Labor Party Traded off Marriage Bill for Nrp Abstention on Conversion Law

The Israel Labor Party promised in writing that there would be no changes in Israel’s marriage and divorce laws until the end of the present Knesset term in 1973. The undertaking was given by Labor Party secretary general Aharon Yadlin in exchange for the National Religious Party’s abstention in yesterday’s Knesset vote on the halachic conversion bill, it was learned last night.

According to informed sources the NRP insisted on such an undertaking as a condition for its en bloc abstention on the conversion measure and interprets it as an assurance that the limited civil marriages bill introduced by Gideon Hausner of the Independent Liberal Party will not be brought to a vote this fall when the Knesset reconvenes after its summer recess. The Knesset presidium voted only last Tuesday to postpone the ILP measure until the fall session. A Labor Party source said at the time that a new postponement would not be sought in the fall because that would be “unfair tactics.”

The agreement between the NRP and the Labor Party was reached shortly before the Knesset voted 57-19 to kill an Agudat Israel measure to amend the Law of Return by specifying halachic conversions for prospective immigrants. Eleven of the 12-man NRP bloc in the Knesset abstained. The lone defector was Prof. Avner Sciaky, Deputy Education Minister, who voted for the amendment.

The NRP was under severe pressure from Orthodox elements here and abroad to support the Agudat Israel bill. Its dilemma was compounded when Israel’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic chief rabbis split over whether the Party could, in good conscience abstain, the former insisting it could not, the latter ruling that it could.

The NRP met in executive session until the early hours of yesterday morning to decide how its Knesset faction would vote. The party was seriously split, with Dr. Sciaky leading the elements which insisted that the party support the measure in defiance of coalition discipline.

During the meeting, Sciaky produced a letter from the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Isser Yehuda Unterman, exhorting the NRP to support the Agudat Israel bill. The meeting broke up for a time while delegations sought advice from other rabbinical sources. By midnight they had elicited five rabbinical opinions. Three, from Rabbis Unterman, Zevin and Yisraeli enjoined the NRP to vote for the bill. Two others, from Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, son of the late Chief Rabbi Kook and from Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, allowed abstention.

The split within the Chief Rabbinate on the issue caused considerable consternation and the NRP meeting grew tumultuous and almost violent when 1? resumed. The final decision was not made until yesterday afternoon when the agreement with the Labor Party was reached. Although the defeat of the Agudat Israel bill was a foregone conclusion, the Meir government attached grave importance to the NRP’s position. A party vote in favor of a measure strongly opposed by the government could have spelled the end of the coalition, Labor Party leaders warned.

The NRP leadership was bitter over Sciaky’s defection and some said after the vote that he would have to be ousted from the party. But what action if any will be taken against him remained a moot question today in view of his large Sephardic following. Observers here predicted that nothing would be done until the NRP’s internal elections this fall which will indicate the strength of the Sciaky faction. Meanwhile the fate of the limited civil marriages bill remains in doubt though the ILP is expected to fight for it.

NEXT STORY