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Rabbinical Council President Calls for Federal Commission to Probe Synagogue Fires

An Orthodox Jewish leader called on United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark today to appoint a special Federal commission “to investigate and expose” forces behind recent synagogue fires and desecrations in New York and other cities. Rabbi Zev Segal, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, also urged Mr. Clark, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and other governors and municipal authorities to halt the attacks by finding and punishing the culprits.

In a statement, Rabbi Segal of Newark, N.J. noted that in New York City alone in recent weeks, 11 synagogues “have been put to fire with a large number of Torahs burned and deliberately desecrated. Reports from New Jersey and other parts of the country describe similar events.” he said. “We cannot view these events with equanimity or as isolated acts of vandalism…The occurrences of the last few weeks should be of concern not only to the Jewish community but to members of all faiths and should impress upon them that such attacks on Jewry are a signal for war on all religions.”

Rabbi Segal called on Orthodox congregations to observe a day of fasting and prayer on Tuesday, Dec. 31, to mourn the recent desecrations and burnings of synagogues and Torahs. The date is the 10th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Tevet which Orthodox Jews traditionally observe as a day of fasting and prayer.

A special committee established by Mayor Lindsay to probe racial and religious prejudice manifested during the recent teachers’ strike is broadening the scope of its inquiry to include the recent rash of synagogue burnings and desecrations. Justice Bernard Botein, chairman, said it would try to determine whether the burnings were part of the same picture that included distribution of anti-Semitic literature during the strike. Nineteen religious and civic organizations are cooperating with the committee, some by providing their own staffs.

Police meanwhile held two teenage boys suspected of setting the fire that gutted the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway. One was identified as Frank R. Reigier, 16, who lives near the Yeshiva. The other, 14, was not identified publicly because of his age. The arrests brought to 12 the number of boys taken into custody in connection with fires or desecration of Jewish religious schools and synagogues in Brooklyn and The Bronx during the past three months. Mayor Lindsay said he did not think the attacks were caused by Negro resentment of Jews stemming from the teachers’ strike. All 12 arrested were white and one was Jewish. Police said their questioning turned up no anti-Semitic motives. Sen. Jacob K. Javits of New York said he was in touch with Attorney General Clark to urge FBI intervention in the wave of synagogue arson. He said if Mr. Clark found existing law inapplicable, he would introduce new legislation mandating Federation intervention when a house of worship was threatened.

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