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Confrontation Between Religious, Secular Law: Supreme Court Orders Rabbinical Authorities to Stop in

The Supreme Court ordered the rabbinical authorities today to cease and desist from interfering with the formation of a government coalition. The order nisi, directed to the Chief Rabbinate Council and the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, gave those bodies two weeks to show cause why they should not reverse their ban on the National Religious Party from joining a coalition. The Supreme Court also issued a temporary injunction barring the rabbinical authorities from enforcing their ban pending the Court’s final decision in the matter.

Today’s action opened a dramatic confrontation between secular and religious law in Israel. According to Israeli law, the Supreme Court supercedes rabbinical courts. The order nisi was issued on a complaint by Shmuel Segal, a Tel Aviv attorney, who described himself as a “citizen who deals with public affairs.” Segal argued in his brief that entry to Israel is a political rather than a religious matter and therefore rabbinical bodies have no authority to interfere with it.

The Supreme Rabbinate Council ordered the NRP last month not to enter a coalition government which refused to amend the Law of Return so as to invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. In so doing, it forced the NRP to reject compromises on the Who is a Jew issue.

The Supreme Rabbinate Council reached its decision unanimously at a four-hour special session convened by Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren. It had the effect of forcing a break-off in coalition negotiations between the Labor Party and the NRP at a point when most observers were confident that a compromise would be reached. That development precipitated Israel’s current political crisis.

NRP ACTION UNCERTAIN

It was uncertain today what action the NRP would take in view of the Supreme Court’s order. It is believed that the religious party will do nothing during the two weeks pending a final decision. If the Court upholds its non-interference order, the NRP could conceivably enter a coalition government in compliance with the laws of the land without defying the rabbinical authorities.

It was not certain how those authorities would react to the Supreme Court’s ban. Avraham Verdiger, an MK of the Aguda bloc filed an urgent agenda motion in the Knesset today claiming that the Supreme Court was interfering with the work of the rabbinical courts.

But even before today’s Supreme Court order, efforts were continuing to bring the NRP into a Labor-led coalition. Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir and Labor MK Haim Zadok said last night that they would redouble their efforts in that direction.

The latest compromise offered by Labor on the Who is a Jew issue would have Premier Golda Meir announce in her first Knesset speech that the Interior Minister had informed her that he had not in the past and would not in the future register non-Jews as Jews. Once a new government is formed, a ministerial committee would be appointed to seek a permanent legal solution to the problem.

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