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Orthodox Rabbis Differ with ZOA President over Emergency Visa Legislation

Herman L. Weisman, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said today that he still objects to measures intended to open America’s doors to large scale immigration by Soviet Jews and claimed that critics of his position “misunderstand it.” Weisman was commenting on the sharp criticism leveled against his stand today by two Orthodox leaders, Rabbi Bernard A. Poupko, president of the Religious Zionists of America and Rabbi Abraham Gross, president of the Rabbinical Alliance. Both rabbis, in separate statements, denounced Weisman’s July 15 statement urging Congress to drop proposed legislation for 30,000 emergency visas for Soviet Jews on grounds that it “can only divert attention from their primary demand to be permitted to go to Israel.” Rabbi Gross called Weisman’s statement “irresponsible” and “unrepresentative of Jewish opinion.” He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he had telegraphed Congressional sponsors and supporters of emergency visa legislation–Rep. Edward Koch (D., N. Y.) and Senators Clifford Case (R., N.J.), Jacob Javits (R., N.Y.) and Hubert Humphrey (D., Minn.)–urging them to continue their efforts. Rabbi Poupko called on Orthodox and Zionist organizations to rectify “the harmful effects of the Weisman statement” by informing Congressmen of their affirmation of the proposed legislation.

Weisman said, “The rabbis who criticize our position misunderstand it. This is not a policy dictated by the ZOA but a response to the hopes and desires of Soviet Jews themselves. Should it appear that any appreciable number of Soviet Jews express a wish to come to the U.S., I would be among the first to urge our government to lift any immigration restrictions. At the present time, however, it is neither realistic nor productive to support unproven propositions which serve only to divert attention from the basic issue–aliya for Soviet Jewry.” He added that “Such propositions, offered in light of the situation as it exists today, can be ultimately harmful to the forthright and courageous efforts of Soviet Jewry to seek to live as Jews in their historic homeland.” Rabbi Poupko maintained however that “It is regrettable, if not sinful, that an obstacle is being placed in the path of Jews.” He said “We are no less concerned than the ZOA about the needs of our Soviet brethren to live full Jewish lives in Israel, but their safety and security, indeed their physical survival, takes precedence over this noble aspiration.”

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