MK David Rotem
MK David RotemFlash 90

MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu), issued a public apology Sunday for controversial comments he made regarding Reform Judaism during a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. 

Last Tuesday Rotem, who chairs the committee and is an Orthodox Jew, angered liberal Jews and particularly Reform Jewish leaders when he said that the Reform sect wasn't really "Jewish", but a "different religion". 

His comments triggered angry condemnation; Gilad Kariv, the head of the Reform movement in Israel, demanded that Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein reprimand Rotem.

"This assertion makes it impossible for Rotem to continue chairing discussions on issues such as conversion, who is a Jew and other matters concerning religion and state, and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora," Kariv challenged.

Most criticisms of Rotem's statements came from the US, where the Reform movement is much larger than it is in Israel.

Rick Jacobs, a top leader of the U.S. reform movement, accused Rotem of "delegitimizing a large American movement."

"Rotem does not understand what he is talking about and does not understand how serious his comments are," he said.

On Thursday, the MK took to Facebook to respond to his critics, saying that his comments had been misunderstood. He clarified that he had simply meant to express the opinion, held within mainstream Orthodox circles, that the Reform movement's interpretations of the Torah were inaccurate and thus do not represent authentic Judaism - but not to claim that Reform Jews did not qualify as "Jewish" according to Jewish law (halakha).

"Being a member of the Reform movement does not make anyone less Jewish," he wrote. "I never said that. As an Orthodox Jew I have theological differences with Reform's perspective, but I maintain the greatest respect for all Jews, regardless of their background or denomination." 

According to halakha, any person born to a Jewish mother is a Jew regardless of their religious practices (or lack thereof).

This morning, Rotem chose to reiterate that apology, opening the Committee's first session since the storm erupted by clarifying his position further and apologizing for any personal offense caused.

"I would like to begin this meeting with an apology," he began, noting that he was reading out from a written statement word-for-word "because it is important for me to be precise."

"Last week, at the end of a meeting which dealt with a bill proposed by MK Adi Kol, I expressed (sentiments) regarding Reform Judaism in a way that was wrong and mistaken, and as a result hurt many people.

"My intention was not to hurt any individual, or the Reform movement," he continued. "There were those who slanted my words in a direction which implied a lack of recognition of the Jewishness of Reform Jews - but this was not so."

"Reform Jews - indeed, anyone who is born from a Jewish mother - are considered a Jew for all intents and purpose.

"The intent of my words was (to express that) there is a difference of opinion between myself and the Reformers regarding the practical application of (the principles of) Judaism," he clarified.

Nevertheless, Rotem emphasized that as "the children of one religion", such differences of opinion should be dealt with via civilized dialogue, concluding: "I would once again like to extend my apologies to anyone who was hurt"