Addressing Reform confab lands Neeman in trouble

JERUSALEM — The key Israeli trying to resolve the religious pluralism controversy has come under Orthodox criticism for addressing a conference of the Reform movement in Israel.

Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman told the Nov. 27 opening session of the annual convention of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism that the current conflict between the different streams of Judaism would be resolved "not through the courts or legislation in the Knesset, but through understanding."

Ne'eman, who heads a committee charged with finding a compromise to the religious pluralism controversy in Israel, said that all disputes between the various streams should be resolved according to halachah, or Jewish law.

Addressing the conference as "dear brothers," Ne'eman described the Reform movement's educational institutions as a "splendid educational achievement" and praised the Israeli branch of the movement for not having adopted some of the customs of its American counterpart.

In the past, Ne'eman has criticized American Reform Jewry's willingness to accept gay marriages and to have its rabbis officiate at intermarriages.

He appealed to the convention to adhere to halachah as the standard for resolving religious issues, saying that otherwise, "our children won't be able to marry your children and we will sow division and create separate communities."

Ne'eman's participation in the conference drew sharp criticism from ultra-religious circles.

Knesset member Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism, terming Ne'eman's remarks a "desecration of God's name," called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dismiss Ne'eman from the Cabinet.

Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush, also of United Torah Judaism, termed Ne'eman's appeal for unity a "slap in the face" to ultra-religious Jews.

Along with Ne'eman, Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Avraham Burg, Labor Knesset member Uzi Baram and Meretz Party leader Yossi Sarid addressed the Reform convention.

Other Labor and Likud legislators who initially said they would attend did not show up.