Leading Charedi personality Rabbi Avraham Pinter has been revealed as the complainant to Boris Johnson’s office who prevented a woman Reform rabbi from saying kaddish at the Holocaust Memorial Day event at City Hall last week.
Rabbi Pinter, head of the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, said the participation of Rabbi Miriam Bayfield would have been an “insult” to the memory of his family. Rabbi Berger had been approached by the Mayor’s office to recite kaddish but was later asked to do a reading instead. Kaddish was not said at the ceremony, attended by a number of survivors.
“If Miriam Berger really was concerned about the survivors, her sensitivity would have extended to the feelings of the vast majority of the Jewish community who are either traditional or Orthodox,” Rabbi Pinter argued.
“I personally lost the majority of my family and my wife’s grandparents and seven of her siblings perished in the Holocaust. Such a radical deviation from the traditional way of saying kaddish would constitute an insult to their memory, and to what they died for.
“There has always been an understanding that the community was represented by the Chief Rabbi, or his representative, but in recent years this has been challenged by the Liberal and Reform movements.”
In his view, the HMD ceremony was not a Jewish or religious event and so kaddish was not an essential component. “If it becomes controversial it is preferable to omit it — if only to respect the memory of those who died.”
A Reform Movement spokesman criticised Rabbi Pinter for politicising a public ceremony. “Rabbi Berger was invited by City Hall to say kaddish. That an individual should take it upon themselves to put pressure on City Hall to revoke the invitation will, we believe, be regarded as unhelpful by almost the entire community.
“The suggestion that Orthodoxy speaks for the overwhelming majority of British Jews is no longer true.
“Indeed, the Liberal, Masorti and Reform communities are in positive and helpful discussion with the leadership of the United Synagogue about how representation can be shared in a way that reflects the change in composition of the community.”
The Reform Movement appreciated “that there are those for whom a Reform rabbi’s kaddish is not a valid kaddish. And the last thing that we would want is to inflict pain on Shoah survivors. This is why Rabbi Berger accepted a change in her task and did not comment until the issue was raised with her.
“But we cannot submit to blackmail. Has it occurred to the person concerned that there are survivors who are equally hurt by this intrusion of communal politics into a public ceremony and are deeply offended that the status of one of their rabbis has been questioned.”