Peres Outlines Program for Full Religious Freedom in Israel

Shimon Peres, chairman of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, pledged here full support for “recognition of all streams of Judaism” in Israel and outlined a nine-point program for religious freedom to be presented at the Labor Party’s convention next June.

In a speech that won resounding applause from the 4000 delegates at the 55th biennial convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), Peres pledged that when the Labor Party returns to power in Israel, it would “make sure” that Israel’s religious institutions. “act within the framework of legal authority” and that “no pressure or coercion will be used to interfere.” with the public or private lives of Israel’s citizens.

The Israeli leader spoke after Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC, declared in an impassioned address that the Reform movement would intensify its demands for full religious equality in Israel.

Schindler disclosed that plans are now being drawn for a legal challenge to present restrictions against Reform rabbis in Israel. He said that two Reform rabbis in Israel were prepared to “risk indictment and imprisonment in a judicial test of Reform rabbinic rights in Israel, up to the Supreme Court if necessary.” He said that “The government of Israel — be it Likud or Labor — must know that we reject the refusal of Israeli religious authorities to permit Reform rabbis in Israel to marry or bury their congregants or to reach or accept converts.”

Schindler declared: “We reject the grievous wrong that Reform synagogues in Israel do not receive the support which the Ministry of Religious Affairs extends to Orthodox synagogues and even to churches. We regret this unconscionable and unjust and unholy conception of our status in the land. We Reform Jews will not be read out of the Jewish people. We refuse to be beggars at Jerusalem’s gates.”

ELEMENTS IN THE PROGRAM

Peres spelled out a detailed platform on “Religion and Society” which he said would be put to the Labor Party next June with his support and that of the party’s leadership. The statement opened with the declaration that Israel was “a lawful state which assures its citizens freedom of conscience and religion, religious tolerance and the satisfying of the entire variety and streams of both Jewish and non-Jewish religious needs and the prevention of religious or antireligious coercion.”

In addition to the pledge to recognize all streams of Judaism “by legislation when necessary,” and to prevent religious interference in the public or private lives of Israelis, the platform calls for:

Allocation of resources to “religious institutions of all movements within Judaism”; opposition to any change in the definition of “Jew” in the Law of Return, legislation to help solve problems of personal status that cause individual hardships or obstruct aliya; “easing and speeding up of the conversion process” for persons immigrating to Israel; requiring every Israeli girl to complete a period of service to the nation, with religious girls given assignments “adapted to suit their way of life”; and educational efforts in Israel and the diaspora to strengthen the understanding of the Jewish heritage and history, to encourage the acquisition of Hebrew and to teach the younger generation “the universal humanistic values of the Bible.”

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