TEL AVIV (Jul. 27)
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party proposed in the Knesset Monday an amendment to the Rabbinical Courts Law which would give the court sole authority to approve all conversions performed abroad.
The anticipated proposal prompted a delegation of American Jewish leaders to take an unscheduled trip to Israel Sunday to convey to Israeli officials and public their serious concern and opposition to the politization of the “Who is a Jew?” issue.
A leader of the delegation, Shoshana Cardin, president of the Council of Jewish Federations, said last week the series of amendments to Israeli laws dealing with converts would delegitimize millions of non-Orthodox American Jews.
Likud warned Shas Sunday night that it could not guarantee a majority vote to pass the proposal at the first introductory reading scheduled for Wednesday. Likud and Shas representatives are scheduled to meet again Monday night but a Shas spokesman indicated that they might withdraw the proposal by Wednesday if the legislation seemed doomed to failure.
EFFECT OF THE SHAS AMENDMENT
The “back door” Shas amendment would have the same effect as other proposed amendments to the Law of Return which would redefine “Who is a Jew?” The ultra-Orthodox have introduced numerous amendments to the Law of Return which would stipulate that a covert undergo a halachic conversion in order to qualify for automatic Israeli citizenship granted to all Jews on request.
Under Israeli law, an amendment that fails can only be reintroduced six months after the vote. The Shas amendment effectively keeps the issue on the political agenda after the failure of proposed amendments to the Law of Return on July 8.
American Jewish leaders have expressed their opposition to the issue becoming a political football rather than a religious dispute. Shas has threatened to pull out of the unity government and vote for early elections if Likud would not push the amendments through Knesset. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in an apparent capitulation to pressure from Shas, pledged several months ago to do all in his power to get the amendments passed.
Likud MKs almost unanimously supported amendments to the Law of Return on July 8 but the measure was narrowly defeated.