With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon facing death threats from right-wing critics, Reform and Conservative leaders are rising to the defense of the Israeli ruler.
On Monday, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued a statement vehemently condemning Orthodox calls for violence against Sharon. “That these comments are made by religious leaders — by rabbis — make them even more repugnant,” Yoffie said. “We must not allow Jewish tradition to be usurped by fanatics who seek to use Judaism to justify nondefensive violence and bloodshed.”
Last week, in response to ultra-Orthodox rabbis advocating “death rituals” to hasten Sharon’s demise, Conservative movement leaders called on followers to recite a special Sabbath prayer for his well-being.
The Reform and Conservative efforts to counter violent anti-Sharon rhetoric come as the Knesset this week approved his plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four more in the West Bank. Thousands of right-wing opponents of the plan protested outside the Knesset, with many reportedly branding Sharon a traitor.
Earlier this year the head of the Shin Bet told the Knesset that opponents were prepared to take violent action to stop Sharon from implementing his plan. In the past week, Labor opposition leader Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that Israel faced a repeat of the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin’s son, Yuval, sounded a similar alarm Tuesday during a ceremony commemorating the ninth anniversary of his father’s assassination, Ha’aretz reported.
In his statement, Yoffie invoked Rabin’s assassination, saying his movement would not “remain silent” this time. The Reform leader criticized one rabbi, Yosef Dayan, who declared on Israeli television that he wished for Sharon’s death and said that he was prepared to place a death curse on Sharon. Yoffie also noted that “the rabbi of Jerusalem’s old city, Avigdor Neventzal, said that anyone who gave up part of Israel was open to a din rodef, a religious license for a Jew to kill another Jew.”
Conservative rabbis have attempted to counter such anti-Sharon rituals with a new prayer, put together by The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Conservative Judaism’s Israeli arm, the Masorti Movement.
In part, the prayer reads: “We pray to you, Ribon HaOlam, Lord of the Universe, to nullify the actions and words of those spewing hatred against the prime minister, rupturing the fabric of Israeli society.”
A quick Forward survey of Conservative rabbis around the country found that they unaware of the new prayer, didn’t have time to recite it during services or felt it was too political to be read from the pulpit.
“What I prefer to do as a rabbi is to teach and present positions,” said Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, who noted that his congregations is split over the Gaza disengagement question. “Once you put it in the context of a prayer, it takes it out of debate and puts it on a different level.”