U.S. Orthodox Rabbinical Group Opposes Knesset Bill on Conversions
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U.S. Orthodox Rabbinical Group Opposes Knesset Bill on Conversions

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An organization of American Orthodox rabbis said Thursday they “categorically oppose” a Knesset bill backed by Premier Yitzhak Shamir that would give the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or Rabbinical Courts exclusive right to approve converts in Israel, even though it would exclude conversion performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis.

A statement by The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (Agudas Harabonim) said the proposed legislation “does not solve the problem of ‘Mihu Yehudi” (Who is a Jew) and “inherently poses a great danger because we cannot be certain of future rabbis who will constitute the Rabbinical Courts. Perhaps Conservative or Reform rabbis will be appointed by the government,” the statement said.

It referred to a measure introduced in the Knesset by the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party to amend religious regulations dating from the British Mandate in Palestine. It would require that all converts to Judaism obtain the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s endorsement in order to be fully recognized as Jews in Israel.

Despite Shamir’s pledge of Likud support to Shas leader Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, the measure was defeated in the Knesset on July 8 by a vote of 60-56 with four MKs absent. Also defeated by a 62-53 margin was an amendment to the Law of Return introduced by the National Religious Party. Known as the “Who is a Jew?” amendment, it would define a Jew as a person born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism, with the words “according to halacha” (religious law) added. It would effectively invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

STATEMENT BY THE RABBIS

The statement by the Agudas Harabonim expressed distrust of Shamir’s motives and concern over inroads made by Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel.

It said: “We see the influence of Reform is growing daily in Israel and that the government has a listening ear to their opinion and their protest. In a time when many Reform temples have sprouted in Israel we are not certain that Reform and Conservative rabbis will not be recognized in the Rabbinical Court.

“We are almost certain that this resolution of Mr. Shamir is a device used to appease Rabbi Peretz whom he sorely needs in the Cabinet in his struggle for power with Shimon Peres. We are also certain that the same Reform people who did not allow the amendment of Givur Kahalacha’– converted according to the halacha–to the Law of Return for so many years, will disallow Shamir’s current resolution.”

The statement concluded by noting that “we feel inherently the resolution as it now stands is a potential danger to the religious community and should be rescinded.”

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