Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Chief Rabbi: Holocaust pales next to Reform

By Yossi Shalom and Shahar Ilan, Ha'aretz Correspondents

In an interview with Ha'aretz last night, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron reiterated the
views he expressed earlier in the day at a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council: "The Jewish
people, statistically, are being wiped out at a much greater pace and this is due to intermarriage,
which the Reform encourage and condone. We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust and do
everything we can to preserve the Jewish people."

Bakshi-Doron complained to Ha'aretz about what he described as an attempt by the Reform to
exploit his references to the Holocaust. "Tomorrow they'll be saying that we've permitted their

In fact, the Reform and Conservative movements were quick to respond yesterday.

The chairman of the Reform Rabbis Council in Israel, Meir Azari, described Bakshi-Doron's
comments as incitement to bloodshed and civil war. Rabbi Azari noted that there is an especially high
rate of assimilation in South America, despite the fact that the Reform movement is not very active
there. He lamented that the chief rabbis held contacts with the leaders of Iran and Sheikh Ahmad
Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, but are not willing to sit with Reform Jews. But Azari said he is
certain that "the walls of the religious councils will fall, just as the walls of the Kremlin did."

The leader of the Conservative movement in North America, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, played down the
chief rabbi's remarks, but expressed alarm about the religious legislation before the Knesset. He told
Ha'aretz last night that "The effort by the Orthodox establishment in Israel to pass the Religious
Councils bill is more serious than the comments of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron." The
implication of such legislation, he said, is that "those belonging to the Reform and Conservative
movements are not Jews." Rabbi Schorsch concluded: "The state of Israel is not an Orthodox

The council of the Chief Rabbinate was meeting yesterday in Migdal Ha'emek to discuss how to
prevent non-Orthodox Jews from making inroads in the country's religious councils. The Chief
Rabbinate's council, which met for the first time outside of Jerusalem, also heard Religious Affairs
Minister Eliyahu Suissa threaten to resign if he is forced to act against rabbinical instructions.

"I want freedom of religion in the state of Israel," Suissa said. "I will not implement even half a
measure if it contradicts the position of the rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate Council. If any conflict
arises, I will no longer be religious affairs minister."

Suissa also referred to the issue of non-Orthodox conversions, which an 11-judge panel of the High
Court will consider next month. He warned of a real danger that the Conservative and Reform
movements would seek to participate in choosing local rabbis and influence the selection of the chief
rabbis of Israeli cities.

Suissa said that "Perhaps, heaven forbid, they will then try to become the rabbis of cities or, heaven
forbid, will seek to sit around this table. We'll object as strongly as we can.