Shalit Children Registered As Jews; Controversy over Cabinet Ruling Mounts
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Shalit Children Registered As Jews; Controversy over Cabinet Ruling Mounts

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While the Government took steps last week to nullify a Supreme Court ruling that Israelis can have Jewish nationality without being Jewish by religion, an Israeli Naval officer had the satisfaction today of seeing his two native-born children registered as Jews even though their mother is not of the Jewish faith. Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s decision to amend the Law of Return was opposed by the two-man Haolam Hazeh faction. They introduced today a motion of no confidence which will be debated in the Knesset on Tuesday. The motion is not expected to receive more than a half dozen votes.

The two minor children of Lt. Commander Benjamin Shalit and his Scottish-born wife were officially designated Jewish by nationality by the population registrar in Haifa where the Shalit family makes its home. Previously, their birth certificates had stated “Jewish father, foreign mother” leaving the Israeli youngsters in a bureaucratic limbo as far as their national status was concerned. It was to rectify this that Commander Shalit sued the Government. He was upheld by a majority decision of the Israel Supreme Court. But that ruling aroused a storm of protest from the Israeli chief rabbinate and Orthodox circles here and abroad, forcing the Government to take quick steps to over-rule the court. The Orthodox insist that halacha–Jewish religious law–must apply in all matters of personal status. According to halacha, a person is Jewish only if born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism.

In order to appease the Orthodox and avert a threatened walk-out by the National Religious Party from the coalition government, the Cabinet last week agreed to initiate legislation to amend Israel’s Law of Return which will have the effect of nullifying the Supreme Court ruling. The amendment will extend equal rights to the non-Jewish spouses and children of immigrants but will preclude their being registered as Jews. However, the compromise worked out by Minister of Justice Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro and leaders of the NRP was not made retroactive to the Shalit case.


The controversy over the legal definition of a Jew continued unabated in Israel this weekend. Criticism of the Cabinet action came from a Poale Agudat Israel deputy, Rabbi Kalman Kahane, who asserted that the proposal to give partners of mixed marriages equal rights to Israeli citizenship with Jews would encourage mixed marriages. Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz of the same party agreed. Moshe Sneh, a Communist Party deputy, called the Cabinet action “a blow to democracy.” Supporters of the Haolam Hazeh faction staged a minor demonstration Thursday in Tel Aviv where the Cabinet met.

It was learned that Mapam Cabinet members voted against the proposed amendment, as did Moshe Kol of the Independent Liberals and two Liberal Ministers of the Gahal faction, Arye Dulczin and Elimelech Rimalt. The Independent Liberal executive decided to vote against the measure in Knesset if it is based on the principles approved by the Cabinet.

Moshe Shapiro, Interior Minister and National Religious Party leader, used the occasion of a report on the Cabinet action to his party’s executive to criticize Israel’s rabbinate. His complaint was aimed at instructions from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate–issued before the Cabinet action–to the Interior Ministry to ignore the Supreme Court ruling in registration procedures.


He declared with bitterness that “sometimes it seems” as if the Israeli rabbinate “thinks we live in a remote small township in Europe of many years ago. We have problems and we have a state and the rabbis should consult other people before making decisions.” He added that he had asked the Israeli rabbinate to make conversion to Judaism a simpler procedure and not to make “so many difficulties” for those willing to convert to Judaism. Some members of the party executive attacked him for criticizing the rabbinate.

In defending the Cabinet proposal, Minister Shapiro said on the radio that only an “ignoramus” could argue that the Cabinet had acted to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. He declared that the Supreme Court had held only that the instructions of the Interior Ministry on registration of applicants, requiring withholding of registration of an applicant as a Jew if he or she either had a non-Jewish mother or had not been converted to Judaism under Jewish religious law, were not binding in law. The Minister added that the Cabinet had acted to make such instructions law. The rabbinate last week issued an “isur Torah” a virtual religious ban, on anyone signing documents designating as Jewish a person who is not Jewish according to religious law.

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