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Conservative, Reform Rabbis Oppose Change in Law of Return That Would Weaken Their Status in Israel

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The heads of both the Conservative and Reform rabbinical groups agreed here today that both organizations should oppose changes in Israel’s Law of Return that would further weaken the status of Conservative and Reform rabbis, particularly in the areas of conversion.

Speaking at a session of the 74th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Judah Nadich of New York, president of the Conservative RA, and Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Houston, Texas, president of the Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis, agreed that the Orthodox rab- binate in Israel was attempting to use the present Israeli internal political crisis to create a religious monopoly, excluding the Conservative and Reform rabbis. The present Israeli Law of Return automatically gives Israeli citizenship to all Jews emigrating to Israel, including those converted to Judaism. The proposed amendment would limit this citizenship and right of return to those converted only under Orthodox auspices.

Rabbi Nadich, stating that Conservative Judaism recognizes the validity of halacha, noted, however, that “the flaw lies in the fact that the Israel Orthodox establishment would place in their hands the right to determine whether conversion by a rabbi in the country, or outside of it, had actually converted the candidate in accordance with Jewish law. If the rabbi were not Orthodox, the fact would have at once stamped his conversion procedure as invalid. Our position continues to be–that the conversion be performed only in accordance with the Jewish law but let the action be decisive, not the doer of the action.”

Continuing, Rabbi Nadich declared: “But one thing we will never agree to–no one has the right to run us out of the halachic household of Judaism. We take no back seat on the vehicle carrying the defenders and promoters of traditional Judaism.”

DIASPORA WILL FIGHT CHANGES

Rabbi Kahn accused the Orthodox establishment in Israel of challenging “the right to be non-Orthodox and still be a member of the Jewish faith and people. That right has not been granted to our Reform and Conservative colleagues in Israel, and if the change proposed by the National Religious Party in Israel on the Law of Return is passed by the Knesset, that right will ultimately be denied in the diaspora. If it succeeds, it may ultimately, in effect, defrock us.”

He added. “Our converts will no longer be converts, our marriage contracts will not be evidence of valid marriages, nor will our religious divorces be valid divorces.” Rabbi Kahn asked his Orthodox colleagues: “Do you expect if you push hard enough and use the political power of the State of Israel to outlaw our rights, that Reform and Conservative Jews will return to Orthodoxy? Or are you trying to push us out from Jewish life?”

Rabbi Kahn asserted: “We are not going to disappear. We, too, want Israel, the people and the State, to survive. We are Jews, and those we have converted are Jews and will remain so. These attempts on your part will fragment our people all over the world, and bring harm to the State of Israel.”

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