Agudah leader offers mixed message on non-Orthodox

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PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Rabbi Yaacov Perlow, a prominent leader of Agudath Israel of America, has called for healing and dialogue between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Israelis.

But Perlow, addressing Agudah's 73rd national convention last week, also lashed out at what he called the "false ideology" of non-Orthodox Judaism.

His remarks came amid rising tensions among Jews both in Israel and the United States following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Perlow, who heads the Novominsker yeshiva in Boro Park, Brooklyn, and is widely respected by Chassidic and non-Chassidic Orthodox Jews, is one of five members of the Council of Torah Sages, the religious leadership of Agudath Israel, an organization representing the interests of the ultra-religious.

Perlow was the keynote speaker at the convention, which was held at the Parsippany Hilton Hotel. More than 3,000 constituents of Agudah gathered for the four-day event that began on Thanksgiving Day.

The American holiday celebrating religious freedom was pointedly ignored by the gathering of Charedi Jews, who feel it is "just too close to Christianity because it was Christians who first celebrated it," said Agudah spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran.

In his address, Perlow spoke of his pain over the assassination of Rabin by an Orthodox Jew, terming it a "chillul haShem (desecration of God's name) of cosmic proportions, as is the subsequent wave of defamation and hatred against religious people."

He condemned confessed assassin Yigal Amir's claim that God instructed him to kill Rabin, and said that the classification by some religious authorities in Israel of Rabin as a rodef, or pursuer, was wrong.

Jewish law permits a Jew to kill another person only if his life is being directly threatened by such a person, who is termed a rodef, he said.

"How can serious people, among them talmedei chachamim (wise students of Judaism) entertain such ideas?" asked Perlow.

"The moral foundations of our family have been shaken" by the assassination, he said. "There are times when inner peace is missing, when the very pillars of our holy community are shaken and under attack. I, for one, have no inner peace these days," Perlow said.

Perlow also said he is worried about the breach between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

"This is a serious problem," he said. "There is no relating between us in any way but for verbal stone-throwing. Our responses cannot be limited to ideological warfare."

Perlow prefaced his comments, however, with strong criticism of the non-Orthodox Jews who are campaigning for the government of Israel to recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism as legitimate.

"The forces of the left are conducting a concerted drive to erase the fundamental features of our religion," said Perlow in his speech.

The Reform movement is spearheading Operation Equality, whose goal is get the Israeli parliament to pass legislation that would would allow non-Orthodox rabbis to officiate at weddings and other life-cycle events. Only Orthodox rabbis are currently allowed to officiate.

A counter-campaign is being mounted by the Agudath Israel World Organization, and led by Agudath Israel of America President Rabbi Moshe Sherer.

It is "a battle of light and darkness, a battle of Jacob and Esau for the soul of Eretz Yisrael," Perlow said. "The kulturkampf raging in Israel today is for the very soul of our people, which wants to cling to some remainder of tradition."