Helen Seidman Dead at 50

Helen Seidman, an American-born Israeli immigrant, whose battle 10 years ago to be recognized as a Jew after she was converted by a Reform rabbi rocked the religious establishment in Israel and almost caused a major crisis in the government of Premier Golda Meir, died Saturday of a stroke at the age of 50.

Mrs. Seidman, a Unitarian, come to Israel as a tourist in 1964 from Bethesda, Md. with her daughter from her first marriage and became enamored with the kibbutz way of life. She settled in Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza Strip where she met Benjamin Seidman, a Jew, and married him. Because she was a Unitarian, she and Seidman were wed in a proxy marriage in Mexico since the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel would not wed a Jew to a non-Jew.

Mrs. Seidman then underwent conversion in a ceremony performed by a Reform rabbi in Tel Aviv and the couple was re-wed by the Reform rabbi. When she applied to be registered as a Jew, the Interior Ministry refused to do so. The ensuing struggle for her to be recognized as a Jew rocked the Israeli religious and secular communities and produced a controversy on the issue of "Who is a Jew."

She appealed to the Supreme Court and before a decision was handed down which appeared would favor Mrs. Seidman, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then the chief army chaplain, convened a special court which converted her according to halacha. Thus, a political time bomb was defused. Mrs. Seidman was buried Sunday at Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

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