Begin Emissary Tells Reform Rabbis to Protest Changes in Israel’s ‘law of Return’

Shmuel Katz, who is visiting the United States as a personal emissary of Israeli Premier Menachem Begin, indicated yesterday that he is personally on the side of religious pluralism in Israel and called on Reform movement rabbis to let their feelings against any possible revision of the Law of Return be heard by members of the Israeli Knesset.

Addressing the 88th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) at Grossinger’s Hotel here, Katz said he felt that the issue of the Law of Return “extends beyond the borders of Israel and deep into the diaspora.” According to Katz, Begin, in making his coalition agreements with the Orthodox parties, did not bind Likud to passage of the proposed revisions but promised only that the Premier would do his, best to see that they are passed.

Reform movement leaders have sharply attacked the threat of the Likud-religious parties coalition to revise the Law of Return in Israel to exclude Jews and their families who have been converted to Judaism by Conservative and Reform rabbis from the provisions of the current Law of Return.

Rabbi Ely E. Pilchik, newly elected president of the CCAR, explained that Likud has indicated in the formation of its coalition government that it will promise its religious partners to revise the present Law of Return to add the phrase “in accordance with halacha” which means according to the interpretation of the extreme Orthodox rabbinate. According to Katz the Likud agreement does not mean such legislation will be passed. He indicated that not everyone in Likud was in favor of the revision.

Meanwhile, Reform Jewish leaders said “We are grasping the extended hand of the Conservative rabbis who have expressed solidarity with us in this fight.”

SEES LITTLE PROGRESS THIS YEAR

Katz, who returns to Israel tomorrow after a three-week visit to the United States, also spoke yesterday to the executive council of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbinic body. But he told them he was not optimistic that much progress could be made toward religious pluralism in Israel this year. He pledged that he will tell Begin that there should not be a lessening of support by the Israeli government for the new school in the French Hill section of Jerusalem established last fall which reflects the principles of religious diversity and pluralism in line with the views of Conservative and Reform Judaism.

“Education should not be a divisive influence in Israel,” Katz said. “I will convey this sentiment to Zevulun Hammer, the National Religious Party member of the new Cabinet holding the Education Ministry post. And if he resists, I will make strong representations to the Prime Minister and ask the entire Cabinet to reconsider Mr. Hammer’s position.

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