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December 09, 1988 - Image 106

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

N

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106

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 1988

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, now in the
news for his support of the current effort
to amend the Law of Return, has been call-
ing for such a change ever since the Shalit
case. Lubavitch is getting all of the atten-
tion now because they finally might have
the political clout in Israel to have the
amendment passed, but they have been
calling for the amendment for the last 18
years.

Did efforts continue to amend
the Law of Return?

The efforts have never really stopped.
When Menachem Begin came to power
in 1977, he brought with him a sympathy
toward religious tradition previously
unknown among Israeli heads of state. He
pledged his support of efforts to amend the
Law of Return to read "according to
Halachah," noting that he favored the
amendment on principle and not out of
political expediency. But when American
Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders
warned that such an amendment would
change the State of Israel from "the prin-
cipal force uniting the Jewish people" into
"the agent of its division," he agreed to
postpone the bill.
In the next few years, some Orthodox
members of Knesset from the National Re-
ligious Party and the Aguda advocated an
indirect approach to the Who Is A Jew
issue. Rather than amending the Law of
Return, they sought to amend the Rab-
binical Courts Law so as to allow those
courts to determine who is and who is not
a Jew. In that way the Rabbinical Courts
rather than the Interior Ministry could in-
validate non-Orthodox conversions.
But Lubavitch continued to push for
the direct approach of amending the Law
of Return.

What about all of the Soviet Jews
of questionable religious status?

SEVENTH HEAVEN

HUNTER'S SQUARE

What was the Orthodox reaction?

Mon.-Sat. 10-6

352-0030

The Orthodox rabbinate in Israel
handled these matters with a good bit of
diplomacy and delicacy, converting many of
the spouses without pressing hard on the
issue of a convert's need to accept all of the
mitzvot in the Torah.
Some of the more right-wing Orthodox
who, believing that these conversions were
less than proper, renewed the effort to
amend the Law of Return. To them, the
amendment would not be aimed so much
at Reform and Conservative rabbis in
America as the Zionist rabbinate in Israel.
In any event, in the last five years, the
issue came to a vote in the Knesset on
several occasions and was defeated by as
few as seven votes.

What was the most recent
court ruling?

The Reform movement recently decid-
ed to counter-attack through the legal
system. Shoshana Miller, an American
Reform convert, was denied an identity
card as a Jew by the Interior Ministry

when she came to settle in Israel. She ap-
pealed to the Supreme Court.
Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz (of the
Shas religious party) came up with his own
solution, announcing that all converts
would be designated as "Jew (convert)" on
their identity cards. Virtually everyone,
from secular to Orthodox, opposed this step.
In February of this year, the high court rul-
ed in favor of Miller, ordering the Interior
Ministry to register her as a Jew. Peretz
resigned in protest, and Miller soon re-
turned to the United States, having made
her point.

What is the current controversy
all about?

Several religious parties in Israel and,
most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe in
Brooklyn, are seeking to amend the Law
of Return to include the phrase "according

to Halachah" in describing converts, thus
invalidating the conversions performed by
non-Orthodox rabbis.
This effort, as described earlier, is
nothing new. What makes it a major issue
today is that, in the wake of last month's
national elections in Israel, the religious
parties might have the political clout to
have the amendment passed.

What can be done to avert
a catastrophe in Jewish life?

There are a number of logical solutions,
but logic and emotion don't always mix
well.
For instance, perhaps the most prac-
tical solution to the Who Is A Jew con-
troversy would be to revoke the Law of
Return and have immigrants processed in
the normal manner of countries, after ap-
plying for citizenship and waiting a given
amount of time. But since the Law of
Return is the raison d'etre of the State of
Israel, abolishing the law it is not the
answer.
Similarly, there are those who advocate
removing the word "Jew" from the legisla-
tive language or doing away with the Chief
Rabbinate all together.
But given the ongoing political and
religious tensions, these will not happen,
and perhaps the only way to deal with the
issue is to continue to avoid dealing with it.
The only positive aspect of this furor is
in the realization that Israel is the center
of the Jewish world. That is why Orthodox,
Conservative, Reform and secular Jews all
over the world grow impassioned over the
possibility of adding three words to a piece
of legislation in Jerusalem that would, in
practical terms, affect less than a dozen
people a year.
A true understanding by the Israelis of
the centrality of Israel to the Jews of the
world, and the desire on the part of the
Jewish people to remain as united as possi-
ble, may be the. best foundation for a possi-
ble solution.



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