NEW YORK (Jul. 16)
The Religious Zionists of America issued a strong defense here of the National Religious Party’s abstention in last week’s Knesset vote on the so-called “Who is a Jew?” bill. A statement issued in the name Rabbi Bernard A. Poupko, RZA president, declared that the NRP “will continue its never ending struggle for the supremacy of Torah in Israel” by “working within the government and within the mainstream of Israeli life in order to effectuate the necessary changes.”
The NRP, which like the RZA represents the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi movement, came under bitter criticism from right-wing Orthodox groups last week when it abstained almost en-bloc from voting on an Agudat Israel amendment to Israel’s Law of Return that would have made halachic (religious law) conversions mandatory for prospective immigrants. (See special news analysis on pg. 4). Only one of the NRP’s 12-man Knesset faction voted for the measure.
Rabbi Poupko’s statement characterized the “Who is a Jew?” issue as part of a general controversy over the status of religion in the State of Israel. “It has been and it continues to be the Mizrachi position that only conversions conducted in accordance with halacha should be recognized as valid,” he said. However, he continued, “Mizrachi would never allow itself to be bludgeoned by any pressures or forces into taking any action which would cause the fall of the coalition government.” The NRP is a partner in Premier Golda Meir’s coalition and its abstention on the Aguda bill which the government opposed, was in conformity with coalition discipline.
Rabbi Poupko praised Premier Meir for defending “the position of the NRP in Israel which is the position of Torah and Jewish law, to prevent civil marriages from taking place in Israel.” His reference was to the quashing by the Meir Government of a limited civil marriages bill proposed by the Independent Liberal Party. A vote on that bill was postponed until the Knesset reconvenes after its summer recess.