2,000 Soviet Emigres Will Arrive in Israel During Holiday Weekend

Soviet emigres will continue to arrive in Israel during Rosh Hashanah, according to a compromise worked out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The compromise, reached late Tuesday, addressed halachic objections raised by Peretz, who is strictly Orthodox and had complained that Rosh Hashanah and the Sabbath would be desecrated.

Originally, 3,500 Soviet olim were scheduled to arrive during the three-day holiday and Sabbath weekend.

Under the agreement, an unprecedented 2,000 Soviet emigres will be allowed to arrive in Israel on Thursday.

Because Absorption Ministry officials will not be on duty at Ben-Gurion Airport during Rosh Hashanah or Shabbat, the newcomers will be taken to a nearby army base, where they will stay until Saturday evening. Ministry officials will report to duty after the Sabbath ends.

The other 1,500 Soviet Jews who would have arrived here during the holiday weekend will be held at Eastern European transit centers until Saturday night before being transported to Israel for normal airport processing.

The dispute with Peretz had come up at a news conference Monday in Jerusalem, where Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz had said security dictated the speedy transfer of emigrants and that the holidays should not be allowed to interfere.

But the decision rested with Shamir, he had said.

EMOTIONAL VISIT TO BEN-GURION

Several months ago, the Sephardic chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliahu, ruled that Soviet Jews could leave the Soviet Union on Shabbat or holidays because their exodus was a form of pikuach nefesh, or saving of Jewish lives.

But Peretz argued that bringing Jews who had already left the Soviet Union and were waiting at transit centers in Europe could not be regarded as pikuach nefesh.

Officials dealing with their transportation countered that keeping the Soviet olim at the transit centers would pose a threat to their security.

On Monday, Shamir made a visit to Ben-Gurion Airport and told reporters that all 3,500 olim would arrive over the three days.

While reporters watched, Shamir, normally undemonstrative, was unable to contain his emotions as he watched a planeload of Soviet Jews descend from a plane and kiss the ground.

“This is the main force of the nation. It’s even more important than weapons,” the prime minister said.

In keeping with the welcome to the new olim and the effort to overcome decades of no religious observance in the Soviet Union, Religious Affairs Minister Avner Shaki has asked synagogues throughout Israel to admit new immigrants to Rosh Hashanah services without charge.

However, immigrant circles believe very few of the recent Soviet olim, perhaps only 10 percent, will attend, because of their total distance from religious observance of any kind.

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