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Reform Leader Warns Against Adopting ‘who is Jew’ Law

A leader of the Reform movement warned here today that if the Knesset was ever to pass the “Who is a Jew” bill, non-Orthodox aliya to Israel would dry up completely.

Gerard Daniel, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, was referring to the measure that would invalidate conversions by other than Orthodox rabbis by inserting the words’ “according to halacha” (religious law) into the Law of Return. The Law of Return automatically grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew settling in the country who desires it. Premier Menachem Begin has pledged to do everything in his power to see that the bill is adopted during his term in office. But when it was brought before the Knesset last March 21, it was defeated by a vote of 58-50.

Daniel spoke at a press conference preliminary to the 22nd international conference of the World Unior for Progressive Judaism which opens here tomorrow. The conference will be attended by 600 Reform Jews from Israel and 23 other countries. Although the “Who is a Jew” issue is not on the agenda, it is expected to figure in the deliberations this week, just as it has at previous conferences.

Another controversial issue is the decision by the Reform Movement in the United States to recognize as Jewish the offspring of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Until now, all three branches of Judaism–Reform, Conservative and Orthodox–have observed the tradition that Jewish identity is determined only by the mother.

Rabbi Mordechai Rotem, secretary general of the Reform movement in Israel, said in response to questions at today’s press conference that “The movement in Israel did not accept this (American) approach.” He said, “We shall have to deal with this development when the time comes. I presume that we shall treat each case on its merits and see to what extent the assumption that this person was raised as a Jew proves itself correct.” He added, “We shall not hesitate to send such persons to be converted — but not by Orthodox rabbis.”

REFORM COMMITTED TO ZIONISM

Daniel explained that the conference was taking place in Israel despite the discriminatory attitude of the authorities toward Reform Judaism “because for us the commitment to Zionism is total — so total that we are the only international Jewish organization, with most of its members living abroad, which has its headquarters in Israel.”

Rabbi Richard Hirsch, director of the World Union’s executive, complained that notwithstanding its accomplishments in recent years, the Reform movement in Israel has remained unrecognized. Rabbi Rotem noted that there are 17 Reform congregations in Israel, a youth movement and two kibbutzim, Yahel and Lotan.

The Reform leaders unveiled a new prayer book for Reform Jews in Israel which had been in preparation for more than 10 years by a special committee of Progressive rabbis here in cooperation with other scholars in the movement. It is called “Avoda Shebalev” (Service of the Heart). It is written in Hebrew and is based on traditional versions of prayers adapted to the contemporary ideology of Progressive Judaism. According to Rotem, the new prayer book allows worshippers “a sincere expression of the heart, rather than a meaningless recitation of lips and mouth.”

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