Knesset Passes Women’s Service Bill Agudists Voice Defiance
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Knesset Passes Women’s Service Bill Agudists Voice Defiance

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Agudah parties, through their press, today voiced their determination to continuing fighting the law to conscript religious women for non-military service which was passed by Parliament in the early hours of this morning.

The vote was 57 in favor, 15 against and five abstentions. The deputies of the coalition parties voted for the measure, including the Mizrachi and Poale Mizrachi. Voting against it were the Communists, Herut, Agudath, Poale Agudah and the Sneh faction of the Mapam. The main section of the Mapam Party abstained.

The decision to vote on the conscription measure and its companion piece of legislation, the bill on marriage and divorce, was taken shortly before midnight. The police were ordered to take drastic security precautions against possible demonstrations, but the surprise shift in the voting schedule foiled possible demonstrators.

The marriage and divorce measure, giving the rabbinical courts jurisdiction over these matters and putting the civilian courts in a position to back up the rabbinical rulings, was passed by an overwhelming vote. However, at one time Moshe Sharett, Acting Premier in the absence of David Ben Gurion, warned the Progressives who opposed the bill that if they voted against it the coalition might be smashed. As a result, one Progressive deputy voted against the bill, but Justice Minister Dr. Pinchas Rosen, leader of the party, abstained.

In an attempt to postpone action on the marriage and divorce bill, its opponents introduced 30 amendments.


Winding up the debate on the draft bill, Mr. Sharett expressed regret that “certain circles” fighting the bill took their battle overseas to other Jewish communities and turned the fight into a “smear” campaign against Israel, holding demonstrations in front of the Israel consulate in New York. Then, in an attack on the religious elements who claim that conscription of religious women is in violation of the Torah, the Acting Premier demanded to know where in the Torah there was such an injunction.

“Where is the law?” he asked. “If such a law is written somewhere, why is it kept a secret? There is no such law or such ruling or such regulation. The argument that the present law is immoral and indecent is void on any ground — there is no proof, only suspicions, “he charged.”Must the State of Israel be besmirched on the basis of mere suspicions? And since when are the rabbis the sole guardians of morality and decency?” he continued. “Aren’t we all, the entire House elected by the nation, every one of us individually guardians of the same morality?”

The fears of Orthodox Jewry, Mr. Sharett continued, are based on the passing of the present mode of life of a certain section of the population. Israel does not intend to disrupt that mode of life, which is breaking up of itself. The government will, he promised, do its utmost and will make all possible concessions to those who “truely and truthfully” adhere to such a way of life.


Minister of Religion Moshe Shapira, leader of the Mizrachi Laborites, explaining the position of the Mizrachi parties, said that they had seen certain “dangers” in the draft bill as it was originally proposed. After consultations with the Chief Rabbinate, he said, they had introduced amendments which would guarantee “purity, decency and honesty” in the implementation of the measure. On this basis they would vote for the bill. Pointing out that the Mizrachi and Poale Mizrachi had fought compulsory conscription of women, he pledged that they would continue the fight by all possible means — in Parliament and in the Cabinet — until victory was achieved.

Agudist deputies made fervent “last-minute” appeals against passage of the bill, which they said was “splitting Jewry and driving an arrow into the very heart of Judaism.” They rejected the accusations that they had carried on a “smear” campaign against Israel, but nevertheless threatened to continue their campaign “in the state and abroad” until the “ukase” was repealed. They pointed out that religious Jews had stood up to other forms of “compulsion” even going to their deaths in the flames of the Inquisition.

The bills calls for the assignment of women who are exempted from military duty for religious reasons to various social welfare, teaching and agricultural jobs in religious institutions, immigrant villages and agricultural settlements operated by religious movements. When the job to which these women are assigned is away from their homes, they will still be able to travel to their homes each evening after duty hours and sleep at home. The administration of the law is under the Labor Ministry, rather than the Defense Ministry.

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