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August 25, 1989 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-25

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I ANALYSIS I

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r3)



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Israeli Court Decision
Opens Old Wounds

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Special to The Jewish News

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68

FRIDAY, AUGUST 25, 1989

T

he 'Who Is a Jew'
issue suddenly and
dramatically resurfac-
ed when Israel's highest court
ruled that the Interior
Ministry must register non-
Orthodox converts as Jewish
citizens.
Orthodox rabbis and politi-
cians immediately called for
new legislation that would
reverse the court's decision by
specifying that those accepted
as citizens under Israel's Law
of Return undergo Orthodox
conversion.
The same Orthodox leaders
welcomed a separate High
Court of Justice fuling in
which the justices flatly and
justices flatly and
unanimously rejected efforts
by non-Orthodox rabbis to
gain official status as mar-
riage registrars in Israel.
The ruling, on a case press-
ed by the Movement for Pro-
gressive Judaism, reaffirms
that marriages and other
matters of personal status re-
main exclusively in the hands
of Israel's Orthodox Chief
Rabbinate.
Although the two rulings
appear to be inconsistent,
they are different cases, ex-
plained Moshe Aumann, Con-
sul General of the Israel Em-
bassy in Washington. The
first ruling that non-
Orthodox converts are
registered as Jewish citizens
is an interpretation of the
Law of Return. "Since the law
doesn't specify [the type of
conversion necessary for
Jewish citizenship] the court
felt that it could sanction any
type," he said.
The second ruling, said
Aumann, upheld an existing
law that only authorizes Or-
thodox rabbis to perform
religious ceremonies. This
law, he said, is very specific;
allowing non-Orthodox rabbis
the right to perform religious
ceremonies would require a
reversal of the law.
While that ruling is being
seen as a setback for Reform
and Conservative rabbis, the
decision on the status of con-
verts is a major victory for
non-Orthodox movements,
who have fought efforts by the
Orthodox establishment in
Israel to invalidate their con-
version processes.
Although the court ruling
validates the non-Orthodox
conversions and automatical-
ly grants citizenship to those
converts, Minister of Interior
Arye Der'i and the Chief Rab-

binate have independently
taken steps to minimize the
practical effects of the ruling.
Der'i, a member of the
religious Shas Party, an-
nounced that neither he nor
the ministry's registering
clerk will sign official identi-
ty cards. He also instituted a
new identity card that states
that the information on "na-
tionality" and "personal
status" are not admissible as
evidence before the rabbinate.
He continued that the rab-
binate would use rabbinical
courts to determine an im-
migrant's status as a Jew. He
said that the rabbinate has
already been ignoring the
cards for the past few years.
chief rabbis
Israel's
Avraham Shapira and

Menadhem Elon
argued that his
colleague's
definitions for
conversion were
too loosely
applied.

Mordechai Eliahu effectively
backed Der'i's steps by an-
nouncing that they have in-
formed all marriage
registrars and burial societies
not to depend on the identity
card as definitive proof that
the bearer is Jewish.
The court's 4-1 decision in
effect reaffirms its earlier rul-
ing in the case of Shoshana
Miller, a Reform convert who
in 1986 gained the right to be
registered as a Jew on her na-
tionality card.
Ina summation of the ma-
jority decision, the court
president, Justice Meir
Shamgar, said Israel's In-
terior Ministry had no right
by law to investigate the type
of conversion undergone by a
prospective immigrant.
A certificate of conversion
issued by any Jewish com-
munity abroad should be
satisfactory evidence for the
issuance of an identity card,
he said, provided there is no
suspicion that it was
fraudulent.
Summarizing his dissen-
ting opinion, the court's depu-
ty president, Menachem
Elon, argued that his col-
league's definitions for con-
version were too loosely ap-
plied. For instance, he asked,
what constitutes a "Jewish
community"?
In granting automatic
Israeli citizenship, the Law of
Return defines a Jew as "one
born of a Jewish mother or

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