The announcement by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the association of Conservative rabbis, that 51 members of Israel’s Knesset should consider themselves unwelcome at American Conservative synagogues as speakers or honorees was lauded today by a Reform leader as one that might be emulated by the Reform movement and denounced by an Orthodox rabbinical leader as “divisive political blackmail.”
The Conservative rabbinic action was taken in response to those Knesset members, mostly Likud and National Religious Party members, who voted to support changes in the Israeli Law of Return which would have discredited the validity of Conservative and Reform conversions of non-Orthodox Jews settling in Israel. The proposed change failed to become part of the Law of Return. (See story in May 13 Bulletin.)
The Reform leader, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), said that while the idea of a “blacklist” of Knesset members was “abhorent” to such a liberal movement as Reform, equally abhorent to Reform was the system in Israel “that relegates Reform and Conservative Jews to a second-class status in Jewish life.” He added that Israel’s Orthodox state-financed rabbinate also denied “full and equal rights to Reform rabbis and synagogues.”
He said the Conservative action had “at least the merit of serving notice that the demands of non-Orthodox Jewish religious movements for full equality in Israel is not a mere matter of rhetoric but rather represents a deeply-felt concern of the preponderant majority of American Jews.”
Rabbi Louis Bernstein, president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, which supports changes in the Law of Return, called the RA position, “degrading to the Jewish people and Israel,” an example of “single issue politics” which could lead to “dangerous consequences.”
He added that “the State of Israel cannot permit foreign groups of any persuasion to pressure it in such an unprecedented fashion.” He said “we are certain that even those in Israel’s government who oppose changing the Law of Return, will condemn this dangerous, divisive and unprecedented action.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.