Reform, Conservative Leaders Concerned over Status of Non-orthodox Judaism in Israel Under Begin Reg

Leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism in America have indicated serious concern that the rights of non-Orthodox congregations in Israel will be further abridged under a Likud-led government headed by Menachem Begin. Expressions to that effect were voiced in the past few days by Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and Dr. Gerson D. Cohen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the academic institution of Conservative Judaism.

In a statement released today in advance of the 88th national convention of the CCAR, the rabbinical branch of Reform Judaism, to be held at Grossinger’s Hotel June 20-23; Rabbi Lelyveld urged Reform and Conservative Judaism to “stand together in defense of responsible Jewish pluralism. Our circle is large enough to take in all our fellows,” he said. “We must not allow extremists to place us…outside the circle of acceptable Jewish difference.” Rabbi Lelyveld said that he “joined wholeheartedly with my colleague, Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America (Conservative) in warning that if the Conservative and Reform movements allow themselves to be divided in their struggle for full recognition both in Israel and in the diaspora, they will be defeated by the extremists of the right.” Rabbi Rabinowitz made his remarks at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention last month.

Chancellor Cohen, addressing the annual dinner of the Synagogue Council of America here Thursday, called on Begin to commit Israel’s new government to protect the rights of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. He referred to reports that Begin would seek legislation drastically restricting the authority of Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel as the price of a coalition partnership with the religious parties.

“It would be a sad day for Israel and for world Jewry were the Israeli government, for whatever political advantage, to permit an Orthodox religious minority to suppress or to exercise a veto over other forms of religious expression. The new government must recognize the value of free competition in the cultural arena no less than it does in the commercial arena. Both our Jewish heritage and our American experience have taught us that authentic Judaism thrives best in an atmosphere of inquiry and experience.” Dr. Cohen said.

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