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November 07, 1986 - Image 107

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-11-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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W. BLOOMFIELD

SOUTHFIELD

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LAKES CONDO

RANCH CONDO

Bloomfield
Hills
Schools. 3 bed-
rooms, study and 3
full baths. Generous
living and dining
room, 2 fireplaces,
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356-3663

Israeli Rabbis Defuse Explosive Situation

EDWIN BLACK

Special to the Jewish News

A

n explosive situation
was defused last week
when Rabbi Eliahu
Abergil, the ultra-Orthodox
chief rabbi of Jerusalem's
Baka district. signed an ac-
cord with Israel's Reform
movement which in essence
recognized Reform Judaism's
right to exist
at least in
Baka. In exchange, Reform
Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kellman
agreed to drop criminal
charges against Rabbi Aber-
gil lodged when the chief rab-
bi led a violent raid against
Weiman-Kellman's Reform
synagogue on Simchat lbrah
eve.
Rabbi Abergil*s handwrit-
ten declaration condemned
violence. apologized to the
Reform congregants. welcom-
ed all Jews to Israel regard-
less of their "different
opinions.'' and pledged "not
to interfere - with Reform ser-
vices in Baka. By agreement,
copies will be distributed "to
every mailbox in the neigh-
borhood.**
The latest chapter in Israeli
civil discord erupted sudden-
ly on Simchat Torah as
Reform Rabbi Levi Weiman-
Kellman was leading his con-
gregation of men and women
in traditional joyous dancing
with the IlDrah. Weiman-
Kellman*s Congregation Kol
Haneshama, comprised of
some 50 families drawn from
south Jerusalem. is tem-
porarily located in the gym of
the Baka community center
in south Jerusalem. Rabbi
Abergil, Baka's chief rabbi, an
official of the Chief Rab-
binate. has long agitated
against Kol Haneshama. ac-
cording to congregation
officials.
The climax to the strife
came when Rabbi Abergil
rallied his own ultra-Orth-
odox congregants in Baka to
demonstrate at what he
called "the whorehouse." He
then led a group of some 25
followers to Kol Haneshama
for the confrontation. "Aber-
gil just suddenly interrupted
as were dancing and demand-
ed to speak:' recounts Rabbi
Weiman-Kellman. "He called
us evil, corrupt and a whore-
house.- Rabbi Abergil ex-
plains, "I was unaccustomed
to seeing men and women
dancing together, and danc-
ing with the Ibrah. -
At one point, "a young man
tried to grab the lbrah away, -
remembers Rabbi Weiman-
Kellman, "and when he
couldn't, he and I struggled,
and he let go of the lbrah to
kick me. I was still holding
onto the Thrall, to prevent it
falling to the ground, while he
was still kicking me. - Later,
the police were summoned,
and Rabbi Abergil was charg-



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ed with felonious interference
with a worship service and
acts of violence.
The incident might have re-
mained just another act of
civil violence in Israel had
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mor-
dechai Eliahu himself not
commented on the affair over
Israel Radio by noting that
there is no freedom of wor-
ship" in Israel. Former Ash-
kenaz Chief Rabbi Shiomo

The latest chapter
in Israel's religious
strife came when
an ultra-Orthodox
rabbi led his
followers into the
Reform service.

Goren added that there might
be no problem at all if "Re-
forms would not insist on
calling themselves Jews. -
And Zevulun Hammer, Min-
ister of Religion. tried to
dismiss the incident as
"unimportant" because there
weren't enough Reform Jews
in Israel to matter.
Forces on both sides quick-
ly began escalating their
rhetoric and their determina-
tion to either persevere or
obstruct future Reform ser-
vices.
Baka suddenly became the
new war-cry of those seeking
a more democratic Israel, in-
cluding the freedom to wor-
ship. Spearheading the drive
is the fledgling Israel Move-
ment for Progressive Juda-
ism, the Reform movement in
Israel. Five thousand mem-
bers strong, their spokesman
is Uri Regev who was raised
secular, but who adopted the
Reform denomination after
visiting the U.S. "Only when
I saw Reform Judaism in
America," recalls Regev, "did
I realize there were more than
two options for a Jew: relig-
ious and secular. Among the
Reform in America, I saw a
vitality and intensity among
children and adults alike. I
was immediately drawn to it."
Regev was typical of the
masses of Israelis who have
been effectively forced away
from religion in the Jewish
State by an ultra-Orthodox
minority. Faced with the
choice of all or nothing, many
Israelis are compelled to
choose "nothing." But when
Regev tried, as many other
Israeli families have, to follow
Reform traditions, he found
religious discrimination.
Ironically, such discrimina-
tion is only directed against
Jews and not against the
myriad of other religious
groups populating Israel.
For example, Reform con-

gregations — there are 19 of
them countrywide — are
regularly evicted from their
premises, especially when the
property is owned by a
governmental or political en-
tity.
Unwilling to accept the
situation, Regev, an attorney,
filed a lawsuit four years ago
against the Rabbinate seek-
ing to overturn its prohibition
on Reform marriage cere-
monies and other Reform
practices. But that controver-
sial. litigation, still in Israeli
courts, has a tortuous future
before any denouement.
Regardless of any civil rul-
ing, however, the ultra-
Orthodox community here
will never accept Reform
Judaism. Rabbi Zalman
Quittner, personal assistant
to Ashkenaz Chief Rabbi
Avraham Shapira, expressed
the Orthodox view. "It isn't
that we don't recognize
Reform Jews as Jews, that is,
people born Jewish who later
joined the Reform move-
ment," explain Rabbi Quitt-
ner. "We just don't recognize
their rabbis, nor their hal-
achic actions. How can they
be rabbis when they don't
believe in the lbn Command-
ments. when they drive to
schul on shabbas, when they
eat hazer (pork). If they want
to start a new religion, and
not call themselves Jews,
they can do it. Fine. But it
that case, a new religion
needs no recognition from us
anyway."
When verbalized, Orthodox
intolerance can often seem
repugnant. But from the Or-
thodox view, the Jewish peo-
ple spent centuries striving to
maintain and adhere to
Judaic beliefs. lb do so re-
quired perseverance over
dispersion, occupation,
assimilation, and extermina-
tion. The price was not cheap,
and is measured in blood
among the generations. Now
the faithful have come to the
wellspring, to Israel. If it is
indeed a Jewish State — even
nominally, in their view — it
is a disavowal of Jewish
history to recast Judaism as
a mere shadow of its former
sense, which is what critics
assert Reform Judaism seeks
to dn.

Unwilling to see their quiet
neighborhood pulled into a
religious battle, community
organizers from the essential-
ly easygoing Sephardic Baka
district worked tirelessly to
defuse the conflict. Rabbi
Weiman-Kellman and Rabbi
Abergil both agreed to attend
a closed door negotiating ses-
sion. The press was bared, but
this reporter was allowed to
attend.

109

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