American Reform Judaism Warns Reversal of Court Decision Will Create Havoc

The central bodies of Reform Judaism yesterday urged the government of Israel to reject demands by the Orthodox leadership in Israel for a law that would reverse the recent Israeli Supreme Court decision on the definition of a Jew. Declaring that “the demands of a vocal minority” are an exploitive “pretext to impose their interpretation of Judaism on the entire Jewish people,” the heads of the congregational, rabbinic and international arms of Reform Judaism warned in a cablegram to Israeli Premier Golda Meir that any governmental move to reverse the decision “would cause severe disruption in the ranks of the Jewish people everywhere.”

The Reform reaction was in response to pressure being exerted by the National Religious Party in Israel, which threatened to resign from the government coalition unless a law was introduced in the Parliament to upset the high court’s five-to-four ruling on Friday in favor of an Israeli Naval officer, Lt. Commander Benjamin Shalit, who wanted his children registered as Jews by nationality but without religious affiliation. According to halachah (Jewish religious law) a child is Jewish only if the mother is Jewish. The Orthodox group accepts only the halachah definition of who is a Jew. The cablegram to Mrs. Meir was signed by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Rabbi Jacob K. Shankman, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

A separate statement issued today by Rabbi Gittelsohn of Boston, noted: “recognizing that in halachah a child has always followed the religion of his mother, most members of the CCAR are convinced nonetheless, that this practice no longer meets the needs of Jews in the modern world. Though we are as determined as our Conservative and Orthodox colleagues to maintain the integrity and insure the survival of the Jewish people, we believe some flexibility is necessary and inevitable. While there may be some members of the CCAR who hold to halachah, the prevailing sentiment among my Reform colleagues would agree with a responsum by Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof, chairman of the CCAR committee on responses.”

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