World Conservative Movement Urges Begin Not to Capitulate to Aguda Religious Demands

The World Council of Synagogues, the international organization of Conservative Judaism, has expressed “deep concern” over the reported capitulation by Israel’s Premier-designate Menachem Begin to the religious demands of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel faction as the price for its agreement to participate in a Likud-led coalition government. The position of the WCS was stated in a resolution unanimously approved by its constituent bodies–the United Synagogue of America, the Rabbinical Assembly, the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and the United Synagogue of Israel.

The Conservative view was also conveyed directly to Shmuel Katz, a personal emissary of Begin, at a meeting here yesterday. Katz was noncommittal on the official stance of Likud but agreed to convey the message and the concern expressed by the WCS to Begin.

WHO IS A JEW QUESTION RAISED

The Conservative group specifically scored the reported acceptance by Begin of the principle that only conversions to Judaism performed by Orthodox rabbis will be recognized in Israel. It pointed out that conversions by Conservative rabbis are performed in accordance with halacha and that denial of their validity goes to the heart of the question of who is a Jew. The Conservatives warned that the Aguda position may affect not only conversions in Israel but could jeopardize conversions certified by Conservative rabbis in the U.S. and puts into question the validity of other rituals performed under Conservative auspices which deal with the status of the Jew.

The resolution denounced the use of halacha for political purposes. It said, in part, “We believe this move will alienate the vast majority of Jews, in Israel as well as in the diaspora, and we call upon Mr. Begin, who must now speak for all Israel, to resist the demands of the Agudat Israel. The new administration must recognize that Israel is the center of religious commitment for world Jewry and as such, it must not be allowed to speak only for a narrow minority….We hope for an administration that will give recognition to the principle of pluralistic religious expressions which emerge out of the historic Jewish experience. We are sure that the Agudat Israel and its philosophy is not representative of many, even in the Orthodox community. Moreover, we are certain that the Orthodox community will ultimately benefit by the sanction of religious pluralism in Israel.”

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