Conservative Rabbi Differs with Colleagues on ‘who is a Jew’ Issue

Rabbi 1. Usher Kirshblum, spiritual leader of the Jewish Center of Kew Garden Hills and chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Tradition within the Rabbinical Assembly, became the first Conservative rabbi to state that “I cannot accept the logic of those of my colleagues who argue that by amending the Law of Return the existence of the Jewish people would be threatened.”

In a telegram to Israeli leaders, Kirshblum said he regretted “that so religious a subject” as “according to halacha” has “become a political football.” Continuing to deal with the issue, he reiterated “my strong feelings” that the adoption of the “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return “would unite rather than divide the Jewish people.

“We must painfully admit that there are quite a number of rabbis — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — who perform conversions in full violation of halacha. What confusions and heartaches such improper conversions cause to many a Jewish family in the United States!

“Do we wish to export this very aggravating problem to the State of Israel? Do we desire to dissever the Jewish community into two religious camps — where children of one camp will not be allowed to marry the children of the other camp?”

He concluded by stating: “Once and for all, let the Knesset put an end to this very acrimonious debate by amending the Law of Return. By doing so it will make sure that every convert accepted in Israel has entered the Jewish fold through the halachic process of conversion.”

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