Mayor, distracted by well-wishers, didn’t take note of Orthodox rabbi’s tirade: aides

By Reuven Blau and Corinne Lestch (NY Daily News)
May 29, 2014

Mayor de Blasio was too distracted by well-wishers to listen when an Orthodox rabbi went on a tirade against reform and Conservative Judaism at a dinner Tuesday night, aides said.

De Blasio stayed mum after Yaakov Perlow, the leading rabbi of Agudath Israel of America — a huge backer of the mayor and host of the event — blasted the secular orientation of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

“They’ve become oblivious, and they’ve fallen into the pit of intermarriage and assimilation,” Perlow said, according to the Jewish Daily Forward. “They have no future, they almost have no present.”

"They will be relegated to the dustbins of Jewish history," he added.

But de Blasio, who spoke at the dinner, didn’t take issue with the comments. He couldn’t understand Perlow, who spoke with a heavy accent peppered with Yiddish and Hebrew, aides said Thursday. The aides added that de Blasio was also distracted by people at the dinner who were greeting him.

“The mayor came to thank the organization for its decades of service to the city,” said City Hall spokesman Phil Walzak. “Even though the mayor may not agree with every element of every speaker’s remarks at this event, he is still going to recognize the good work the group does every day.”

Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox group, has backed de Blasio since he was a city councilman in Brooklyn’s 39th District, which includes Park Slope and Borough Park.

He spoke fondly of the organization Tuesday, calling out some leaders by name, and crowed about expanding prekindergarten programs to be housed in a large swath of Orthodox yeshivas.

 Prominent rabbis blasted Perlow for his controversial denunciations of other Jewish denominations — but did not take issue with de Blasio’s failure to criticize Perlow.

“It’s not so much what the mayor did or didn’t do,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive director of the New York Board of Rabbis. “It’s the fact that a leader would make such disparaging comments about our people. The real problem is someone could make these kinds of statements to disparage 90% of the Jewish community.”

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner echoed the sentiment.

“In Judaism, it’s a considered a major transgression to publicly shame a person or a group of people,” said the conservative rabbi, who leads a temple in New Jersey. “To me, if the mayor would have publicly rebuked them, he would have put himself on the same level.”

Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, defended Perlow’s comments, saying the rabbi was not disparaging Jews who have followed “misguided paths.”

“Rabbi Perlow did not disparage fellow Jews, but rather theologies that claim to be faithful to the Jewish religious tradition but are not,” he wrote in an email. “What he addressed were ideas and beliefs, not innocent Jews who may have been misled by the Zeitgeist and its blandishments.

“Anyone who knows Rabbi Perlow knows well that he has only love and concern for all Jews, no matter what misguided paths they may have been led, sadly, to take,” he added.