Rab­bis avoid call­ing Tree of Life a syn­a­gogue


Pitts­burgh and (left) fly­ers for vig­ils in the UK

Pitts­burgh na­tive Jessica Wein­berg Neiss told the vigil that her “lit­tle part of the world was ab­so­lutely torn apart”.

“Not only was Tree of Life in my neigh­bour­hood, it was part of my home. I grew up in that Shul, I was bat­mitz­vah’d there, I went to Sun­day and He­brew school there.

“The aw­ful man who mur­dered eleven peo­ple in the build­ing that I know and love — my home has been vi­o­lated. He has ripped open and de­filed my sa­cred space, and it will never be the same again.”

IS­RAEL’S CHIEF rab­bis drew a rare re­buke from Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu after they would not de­scribe the site of the Pitts­burgh shoot­ing as a syn­a­gogue.

Ashke­nazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and his Sephardi col­league Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef put out state­ments con­demn­ing the mur­ders and ex­press­ing their sol­i­dar­ity with Amer­i­can Jews, but both re­fused to call the Tree of Life a syn­a­gogue.

In an in­ter­view with the Makor Ris­hon web­site, Rabbi Lau re­peat­edly re­fused to be drawn on the mat­ter, de­scrib­ing it only as “a place which was con­sid­ered by the mur­derer to have a con­spic­u­ous Jewish iden­tity. A place with To­rah scrolls, Jews with tal­ithot and sid­durim. There are peo­ple there who came to seek the close­ness of God.” De­spite the in­ter­viewer’s per­sis­tent ques­tion­ing, he would not use the word “syn­a­gogue”.

In a sim­i­lar vein, Is­rael’s Charedi news­pa­pers re­ferred to it as “a Jewish cen­tre”.

The Is­raeli rab­bis’ stance — which is be­cause of the syn­a­gogue’s af­fil­i­a­tion with Con­ser­va­tive Ju­daism, whose kin­dred or­gan­i­sa­tion in Bri­tain is the Ma­sorti move­ment — an­gered many Jews around the world.

Their po­si­tion high­lighted a much deeper ten­sion be­tween the two larg- Is­rael’s Ashke­nazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, his Sephardi coun­ter­part

est Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the world: in Is­rael, where pro­gres­sive Jews are a small mi­nor­ity; and the United States, where they are a ma­jor­ity of Jews who are af­fil­i­ated with a syn­a­gogue iden­tify them­selves as Re­form or Con­ser­va­tive.

The pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing Rabbi Lau’s in­ter­view led to the Prime Min­is­ter’s in­ter­ven­tion — a rare move, be­cause Mr Ne­tanyahu is usu­ally care­ful not to say any­thing that could anger his Strictly Ortho­dox po­lit­i­cal al­lies.

In a short state­ment that did not men­tion the Chief Rabbi, Mr Ne­tanyahu said:

“Jews were killed in a syn­a­gogue. They were killed be­cause they are Jews. The lo­ca­tion was cho­sen be­cause it is a syn­a­gogue. We must never for­get that. We are one.”

Charedi ide­ol­ogy does not recog­nise the va­lid­ity of any non-Ortho­dox stream of Ju­daism. A Strictly Ortho­dox rabbi or pub­li­ca­tion would never re­fer to a pro­gres­sive Jewish “rabbi” or their places of prayer as syn­a­gogues, since do­ing so would con­tra­dict their be­lief that rab­bis and syn­a­gogues that do not per­form re­li­gious rit­ual ac­cord-

ing to the Ortho­dox in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Halachah — rab­bini­cal law — are hereti­cal.

Last year, un­der pres­sure from the Strictly Ortho­dox par­ties, Mr Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment aban­doned a plan to cre­ate a sep­a­rate prayer area by the Western Wall where pro­gres­sive streams of Ju­daism were to have of­fi­cial stand­ing.

That de­ci­sion was crit­i­cised by main­stream Amer­i­can Jewish lead­ers, who re­fused to meet the Prime Min­is­ter on their sub­se­quent vis­its to Is­rael.



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