Reform, Conservative Jews Urged to Lobby Israel on ‘who is a Jew’

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements have launched separate campaigns urging their adherents to petition Israeli leaders not to change the legal definition of who is Jewish.

Such a change is being demanded by Israel’s Orthodox political parties as the price of their participation in a coalition government led by either Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud or Shimon Peres’ Labor Party.

“This is not a minor concern that will be pushed aside or soon forgotten,” warned nearly 200 members of the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, meeting this weekend in Atlanta.

The warning was contained in a letter sent by the policy-making body of Reform Judaism’s lay membership to Shamir, Peres and President Chaim Herzog.

The letter said any attempt to change Israeli law to invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis, as the Orthodox demand, is “certain to inflict lasting resentment on Reform and Conservative Jews throughout the world and deep divisions between Israel and the Diaspora.”

The UAHC is also urging rabbis at each of its 820-member synagogues to circulate the board’s statement in a petition to be sent to the Israeli leaders.

Conservative leaders made a similar call to their members at the recently completed convention of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y.

Their petition declares that the Conservative movement in the United States and Israel “will not stand by while political expediency dismantles the tradition of religious pluralism of our people and the democratic nature of the state of Israel.”

The Women’s League also called for the establishment of a Conservative political party in Israel to offset the Orthodox bloc’s strength.

Leaders of both movements will travel to Israel next Sunday to press their demands.

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