Conservative, Reform Delegation to Meet with Begin, Israeli Officials Next Week on Law of Return Iss

The Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform rabbinical association, reported today that a joint delegation will leave Sunday for Israel to meet Aug. 17 with Premier Menachem Begin and other government officials on the issue of a proposed amendment to Israel’s Law of Return.

A six-member delegation of Reform and Conservative rabbis and laymen met with Begin here July 24 during the Premier’s visit to the United States and urged him not to seek a change in the Law of Return in a way which would reject conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis. After the discussion, Begin invited the Conservative and Reform leaders to come to Israel to discuss the problem further, at a date to be determined.

The Premier told the delegation here that it was his personal conviction that the law should be amended to require conversions only “according to halacha,” and that he intended to exert his best efforts to obtain such an amendment. This was in accordance with a personal commitment he made to the National Religious Party and the Agudath Israel bloc among concessions made to obtain their participation in a 63-member Likud-led coalition government.

The delegation, which will be in Israel for 10 days, will meet with Begin, Interior Minister Yosef Burg of the NRP and other officials in Jerusalem for the discussion. Under the label of “Who is a Jew,” the matter has been in dispute in Israel for many years. On the question of Jewish identity, the Law of Return refers only to individuals who have a Jewish mother or who were converted to Judaism.

Orthodox elements have sought for years to have the words “according to halacha” added to the Law of Return. The Orthodox interpret the phrase to bar conversions under non-Orthodox auspices.

The delegation going to Israel is made up of Rabbi Eli Pilchik, CCAR president; Rabbi Joseph Glaser, CCAR executive vice-president; Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, RA president; and Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, RA executive vice-president.

They were members of the delegation which presented Begin here with a statement declaring that “any unilateral attempt” to change a 1970 agreement which in effect gave full rights under the Law of Return to all persons converted to Judaism by rabbis of their communities would be both “disruptive to harmony” and “harmful to prospects for aliya.” The statement also said world Jewry was “not a religious monolith.”

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