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Reform Leader Compares Ultra-Orthodox Jews To Islamic Fundamentalists

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2001

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Reform Judaism’s Israel Religious Action  <br>Center, warned that the terrorist attacks of Sept  

Rabbi Uri  
Regev, director of Reform Judaism’s Israel Religious Action Center, warned that  
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 should make clear the need to fight against  
both Israeli and Palestinian “zealots.”




In a talk at  
Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Regev accused the Israeli Orthodox  
establishment of limiting religious freedom by fighting any attempt to grant  
state recognition to Reform and Conservative conversions or weddings. He also  
said that individual members of the Orthodox community had vandalized Reform  
and Conservative religious institutions.




In his talk,  
which was reported in the Cleveland Jewish News, Regev spoke about the  
dangers of Islamic terrorism. He added, “In Israel we have our own religious  
extremists who feel they have the right to rule other people’s lives, spreading  
the venom of fundamentalism.”




Regev asserted  
that some fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel have used hate-filled and  
violent language to describe liberal and secular Jews and their institutions.




“We need to  
band together to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli  
sides,” said Regev. “If we don’t learn from the Sept. 11 loss of human lives,  
we haven’t learned anything.”




leaders expressed outrage at being compared with Muslim extremists. “How can  
you even think about comparing a Jew of any sort to the Arabs who flew into the  
World Trade Center and killed 5,000 innocent people?” asked Rabbi Pesach  
Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. (Washington  
Jewish Week,
Oct. 25, 2001)




Rabbi Avi  
Shafran, spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, described accusations that  
fervently Orthodox Jews had vandalized institutions as “apocryphal.” He charged  
that Regev is “comparing murderers, hateful murderers, with people who simply  
want to maintain the standards of the Jewish religion with regard to things  
like conversion and Shabbat.”




The Jewish  
Telegraphic Agency reports that, “Regev clarified that he was not criticizing  
all of Orthodoxy or even all the fervently Orthodox as the Cleveland article  
implied. Still, he stands by his speech. ‘The point that I made is that we are  
waking up too late when we express our concern and outrage when the actual  
assault takes place,’ he said. ‘What we need is to understand that it’s the  
religious fundamentalist hate speech that precedes those outbursts that we  
should be more conscious of, concerned about addressing.’”


Regev said he was particularly concerned about a Sept. 7 article in the Israeli  
edition of the Orthodox newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, which described Reform  
and Conservative Jews as “destroyers of religion,” “criminals,” and “enemies of  




He also  
pointed to a sermon one of Israel’s chief rabbis, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doren, gave in  
1996, in which he defended the violence of the biblical zealot Pinchas, and  
suggested that bloodshed in defense of Judaism is “like a doctor who spreads  
blood with his scalpel, but saves the patient.”




Rabbi Eric  
Yoffie, who heads the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, rejected the  
comparison of ultra-Orthodox Jews with Islamic terrorists, but said that Rabbi  
Regev was right to speak out against “hate speech” in the Orthodox community.  
He declared that, “We need to confront our own fundamentalism in the Jewish  
community, just like every religious community does.”




Rabbi Yoffie  
also backed Regev’s more specific complaint about regular attacks on the Reform  
movement in the Orthodox press: “There are vicious attacks demonizing us as the  
devils of the Jewish world. These aren’t taken out of context. If you read the  
Orthodox press, this is a staple of what they publish. It’s deeply disturbing.”




Editorially, The  
(Oct. 26, 2001) noted that, “... to say that Judaism’s  
fundamentalists are far less prone to violence than the extremists of other  
faiths is not to say that there is no danger of violence. There have been  
enough cases of religiously inspired vandalism, assault and worse originating  
in the Orthodox community in recent years to warrant some serious  
soul-searching. To say that isn’t bigotry or Orthodox-bashing, but simply  


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