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Controversy over Religious Pluralism

The perennial controversy over religious pluralism in Israel and its political ramifications threatened to boil over this week as a new vote loomed in the Knesset on the divisive Who is a Jew amendment and the government was under orders by the Supreme Court to register as a Jew American immigrant Shoshana Miller who was converted by a Reform rabbi.

Yitzhak Peretz, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, resigned as Interior Minister rather than carry out the order. His resignation became effective Tuesday and the portfolio was taken over temporarily by Premier Yitzhak Shamir. Peretz threatened at a press conference Tuesday that Shas would quit the unity coalition government unless the issue is resolved within two weeks.

As the religious parties pressed for a speedy vote on the Who is a Jew amendment, Shamir tried to defuse the crisis. He said he supported the amendment in principle but thought it best not to raise the matter in the Knesset immediately. The amendment would, in effect, invalidate conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis. The Labor Party served notice that it will vote en bloc against it.

MOVE TO APPEASE ORTHODOX FACTIONS

Shamir, meanwhile, in an apparent move to appease the Orthodox factions, said that as acting Interior Minister, he would postpone registering Miller as a Jew for the time being. He reportedly was waiting for a legal opinion on whether the court order need be complied with within 30 days after it was issued.

Shamir said the best solution to the controversy would be an agreement among all three trends in Judaism–Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. He said he would support any attempt to reach such an understanding.

Peretz delivered one of the most extreme attacks ever on Reform Judaism Monday, charging that it was “destroying” Israel and the Jewish people.

Shamir is said to be hopeful of reaching a formula that would induce Peretz to return to the Interior Ministry. In the interim, he has appointed Ronni Milo, a Likud MK, to take direct charge of the Ministry.

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