Reform, Conservative Leaders Deny Charge They ‘blackmail’ Israel on Who is a Jew Issue

Rabbi Louis Bernstein, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinic body in the United States, today accused leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements of trying to blackmail the Israeli people by implying that financial aid would be conditional upon Israel’s acceptance of their religious ideologies. The charge was vigorously denied by the leaders of the two non-Orthodox movements contacted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York.

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), said the charge was “irresponsible and Rabbi Bernstein should either produce the evidence or apologize to Conservative and Reform leaders.”

Rabbi Bernstein’s remarks were contained in his address at the opening of the RCA’s 38th annual national convention here. He charged that “the message and threats by the Conservative and Reform synagogues and rabbinic bodies to the political leadership in Israel implied that any change in the Law of Return on the question of “Who is a Jew’ would result in a diminution of financial aid to Israel and other boycotts.” He added that “these messages were published in the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers. including the insertion of a telegram to Shulamit Aloni,” a Cabinet Minister.

Rabbi Joseph B. Glazer, executive vice-president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic branch of Reform Judaism, called Rabbi Bernstein’s accusation “utterly false.” “deeply resented” and “disappointing in terms of what seems to be an attempt to twist what we are doing.” Rabbi Glazer said the Reform movement has been “extremely careful to avoid any kind of coercive element in our stand on the subject.”

Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and Rabbi Bernard Segal, executive director of the United Synagogue of America, the Conservative rabbinical and synagogue organizations, denied the charge of blackmail. They said Rabbi Bernstein was apparently referring to a telegram sent May 6 to the leaders of the three political parties in Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition government urging that a Law of Return not be changed since it would mean that Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and abroad would be classified as “second class” Jews.

The noted that the telegram warned that if these Jews became “second class” it would have a “deleterious effect on moral, political and financial support of Israel.” Rabbi Kelman said this statement was not intended to lessen support of Israel in any way. Rabbi Segal said this was not blackmail but a realistic appraisal of how some Jews might feel. The two Conservative leaders stressed that Conservative Jews have not been asked to withhold financial support but instead financial aid to Israel from the diaspora was increasing and the majority of the funds came from Reform and Conservative Jews. They said Rabbi Bernstein was reading something into the telegram that was not there. Rabbi Glazer told the JTA that a few people had advocated taking the course that Rabbi Bernstein has accused the Reform movement of taking but “we summarily and firmly rejected it,” he said.

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