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Tunisia Discusses Status of Jews; Prepares New Civil Rights Legislation

A major debate on the personal status of the Jews of Tunisia in relation to forthcoming legislation on civil rights took place here today at a meeting of a commission set up by the Tunisian Government to plan legislative reforms and to study Rabbinic jurisdiction in the country.

The meeting, at which these questions of basic interest to Tunisian Jewry were discussed, was held under the chairmanship of the Minister of Justice, Ahmed Mestiri. Members of the commission include Tunisian Chief Rabbi Moise Cohen, former Jewish member of the Tunisian Cabinet Albert Bessis, president of the Jewish community Elie Nataf, and a number of other prominent Jewish leaders.

The Minister of Justice stressed the intention of the government to introduce a civil rights code covering the entire population of Tunisia. However, he pointed out that the government does not plan to present the code as a “fait accompli.” but wants to work it out after consultations with representatives of various faiths and with respect for these religions.

The discussion today between the Minister and the Jewish leaders was conducted in a cordial atmosphere, with the Jewish leaders bringing out points which are of particular concern to the Jewish community. They emphasized that Tunisian Jewry always ordered its life according to the Mosaic code. They also stressed that in a number of Moslem countries punishment for crimes varied according to religious faiths of the criminals.

In the course of the discussion, it was recalled that a precedent was created by Napoleon who convened a Sanhedrin of French Jews with the result that the Jews were given equality of rights. However, it was pointed out that there was one fundamental difference between those times and today’s conference. Today’s consultations, it was stressed, preceded any decision on the part of the Tunisian Government. For this, the Jews said, the government should be complimented. It was emphasized that a solution to the problems which were posed at today’s meeting must be found rapidly.

The Minister of Justice asked the Jewish leaders a number of questions about the application of the Mosaic code to Jews in Israel and those in the United States. After this information was given to the Minister, it was decided to hold another meeting for further discussion of the issues involved.

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