These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

An Ultra Orthodox Overreaction

Posted on December 17, 2012 by Adam L Masser

Tags: , , , , , ,

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, an Orthodox rabbi and the head of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva.  The prominent Zionist Orthodox rabbi  proposed re-evaluation of certain religious frameworks.  He is particularly focused on issues where ultra orthodox halachic rulings determine civil law in Israel.

In recent remarks, he said it is necessary “to re-examine the framework of rabbinical law so that Jewish communities abroad will be able to absorb more Jews who are not religiously observant.”

In a separate article published on his website, Cherlow described the effect of Israel’s policy among American Jews.  He wrote that American Jews feel “they are not wanted here: The religious movements to which they belong are not recognized and also those who are not affiliated with any stream of Judaism do not want to identify with a state where the Orthodox have a monopoly; their conversions are not recognized, nor are their prayers (Women of the Wall ) and so on.”

The response by conservative orthodox rabbis was immediate–Dov Halbertal, a prominent ultra-orthodox critic of Cherlow said Cherlow and his associates “are themselves Reform. They are a greater danger to the Jewish people than the Reform [movement],” he said. “These people are the real threat to religious Judaism and Judaism in the State of Israel.”

The ultra orthodox response to Cherlow’s statements demonstrates the contempt with which the they often view other streams of Judaism.  They equate dati leumi–or modern orthodox–with the reform movement.  Then, they reject it.  They outright dismiss the attempt to build a bridge to alienated and assimilated Jews.

Cherlow raises important issues in the relationship of the state of Israel to Jews everywhere.  The situation calls for real change.  It is the right of the ultra orthodox to consistently choose the strictest possible interpretation of halacha and apply it to their own lives. However, they should not impose those stringencies on all Jews by dictating the civil law of the State of Israel.

The ultra orthodox seem to have lost the sense that a “big tent” is valuble.  Halacha is not meant to be a straitjacket. Where viable halachic opinions are extant, it is absurd to apply the strictest opinion simply to cause exclusion.



Yair Ettinger, “Tzohar rabbis oppose recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish movements” Haaretz Online Edition, (Dec. 3, 2012) available at

A version of this post originally appeared on PostModox