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Israel’s minister in charge of religious affairs has triggered controversy by suggesting that members of the world's largest Jewish denomination aren't really Jewish.
“The moment [a Reform Jew] doesn’t follow the Jewish religion, that’s a problem,” Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, a member of the Orthodox Mizrahi Shas party, told Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday. “I cannot say that he is Jewish. He is a Jew who has strayed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly rejected the remarks, saying they did not reflect the government's position.
“I have spoken with minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews, and that as minister of religious affairs he serves all of Israel’s citizens," Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.
At the heart of the ongoing tussle is Reform Judaism's attitude towards traditional Jewish law. The Reform movement teaches that the laws can be an inspiration but are no longer mandatory. It also accepts liberal values like gender equality and gay rights.
Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism, said he was dismayed but not surprised by Azoulay’s comments.
“Enough is enough. Reform Jews are fed up with this pattern of incitement and discrimination,” Kariv told NBC News.
He described the rift between Orthodox and Reform Jews as a matter of national security that was causing Israel to lose the support of many Jews in the U.S.