bill regarding Orthodox conversions was tabled.