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Ultra-Orthodox Israeli minister slams Reform Judaism members

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s minister for religious affairs criticized Reform Judaism on Tuesday, saying he doesn’t consider members of the denomination to be Jews.

David Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party told Israel’s Army Radio Tuesday that these are “Jews who lost their way” and he hoped they would “return to the midst of Judaism according to Jewish law.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later issued a statement saying he rejects the minister’s “hurtful remarks about reform Judaism which do not reflect the position of the government.”

The comments by the religious affairs minister followed an Israeli Cabinet decision to reverse an initiative aimed at easing the conversion process to Judaism. It marked a blow to the previous government’s attempts to break the ultra-Orthodox monopoly in Israel and make Judaism more inclusive.

The more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism make up the largest denominations in the United States but they are mostly marginal in Israel, where religious life is dominated by a strict ultra-Orthodox establishment.

“I have spoken with minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as minister of religious affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said in the statement.

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