Israel’s Interior Minister Changes ‘who’s a Jew’ Directives

Moshe Shapiro, Israel’s new Minister of the Interior, today issued a directive cancelling the population registry regulations issued by his left-wing predecessor, which provoked the world-wide “Who is a Jew?” controversy in mid-1958.

Mr. Shapiro, a Mizrachi leader, ordered in a new directive that, hereafter, only persons with a Jewish mother or persons who undergo religious conversion may be registered as Jews. The directive, which became effective upon issuance, was sent to all population registry offices. It will affect some 350 pending applications, largely from persons who are neither converted to Judaism nor possessors of a Jewish mother–but who seek a “Jewish” listing in their identity cards.

The directive, the first public promulgation of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s new Government, was issued less than one week after Mr. Shapiro assumed his Ministry. It not only restores the status quo of March 1958, but it also further obliges each applicant to declare–when so asked–non-membership in any other faith. This clause was aimed at preventing listing of an Israeli as a Jew who, although having a Jewish mother, became baptized.

The new directive cancelled the earlier regulations issued by Mapam’s Israel Bar-Yehuda as Minister of the Interior, by which an Israeli could list himself as a Jew on his own declaration of non-membership in another religion.

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