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Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Blames Reform Judaism for the Holocaust and Is Widely Decried

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2007

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who served as Israel’s Chief Sephardic rabbi for a decade, declared in an interview on a pirate ultra-Orthodox radio station called “The Voice of Truth” (Kol Ha’emet) that Reform Judaism was to blame for the Holocaust.  
“The Reformers started in Germany,” he declared. “Those redactors of the Jewish faith began in Germany. We learn from this that it is forbidden to attempt to change Judaism.” He charged that the Holocaust was divine punishment meted out to Jews as a result of the “sin” of Reform Judaism.  
In a front-page article in The Forward (May 14, 2007), Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, lamented that, “There is unfortunately nothing particularly novel about this obscenity. I heard this charge made from the pulpit of my Orthodox synagogue by a rabbi when I was a teenager, and all students of modern Jewish intellectual history and thought are aware that the Satmar rebbe issued this charge against Reform and secular Zionism in the years immediately after World War II. Indeed, it is commonplace enough that I might not have been moved to speak out were it not for a second incident that occurred at a memorial ceremony in Israel, in the coastal city of Hod Hasharon.”  
There, on Israel’s Memorial Day, an invitation was extended to Rabbi Michael Boyden to chant the traditional Jewish prayer in memory of those soldiers who had sacrificed their lives. Boyden’s son Jonathan was killed in southern Lebanon in 1993 while participating in a rescue mission to save fellow soldiers who had come under fire.  
Rabbi Ellenson notes that, “The local Orthodox Sephardic synagogue threatened to disrupt the ceremony should Boyden — a member of Progressive Judaism, as the Reform movement is called in Israel — be identified as a rabbi at this event. When Boyden insisted that his title be acknowledged, the local secular council in charge of this event caved in to the threat and rescinded the invitation.”  
None of this, Rabbi Ellenson points out, is new. The story of Orthodox intolerance is a long one: “Indeed, if one considers an event such as the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn of Lemberg in 1848 by an ultra-Orthodox zealot — described in a recent brilliant monograph, ‘A Murder in Lemberg,’ by Michael Stanislawaski of Columbia University — the charges of Eliyahu and the protests of the Hol Hasharon Orthodox congregation seem mild. Nevertheless, these recent events pale only in comparison to extreme acts of violence — and these displays of unwarranted contempt and hatred demand a public response of condemnation on the part of my Orthodox colleagues.”  
Rabbi Ellenson points to examples of Orthodox intolerance through history. In July 1860, a group of zealous Orthodox youth in Amsterdam entered an assembly of the Shochrei Deah, a Reform group, and stoned the liberal rabbi Dr. M. Chronik, almost killing him. At that time, leading Orthodox rabbis condemned this action. Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer, then head of an Orthodox yeshiva in Hungary and later the founder of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, stated that the Amsterdam attack was “a profanation of God’s name.” He circulated a petition among Orthodox rabbis that stated: “We declare that this sad episode is opposed to the commandments of Judaism.”  
Thus far, Rabbi Ellenson reports, the Orthodox rabbinate has been silent with regard to Rabbi Eliyahu’s attack. He concludes: “Were Orthodox and other Jewish voices to be raised in protest against these obscene thoughts and deeds, it would truly be an act of decency that would sanctify God’s name.”  
Editorially, Washington Jewish Week (April 26, 2007) stated that, “Hateful speech seems to have no end ... To blame the Holocaust on any Jews is unconscionable. The Reform movement is no more responsible for the destruction of European Jewry than it is for the genocide now taking place in Darfur. ... The Talmud speaks against lashon hara, evil speech. A chasidic tale tells us that you can no more make amends for your hurtful words than you can collect the feathers from a pillow that has been cut open. Surely, Eliyahu knows that, too.”  
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a statement that, “The murder of more than six million of our brothers and sisters in the Holocaust was perpetrated ‘by the evil and immoral Nazi regime and its collaborators. The only ‘sin’ committed by the victims was being Jewish.”

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