Ben Gurion, Religious Leaders Renew Talks on Identity Card Issue
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Ben Gurion, Religious Leaders Renew Talks on Identity Card Issue

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Renewed efforts to solve the identity card issue which resulted in the resignation from the Israel Cabinet of the Ministers representing the National Religious Party were started here today by Premier David Ben Gurion, while the issue, involving the definition of a Jew, was under debate in the Israel Parliament.

According to informed sources, signs of progress were to be detected after lengthy talks which Mr. Ben Gurion held separately today with Moshe Shapiro, the former Minister of Religions, and Zorach Warhaftig, ex-Deputy Minister of Religions. Talks with leaders of the Religious Party will be continued by Mr. Ben Gurion tomorrow and Friday, in the hope of finding a solution before the Parliamentary debate is resumed next Monday.

During the talks today, the Premier and Mr. Shapiro offered various formulations of “who is a Jew, ” in the hopes of arriving at a mutually acceptable definition. While none of the formulas mentioned by either side was acceptable to the other, some of the proposals raised “may serve as a basis for further attempts of working and of bridging the gap” between the opposing views, informed sources Indicated.


Meanwhile, Israel Bar Yehuda, Minister of the Interior, addressing Parliament today, defended the disputed principle of self-identification as a Jew any Israeli citizen. He told the Knesset that this principle has been accepted repeatedly by the Chief Rabbinate.

Mr. Bar Yehuda, speaking as the first proponent for the government, appealed for reason rather than emotions and listed a series of previous registration regulations, including many issued while Mr. Shapiro was Interior Minister in which, he said, the applicant’s bona fide declaration of Jewishness had been accepted as sufficient for registration purposes.

The Interior Minister also cited numerous specific decisions during the periods when Mr. Shapiro or the General Zionist’s Israel Rokeach as Interior Ministers supported the same principle, including the regulation that new-born children of mixed marriages could be registered as Jews if both parents so declared in a written declaration.

Challenging the argument of religious leaders that rabbinates outside of Israel would consider Israel identity cards as false concerning the Jewishness of card holders, Mr. Bar Yehuda said that when Mr. Shapiro was Interior Minister several years ago, the Chief Rabbinate had already Issued instructions not to consider the Identity cards as sufficient evidence of Jewishness.

He also listed a long-standing regulation that persons ermine to Israel under the Law of Re turn–which permits every Jew to settle in Israel–should be considered as having by their immigration established prima facie evidence of their Jewishness.

Then he quoted from the Ministry’s files letters from the Chief Rabbinate advising that there was no objection that Jewish nationality should be registered on the identity card of a Catholic monk converted to Judaism and similarly in the case of a woman who was converted to Christianity, but whose Jewish nationality had been accepted by Mr. Shapira as Interior Minister for purposes of immigration.


Moshe Shapiro, who once served as Minister of the Interior and who resigned as Minister of Religions, warned the Knesset that the self-identification by any Israeli as a Jew would have the “direst repercussions” abroad. He urged cancellation of that right, adding that: “if introducing Christians into Jewry is more Important” to the Prime Minister “than the unity of the nation, then the choice is up to you.”

Joseph Burg, the resigning Minister of Posts, an Orthodox leader, made a strong emotional appeal for the cancellation of the registration and regulation on Jewish Identity, which he called “neither logical nor decent.” In a reference to mixed marriages among the immigrants, Dr. Burg said: “Should we for a small group, whose children’s registration as Jews is primarily involved, destroy the last barricade defending the Jewishness of tens of millions?”

The parties in the coalition hit back at the Religious speakers, charging them with insincerity. Mapai leader Avika Govrin challenged them to prove their interest in Israel’s future and welfare by returning In a compromise move.

Achdut Avodah’s Moshe Erem, hooting that the Religious Party was “importing Williamsburg to Israel”–reference to the ultra-Orthodox Jews to be found in the New York neighborhood–insisted that the Religious Party’s ministers had resigned under the pressure of the Neturei Karta zealots.

Moshe Riftin, a Mapam spokesman, expressed regret over the resignations, but said that “our tolerance has reached the limit. The secular population,” he continued, “will not tolerate coercion, neither the stoppage of traffic on the Sabbath or (a prohibition on) mixed bathing.” He asserted that he was proud of the fact that the government had provided for the religious needs of the observant, but demanded “mutual respect on matters of conscience.” At one point, he told the House: “We, too, have our faith.”


The Religious bloc received its first support today from its new allies–the opposition Herut and General Zionist parties. Mehahem Beigin, Herut leader, declared that a Jew is unable to disassociate religion from nationality–as can other nations. He specifically accused the Ben Gurion Government of taking to itself the prerogative of determining who is a Jew. He expressed fear that this might lead to a severing of ties with Jews overseas.

Peretz Bernstein, head of the General Zionists, took the position that the issue of identification of a Jew was a constitutional question which could not be resolved by an order from the Ministry of the Interior. He urged cancellation of the identify card regulations, restoration of the status quo and then appointment of a representative public committee to study the matter.

Meanwhile, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog intervened today with a public statement warning against the “grave dangers” inherent in the new regulations. The statement said that the government-accepted definition of a Jew “threatens the unity, the very existence of the nation, sows confusion and discord among the people.”

In view of the current controversy, the statement continued, Rabbi Herzog felt it his duty to reaffirm that a child born of a Christian mother is Christian and no human authority can transform a non-Jew into a Jew except through conversion.

(The Orthodox Beth Din of London sent a message today to the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem supporting the latter’s fight against the Ben Gurion Government’s decision to accept as the legal definition of a Jew any individual who so identifies himself. The message, signed by Ashkenazi and Sephardic Chief Rabbis Israel Brodie and Solomon Gaon, agreed with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate that if the government’s regulations were allowed to stand, they would “surely disrupt Jewish family life, encourage mixed marriages in Israel and the Diaspora, and threaten the historic continuity and solidarity of the Jewish nation.”)

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