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Supreme Rabbinical Court Invalidates Orthodox Conversion of Mrs. Zeidmann

The conversion of American-born Helen Zeidmann according to Orthodox rites yesterday was declared invalid by the supreme rabbinical court here today after it came under sharp attack from two quarters for widely divergent reasons The supreme rabbinical court acted on the grounds that the three Orthodox rabbis who officiated at Mrs. Zeidmann’s second conversion did not comprise a properly constituted regional rabbinical court. It said, however, that for that reason it had rejected appeals against the conversion. One appeal was lodged by Rabbi Zvi Weinmann on behalf of other rabbis close to the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel who claimed that two of the three rabbis who performed the conversion were not qualified. The other appeal came from Shalom Cohen, a Knesset member representing the New Left Haolam Hazeh faction, who charged that the hasty conversion was a political expediency engineered by the government to avert a cabinet crisis. The supreme rabbinical court said that under the law it could only act on appeals against verdicts of properly constituted rabbinical regional courts. Mrs. Zeidmann, whose adopted Hebrew name is Rebecca, was originally converted to Judaism by a Reform rabbi in Tel Aviv. The Orthodox rabbinate refused to recognize the conversion and Mrs. Zeidmann filed suit in the Israel Supreme Court to force the Ministry of Interior to register her as a Jew by nationality. The Orthodox National Religious Party threatened to quit the coalition cabinet if the court validated the non-Orthodox conversion, as it was expected to do in a ruling that was to have been handed down today.

Under severe personal pressure from high government figures, including President Zalman Shazar, and reportedly, behind the scenes, Premier Golda Meir, Mrs. Zeidmann agreed yesterday to withdraw her suit and undergo an Orthodox conversion. It was performed by the Army’s chief chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, and two other military chaplains, all of them Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis alleged today that the latter two were not qualified and that Mrs. Zeidmann, a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz for the past few years, did not have sufficient preparation for admission to Judaism. Mr. Cohen declared on the other hand that Mrs. Zeidmann’s speedy conversion amounted to discrimination against other converts who are forced by the rabbinate to undergo a much more lengthy and rigorous procedure. Mrs. Zeidmann, he said, is no more Jewish today than she was after undergoing her original conversion by a Reform rabbi. He said the “blitz” conversion harmed both Reform and Orthodox Judaism because it was part of a “political deal” to mollify the NRP and keep it in the cabinet. Today’s events pointed to a sharp split within Orthodox ranks. The NRP strongly endorsed Mrs. Zeidmann’s second conversion. But its invalidation by the supreme rabbinical court indicated that the Israeli rabbinate was more disposed to the views of the extremist Agudat Israel which is not in the government.

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