Orthodox rabbi criticised for holocaust statements

AM – Friday, 20 April , 2007 08:26:00
Reporter: Matt Brown
TONY EASTLEY: It’s not every day a senior Jewish leader gets put in the same league as a holocaust denier, but that’s exactly what’s happened in Israel.

A former chief rabbi of Israel has been accused of inciting violence against Jews and blaming Jewish reformers for the holocaust.

Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief Orthodox rabbi, says the holocaust proved that reformers should not have been meddling with Judaism.

His remarks sparked an angry response from Israel’s Reform Movement, and now the police have been called in.

Middle East Correspondent Matt Brown reports from Jerusalem.

(Sound of a siren)

MATT BROWN: This is the most solemn week in Israel. As the siren sounds, people stop their cars in the middle of the road. On the footpaths, the crowds are absolutely motionless as a nation pauses to remember the six-million Jews who died in the holocaust.

Israel is dominated by Orthodox Jews, and they frequently clash with Jews from the Reform Movement, a group which, for example, advocates ordaining female rabbis.

The week of the holocaust commemoration is a time to forget those divisions, but then, Mordechai Eliyahu, the former Orthodox chief rabbi went on the air.

(Sound of the announcer asking a question)

The announcer asked him about the fate of the Jews killed in the holocaust. What was their sin?

(Sound of Mordechai Eliyahu speaking)

“It is not their fault” the rabbi responded, but then he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his rivals in the Reform Movement. He quoted a verse from the Torah, about fire coming from the sky and consuming the thorns in the fields. “The reformers started in Germany,” he said, and he went on, the holocaust proved the dangers of messing around with Judaism.

That brought a swift response from the Reform Movement.

ANAT HOFFMAN: It’s horrifying. You can’t say something more awful than that, that our chief rabbi is in sync with holocaust deniers.

MATT BROWN: Anat Hoffman, a senior member of the Reform Movement, says this has been a new low in the long history of abusing the memory of the holocaust, which known as the shoah in Hebrew.