Knesset Rejects Bill Declaring Bnei Israel As Full-fledged Jews

Israel’s Parliament rejected today a private members bill containing a formal declaration that the Bnei Israel community members were Jews in all respects. The exact Jewish status of Jewish immigrants from India has been a subject of controversy since the Indian Jews began coming to Israel a few years ago.

The bill, which was offered by deputy Emma Talmi of the leftist Mapam party, would subject to a year’s imprisonment and fine any marriage registrar refusing to perform a marriage between a Bnei Israelite and any other Israeli Jew. The effect would be to give legal sanction to a Chief Rabbinate ruling holding Bnei Israelites to be Jews under Israel’s laws of status and marriage which are under sole rabbinical Jurisdiction. Some local rabbis have disagreed with the ruling in specific cases.

Dr. Zorah Warhaftig, the Minister for Religious Affairs, opposed the bill. He told the Knesset that there was no doubt that the Bnei Israelites were Jews but that to put this into a law would be “discrimination” and “even insulting.” He also argued that since they were Jews, questions of their marriages and divorce were the exclusive province of the rabbinical courts and such Knesset legislation as the Talmi proposal would conflict with the law on the Jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts.

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