Compromise Reached by Israel Cabinet on Who is Jewish; Seek Law of Return Change
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Compromise Reached by Israel Cabinet on Who is Jewish; Seek Law of Return Change

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After a five hour debate, the Cabinet appeared to have reached a compromise today in the controversy over who is entitled to be registered as Jewish by nationality. It decided, however, to propose legislation that will amend the Law of Return, governing the admission of Jewish immigrants to Israel, rather than the registration law.

Under the proposed legislation, the non-Jewish spouses and children of immigrants will receive the same privileges as Jews but will not be registered as such. The legislation would have the effect of meeting Orthodox demands for nullification of last week’s majority decision by the Israeli Supreme Court that Israelis may be registered as Jewish by nationality even if they are not Jews by religion. The Orthodox insist that persons can be registered only in accordance with halacha, Jewish religious law. which maintains that a persons is Jewish only if born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism.

The formula to meet the problem by amending the Law of Return was proposed by Minister of Justice Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro, of the Labor Alignment after a compromise was reached with the National Religious Party. It was approved by a majority vote and goes to a ministerial committee on legislation to be put into the form of a bill. It will be returned to the full cabinet for final approval and sent to the Knesset where it must pass three readings.


Legal authorities explained that the Law of Return rather than the registration law was selected for amendment because most cases involve immigrants of mixed marriages. It was not clear, however, whether the new formulation would apply automatically to the population registration law. The form in which it emerges from the ministerial committee might take account of this.

But whatever form it takes, it will not affect the new status of the children of Lt. Commander Benjamin Shalit of the Israel Navy, whom the Supreme Court ordered registered as Jews even though their mother is not Jewish and professes no religion. Under the compromise agreement, the amendment to the Law of Return will not be retroactive. Commander Shalit married his Scottish-born wife abroad. Their children were born in Israel and he sued the Government to have them registered as Jews after the Ministry of Interior refused to do so. The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Shalit precipitated a bitter outcry from the Chief Rabbinate and other Orthodox circles here and abroad. The National Religious Party threatened to walk out of the coalition unless nullifying legislation was initiated by the Government.

In a related decision today, the Cabinet appointed a special ministerial committee to look into the Rabbinate’s conversion procedures to see if they could not be speeded up. The committee consists of Minister of Justice Shapiro and the Ministers of Interior and Religious Affairs, Moshe Shapiro and Zerach Warhaftig, both of the NRP.


The proposed amendment to the Law of Return also stated that no person will be registered as Jewish who has converted to another faith even if born of a Jewish mother. Nor will non-Jewish spouses and children of new immigrants be accorded the same privileges as Jews if they are Jewish-born but converted to a different religion. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the term “Jew” shall not be applied to Jewish converts although the Orthodox adherents of religious law claim that such conversion counts for nothing and that a born Jew is always a Jew no matter what religion he professes.

It was hoped that today’s cabinet action will end, at least for the time being, the controversy over who is a Jew. No figure was given on the cabinet’s vote though it is known that the Mapam ministers voted against the compromise. The Cabinet defeated a proposal by Minister of Tourism Moshe Kol that the dispute be settled by eliminating the category of nationality from the population registry forms and individual identity cards.

(The Israel Government has been under severe pressure from Orthodox circles abroad to nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shalit case. Even as the cabinet convened on the issue, nine Orthodox groups in New York sent cables to President Zalman Shazar, Premier Golda Meir and Interior Minister Shapiro demanding that the Government repudiate “this false and dangerous definition of who is a Jew.” The Orthodox claimed that “millions” of American Jews sided with them on the issue. But there have been no pronouncements outside the Orthodox establishment to bear this out. Yesterday the central bodies of American Reform Judaism urged the Israel Government to reject the demands by the Orthodox leadership in Israel to “impose their interpretation of Judaism on the entire Jewish people.”)

(The cables sent today were signed by Agudath Harabanim. Agudath Haadmorim. Igud Arabanim, Lubavitch, Mizrachi Hapoel Hamizrachi, Agudath Israel, Vad Lechtzuk Hatorah, Vehayahaduth, and Young Israel.)

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