Shamir: the Government is Trying to Create a Mechanism Involving All Strams of Judaism to Ease Tensi

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir disclosed here Tuesday that the government is trying to create a “consulting mechanism” involving the various streams in Judaism, as a means of mitigating tensions over who is a Jew.

In a speech to the Seventh International Congress of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, being held in Jerusalem, the Premier said this approach would not necessarily prevent further efforts to amend the Law of Return, but he hoped it could help underscore the factors that unite the Jewish people rather than the disputes and conflicts that divide them.

Aides to Shamir told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he was especially interested that his words reach a broad Jewish audience in the diaspora. Excerpts from his speech follow.

SEEKS BASLS OF COOPERATION

My hope as a Prime Minister is to find a basis of cooperation between all elements in Israel — the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox.

A profound misunderstanding has emerged in respect to the conversion problem. Therefore, let me state clearly that nobody has ever questioned the validity of any Jew — be he Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. There is simply no basis for the allegation that there are attempts to delegitimize any section of our people as a group or as individuals. Jews who are members of the Conservative movement or of the Reform movement and their children are warmly welcome in this country.

Questions have been raised — and they are not uncharacteristic of Jewish history — on the validity of some conversions. In my view, there has been considerable exaggeration on this point, and many of us would, for the time being, prefer not to have this subject raised at all.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that the Law of Return has, for 17 years, included a definition which in the view of part of our society needs clarification. This is the source of the legislative efforts by some parties in the Knesset.

It is my sincere desire to achieve on this question — as in so many other national questions — a consensus that will encompass Jews in our country and Jews living abroad. I can only hope that this will be possible.

That is why we established in January of this year a special ministerial committee, which is chaired by me and includes the Vice Premier, the Minister of Religious Affairs and Ministers representing the other parties in the coalition. The mandate of the commission is to examine the question of the conversion abroad of persons who come here on Aliya.

The commission was charged with the task of communicating with knowledgeable persons, both in Israel and in world Jewry.

As an interim report I can say that until now the committee and, in particular, a special sub-committee have met a great number of times and have conferred with scores of experts from many aspects of Jewish life.

In addition, we have held informal discussions with many personalities here and abroad. On my last visit to the United States I held a meeting with leaders of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform communities.

The ministerial committee consulted leaders of various organizations, academic personalities, legal experts from the United States, Europe and Israel. In the last month or two I received the leaders of the major Jewish organizations who came specially to present the views and sentiments of their communities.

“The committee has before it some suggestions that are legislative in nature. We have proposals either for the amendment of the Law of Return. or the Law of Registration. We have proposals to amend the law relating to the power of the Chief Rabbinate. There are proposals to preserve the existing status quo which, in itself, is somewhat vague, and we also have proposals for administrative procedures.

From the material studied by the committee, it seems that the differences between the extremes are rather big and even the more moderate views do not, as yet, offer the possibility of a solution that would satisfy all sides. Jewish history has shown that, in matters of religion, very few people would change their entrenched ideas.

POSSIBILITY OF A ‘CONSULTING MECHANISM’

Therefore, we are now looking into the possibility of creating some agreed consulting mechanism that would be widely recognized and supported. We realize, of course, that this will not, of itself, prevent some parties or individuals in the Knesset from continuing their legislative efforts to secure a Knesset majority for their viewpoint.

However, we shall go on with our work together with all individuals and Jewish organizations who are interested in finding an agreed approach and solution. I realize this may not be easy, but we will not give up hope.

I firmly believe that, despite the things that divide our people, there is much more that unites us and that, if we persevere and show tolerance for each other’s viewpoints, we will find an appropriate answer.

We are conscious of the fact that our present efforts — no matter how difficult and painful — will lay the foundation for a more united, a more understanding and more tolerant Jewish nation for the generations to come.

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