16 Friday, September 14, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
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Who is a Jew?
BY IRVING GREENBERG
Special to The Jewish News
Good thru Sun. Sept. 16
REIKES TEMPERED GLASS
Colony • Durand • Mikasa • Oneida • Nikko • Plalygraff • Stanley Roberts • Johnson Bros. • Towle • Toscany • W.M. Faraver • etc., etc.. etc.
Two Nigerian businessmen meet with President Chaim Herzog of Israel
during a trade mission in August.
Friday, Sept. 14th
1:30-2:30 P. M .
Saturday, Sept. 15th
1-2 P.M., 3-4 P.M.
Sunday, Sept. 16th
1-2 P.M. & 3-4 P.M.
If the Who Is a Jew?" issue
were a commercial product, the
F.T.C. would have long ago slap-
ped a cease and desist order on the
purveyors on the grounds of con-
sumer fraud. The Orthodox are
campaigning to change a law
which currently puts them in
charge. They want to insert the
phrase al pi halacha (according to
Hlacha) into the Law of Return so
that all converts who would be
recognized as Jews (and auto-
matically gain citizenship under
the Law) would ;have to have been
converted in accordance with
But al pi halacha is exactly the
present condition in Israel. When
converts apply for Israeli citizen-
ship, an Orthodox rabbi checks
them out and their conversion
must meet Halachic standards.
Yet the Orthodox continue to
press for the amendment. The
issue has brought down govern-
ment in Israel; full page ads have
been taken out in the New York
Times. If it ain't broke, why are
they fixing it?
The answer is that this is a mat-
ter of internal Orthodox politics.
In the 1970s, when Russian Jews
were coming to Israel in large
numbers, the (Zionist) Orthodox
Rabbinate converted many of
their spouses. This was done in
accordance with Halachic proce-
dures, but they did not exclude
those people who they knew
would not observe all the laws of
Judaism after conversion. the
right-wing Orthodox who believe
that only observance will
preserve Judaism and feel less re-
spect for Clal Yisrael (the totality
of the Jewish people) objected to
these conversions. They proposed
to add the phrase al pi halacha to
the Law, thus implying that the
rabbinate was not following
Halachic standards by making
With the amendment, they
sought to present themselves as
true keeper of the Halacha
against the modern Orthodox. As
a side issue, they also sought to
exclude Conservative and Reform
conversions from Diaspora which
were accepted by the official Rab-
binate if the non-Orthodox Rabbis
had followed Halachic require-
ments such as circumcision and
immersion in a mikvah.
The upshot of all this was that
Orthodox political leverage in Is-
rael was to be exploited to tamper
with a law of historic significance
to adopt an amendmtn empty of
actual Halachic substance whose
only real effect would be to insult
non-Orthodox rabbis around the
world. This, of course, is folly, but
the inernal political urgencies
dictated going along rather than
arguing. After all, a camel is a
horse designed by a committee —
and no one expected the issue to
In the early years the response
of American Reform and Conser-
vative movements was temper-
ate, if not apathetic. Some —
most? — of their converts were
being accepted and -they did not
wat to embroil Israel in religious
controversies. In the past decade,
however, non-Orthodox Jews
haave been escalating the impor-
tance of the issue and their anger
at a possible change.
In the most recent public press
conference (Aug. 13) called by an
unprecedented coalition of 11
leading American Jewish organ-
izations, the language turned into
threats. A change in the law
Continued on Page 20