Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira
Rabbi Yehoshua ShapiraChabad.org

Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, a leading national-religious rabbi, has declared war on what he says is a neo-Reform stream within the religious Zionist camp. “This justifies tearing the clothes [in mourning – ed.] and tearing apart the public,” he told an audience of religious youth from the Ezra movement a few weeks ago. A recording of his speech was made public Sunday by Kobi Nachshoni on Ynet.

Shapira belongs to the more strictly traditional stream within the national-religious movement, which has been dubbed Hardali -- an acronym formed from the Hebrew words meaning "Hareidi national-religious."

He cited recent Halachic [Jewish-legal] rulings allowing pregnancy out of wedlock and the activity of the feminist women’s group Kolech, as well as that of Hod, an organization of religious homosexuals.

Rabbi Shapira, who heads the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, hinted that the split between the National Union and the Jewish Home on the eve of the last national election reflected this spiritual divide.

A new Reformation

The religious-Zionist movement has many problems to contend with, Shapira said, “but the most difficult problem in my eyes in the Neo-Reform movement.” This new culture “challenges the G-dly nature of the Torah and its continuation in the Oral Law of our day, which is the authority of the rabbis to lay down Halacha [Jewish law] in practice, from the Shulchan Aruch [the primary book of Halacha, written by Rabbi Yosef Karo of Tzfat in 1565] to those who continue in its path in the present day.”

“To the best of my understanding, there is growing within us a new Reform movement – this is my opinion – and it has many of the characteristics of the first Reform,” he said.

It is hard to perceive this process, he said, because “it is done with kippahs, it is done by people some of whom are stricter about the mitzvot [religious commandments] than those who fight against them,” he explained. This problem, Shapira added, characterized the first Reform movement, too.

“The Neo-Reform movement touches upon two things,” Shapira said, “romance and the limits of Halacha, and these are two things that we must not touch at all.” Neo-Reformism “destabilizes the sanctity of the Jewish home and the sanctity of modesty and purity (tahara) in the Nation of Israel.”

Besides Kolech – a feminist women's group funded by the New Israel Fund – he mentioned a ruling which allowed co-ed activity in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, and “all of the permissions to marry without having children, not marry and have children,” as well as “[the subject of] homosexuality that is talked about so much.” The talk about homosexuality in itself constitutes hachtaat harabim (directing the public towards sin), he explained.

Homosexual conventions

Participation of rabbis in conventions held by homosexual religious people is wrong, he said. The attendance of a rabbi at such a meeting, Shapira explained, “gives the stamp of kashrut (kosherness) to abominations and to direction of the public towards sin, and shakes the foundations of the sanctity of the Jewish nation.”

Adding a Torah scroll at Shira Hadasha synagogue (Creative Commons).

The rabbi cited the synagogue “Shira Hadasha” in Jerusalem for straying “out of bounds” and said that the women who prayed there were not Orthodox. But that synagogue is not a special case, he added. Rather, it is part of “a huge system that is collapsing under our hands.”

Shira Hadasha, founded in 2001, is a feminist congregation where women read from the Torah alongside men.

Shapira said that while phenomena like these existed in the past, they were seen as manifestations of weakness, but these days “it has become more and more of an anti-rabbinical ideology; entire establishments are rising within it and operating and taking their places around us, and some of us are completely immersed in this.”

To make things better, Rabbi Shapira called for a new culture of “a passion of loving Hashem, fearing Hashem and following Hashem, that are manifested in every single mitzva.” This, he said, is lacking today in religious Zionism.

MK Orlev is 'shocked'

MK Zevulun Orlev of the Jewish Home said that he was “shocked” to hear Rabbi Shapira’s pronouncements and “very disappointed at his approach, which splits religious Zionism.” He called for the creation of a spiritual leadership “that will know how to fight with courage for the original positions of religious Zionism and will fight against secessionist and divisive approaches. This is an important hour in which the rabbis of religious Zionism will be tested,” he said.