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Defeat of ‘who is a Jew’ Measure is Attributed to Split in the Ranks of the Liberal Party Faction

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A sharp split within Likud’s Liberal Party faction was being credited–or blamed– for the 58-50 vote defeat of the controversial “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return in the Knesset Monday. The MKs were released from party discipline in the voting.

Six Likud Liberals voted with the opposition Labor Alignment to reject the measure which was strongly supported by Premier Menachem Begin and the religious parties in his coalition. Six others did not vote or absented themselves from the Knesset chamber during the balloting. Five Liberals supported the amendment as did one Labor MK, Aharon Nahmias.

A SOURCE OF BITTER DISPUTE

The amendment would have recognized as converts to Judaism only persons converted “according to halacha,” religious law as administered by Orthodox rabbis. It was brought to the Knesset at this time at the insistence of the Agudat Israel party.

The measure was a source of bitter dispute in Israel and among overseas Jews for many years. Reform and Conservative rabbinical and lay groups in the U.S. and elsewhere had been urging its defeat.

The Liberal MKs who voted with the opposition were Sarah Doron, Yitzhak Berman, Dan Tichon, Dror Zeigerman, Ariel Weinstein and Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich. Minister of Tourism Avraham Sharir and Commerce Minister Gideon Patt did not vote.

Knesset Speaker Menachem Savidor, Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai and MKs Pessah Grupper and Yehuda Perah were absent. Liberals who supported the amendment were Zvi Renner, Benny Shalita, Pinhas Goldstein, Eliezer Kulas and Justice Minister Moshe Nissim.

CONSERVATIVE GROUP HAILS DEFEAT

(The Knesset’s action was hailed in a statement released in New York yesterday by Marshall Wolke, president and Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of America, the congregational branch of Conservative Judaism in the U.S. The statement said:

(“We are pleased that the Knesset has defeated the divisive amendment to the Law of Return which would have excluded from recognition as Jews those converted halachichly but under non-Orthodox auspices. However, we note with concern that the margin of defeat was small and that this debate on the ‘Who is a Jew’ issue comes up regularly in the Knesset. We are distressed by these debates which politicize the term ‘halacha’. Unless they cease, irreparable injury will be done to the unity of the Jewish people.”)

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