Israel Cabinet Discusses “identity Card” Issue; Final Decision Today
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Israel Cabinet Discusses “identity Card” Issue; Final Decision Today

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A Cabinet discussion today centered about the “identity card” issue which has split the United Religious Party from the remaining parties in the Ben Gurion coalition government Apparently the Cabinet reached no decision.

Representatives of the coalition will meet tomorrow with representatives of the Religious Party in what is expected to be a decisive session. If they do not patch up differences, the Knesset will hold a full dress debate on the issues which split the Cabinet. At that time, former Minister for Religion Moshe Shapira and former Minister of Posts Joseph Burg are expected to make detailed statements on the reasons for their resignations.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shapira told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there is no prospect in sight for his party’s return to the Ben Gurion government unless the Ministry for Interior orders a revision in its latest directives for filling in identity cards. Religious leaders oppose the government’s allowing any applicant to be registered as a Jew by nationality upon his assertion that he is a Jew, or the registration of a child of non-Jewish parent or parents on the statement by the parents that the child is a Jew.


Mr. Shapira insisted that unless these directives go, the Religious Party will remain outside the government. It is understood that party leaders have already discussed plans for their action as an opposition party in the Knesset and for a major propaganda effort in Israel and the Jewish communities of the world to explain their differences with the Ben Gurion government.

Mr. Shapira’s statement today that the Ministry of Interior’s instructions threaten a division of the Jewish people in and out of Israel, echoed a statement by the Chief Rabbinate’s Council during the week-end that the new identity card regulations are in opposition to the laws of the Torah.

The eight-man body–consisting of Chief Rabbis Isaac Herzog and Yitzhak Nissim, the chief rabbis of the principal cities of Israel and two members of the rabbinical high court–charged that the regulations would bring confusion into Jewish family life, encourage mixed marriages abroad, and create in Israel a mixture of races which would not identity themselves with the historic character of the Jewish nation.

A separate statement by Rabbi Nissim challenged both the regulations and Premier Ben Gurion’s assertion that a definition of a Jew is contained in Psalm 15. This Psalm, the rabbi insisted, is only a part of the Torah, not the entire Jewish law.


During the week-end a new exchange of letters took place between Rabbi Judah L. Maimon, Israel’s first Minister of Religion, and Premier Ben Gurion. Rabbi Maimon appealed to the Premier not to compel him “to declare war on the leadership of the State, because of its decision.”

Rabbi Maimon’s second letter, which was given wide publicity by Israel’s radio and press, called the readiness of the Ben Gurion Government to accept such Jewish self-identification a decision “fraught with danger to the national existence, unity and integrity.” At the same time, it put the aged religious leader in agreement with Mr. Ben Gurion’s contention that Israel was never intended to be a theocratic state. Rabbi Maimon referred, however, to a section of the Declaration of Independence which declared that “Israel is a Jewish State, a continuation of our historic people, bound with tradition to our forefathers and with a unique Jewish character.”

Rabbi Maimon asserted he doubted whether the government was constitutionally empowered to decide who was a Jew and referred the Premier to high court decisions which, he said, established that this question could be determined only according to Jewish religious law.

Premier Ben Gurion’s second letter to Rabbi Maimon stressed the Prime Minister’s desire for peaceful relations between government and the religious element in Israel. The letter reportedly did not contain any new suggestions to solve the dispute over which the United Religious party has resigned from the coalition.

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