Reform, Conservative Rabbis Urge Begin Not to Change Law of Return

A six-member delegation of Reform and Conservative rabbis and laymen who met with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin here Sunday urged him not to change the Law of Return rejecting conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis.

According to Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, one of the participants at the meeting, Begin said it was his personal conviction that the law should be changed to require conversions only according to halacha and his attitude was not just a party or a coalition commitment. Begin reportedly said if he could get enough support in the Knesset for a change he will introduce the necessary amendment.

Kelman said the one-hour meeting was “very cordial” and “reciprocally enlightening, not just a protocol meeting.” In addition to Kelman, the other members of the delegation were Rabbi Eli Pilchik, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinical organization; Rabbi Joseph Glazer, executive vice-president of the CCAR; Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbinical organization; Milton Perlmutter, a leading Reform layman; and Dr. Max M. Kampelman, a leading Conservative layman.

All were invited by Begin to come to Israel to further discuss this problem. Kelman said after-wards that they plan to go to Israel next month.

The delegation presented Begin with a statement affirming support for Israel but stressed that “any unilateral attempt” to change the 1970 agreement giving full rights to all persons converted to Judaism by rabbis of their communities “will not only be disruptive to harmony, but harmful to prospects for aliya.” The statement stressed that “The strength of the State of Israel is rooted in a united world Jewry. World Jewry is not a religious monolith.”

URGE RECOGNITION FOR CONSERVATIVE RABBIS

In a related development, representatives of the World Council of Synagogues, the international organization of Conservative Judaism, met separately with Begin last Sunday and expressed their concern about reports of concessions made by Begin to the Orthodox religious party which they explained appear to threaten the status of the Conservative movement in Israel.

Dr. Gerson D. Cohen, chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and honorary president and rabbi of the World Council of Synagogues, who served as spokesman for the delegation, assured Begin that Conservative Judaism has always been grounded on halacha and has been a major force in Zionism and subsequently in the support of the Jewish State.

Begin reportedly responded that he was aware of all that the Conservative movement was doing for Israel and indicated that the delegation’s request had merit.

The delegation, headed by David Zucker, president of the World Council, told him that the failure of the Orthodox religious community to recognize 26 Conservative-member congregations in Israel, or to grant equality to the Conservative rabbinate, which today has some 100 representatives living in Israel with their families, was a major impediment in the way of further immigration.

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