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Clash over a Reform Conversion: Interior Minister Peretz Resigns

Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz resigned Wednesday rather than confirm the Jewish identity of a person converted by a Reform rabbi.

In his letter of resignation to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, which he read to the media before reading it to the Knesset, Peretz, who heads the Orthodox Shas Party, denounced Reform conversions as a “travesty” that threatened “the survival of the Jewish people.”

According to the law, a Minister’s resignation takes effect 48 hour after it is submitted. Some coalition members, mainly Likud MKs, tried to persuade Peretz to withdraw his resignation, but he insisted his decision was final.

Nevertheless, Shas, with a four-man Knesset faction, is expected to remain in the unity coalition government, though without Cabinet representation.

Peretz resigned to avoid having to comply with a Supreme Court order to issue a Jewish identity card to Shoshana Miller, a recent immigrant from the U.S. who was converted to Judaism by an American Reform rabbi three years before she came to Israel.

When, on arrival here, she was denied the automatic citizenship to which every Jew is entitled, she took her case to the high court. Peretz, trying to avoid a hearing, agreed to register her as a Jew with the word “converted” stamped on her card. But the court rejected that subterfuge and it was criticized by many Orthodox rabbis on grounds that Jewish law forbids stigmatizing converts.

Peretz proposed other variations, including a law that would make it mandatory to include the “previous status” of the holder on identity cards. That too was rejected.

LETTER OF RESIGNATION

Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi, decided to resign apparently after consultation with the Torah sages of his party. Shas is regarded as the Sephardic equivalent of the Ashkenazic Agudat Israel party which is also governed by a council of sages.

His letter of resignation, to be formally presented probably at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, was widely broadcast by the time it was read to the Knesset. Peretz read it in reply to Shulamit Aloni of the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM) who asked him when he would abide by the Supreme Court ruling to register Miller as a Jew.

In the letter he refused to refer to the complainant by her Hebrew name, Shoshana, only as Susan. He said his conscience did not allow him to register her as a Jew, as ordered by the Supreme Court, because “Reform conversions are a travesty of Jewish law. They can only lead to intermarriage.” He made it clear he was referring to intermarriage between Jews converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis and those converted by Orthodox rabbis.

“In my entire period as Minister of the Interior, I never once registered a Reform convert as a Jew. Reform conversion is false. It is not conversion at all and it poses a threat to the survival of the Jewish people, a threat of intermarriage and assimilation,” Peretz’s letter said.

He expressed regret that the high court, in it ruling, was not aware of that danger. He also regretted that Likud had failed to live up to its promises on this issue, an apparent reference to the consistent failure of the religious parties to push through the Knesset the controversial “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return. The amendment would recognize as Jews only those converts converted by Orthodox rabbis.

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