TEL AVIV (Apr. 15)
A generation gap has developed within the National Religious Party whose younger elements see a need to ease the uncompromising orthodoxy of their elders. Young party leaders have been discussing the possibility of introducing civil marriage in Israel for persons who, for various reasons, cannot be married according to halacha, Jewish religious law. The idea is anathema to the party leadership. Interior Minister Joseph Burg complained recently that “apparently the original values now remain with the elders.” Minister for Religious Affairs Zerach Warhaftig accused the young party members of “undermining the very basis of the Jewish people’s unity.” But Rabbi Meir Cohen, head of Histadrut’s religious department, praised the youngsters. He welcomed their discussion of the subject of civil marriage and expressed the hope that they will have the courage to fight for the ideas that will “clear the polluted atmosphere” on the issue of state and religion.
The subject of civil marriage, and other religious reforms, was to have been discussed at the recent Labor Party convention but was deferred because Premier Golda Meir and other ministers feared it would offend their NRP coalition partners. But the Orthodox religious establishment is coming under increasing pressure to reform from within or face inevitable legislation that would end its exclusive control of religious and family matters in the state. The main issues are marriage and the conversion of non-Jewish spouses of immigrants. The Israeli rabbinate refuses to recognize conversions performed abroad by rabbis whose orthodoxy it questions. Its recent refusal to issue marriage licenses to two young Israelis because it considered them to be “illegitimate” according to religious law, aroused a wave of indignation in Israel and new demands for religious reforms.