23 U.S. Jewish Organizations Urge Shamir to Spurn Deal Amending Law of Return
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23 U.S. Jewish Organizations Urge Shamir to Spurn Deal Amending Law of Return

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The leaders of 23 national Jewish organizations protested vigorously to Israel government leaders and key members of the Knesset this week against any political deal that would give the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel sole authority to determine the validity of conversions to Judaism performed outside Israel.

A cabled message warning that such a move “imperils the unity of the Jewish people” was signed by the heads of 21 religious and secular organizations in the United States. Separate protests were lodged by Hadassah and the Zionist Organization of America.

They were prompted by a report from Jerusalem last week that Premier Yitzhak Shamir gave his written promise to the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party last Tuesday to achieve within 60 days passage by the Knesset of an amendment to the Law of Return which would require overseas conversions to be approved by the Chief Rabbinate. (See JTA Daily News Bulletin, May 20).

Shamir’s pledge was reportedly in return for Shas’ promise to support Likud efforts to block the Labor Party from dissolving the Knesset and calling early elections over the issue of an international conference for Middle East peace which Labor supports and Likud opposes.


The cabled message was sent to Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and to eight Labor and Likud leaders in the Knesset. It stated: “We are profoundly disturbed by news reports that a political deal is being made to give the Orthodox Rabbinate the power to decide the legitimacy of conversions made abroad. The result would be to deny any spiritual validity to those who identify with the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements and thus to offend millions of Jews around the world.

“Any Knesset vote in support of the reported agreement between Prime Minister Shamir and Shas imperils the unity of the Jewish people, is contrary to the interests and welfare of world Jewry, and is bound to make Israel a force for division between the Jewish State and the Diaspora.

“There is still time to prevent this disaster from happening. We urge you to reject any action that would have the effect of amending the Law of Return.”


Ruth Popkin, national president of Hadassah, stated in separate letters to Shamir and Peres that “Hadassah believes that any action to amend the Law of Return threatens Jewish unity and weakens the sense of solidarity that binds the Jewish people to Israel.

“Any such action is a gross and unequivocal violation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence,” which “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex and guarantees ‘freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.'”

A statement released by the ZOA said: “The Zionist Organization of America reiterates its absolute rejection of any changes in the Law of Return as presently written. We believe that any change in this law will create serious consequences. ZOA is very concerned about such a possibility. We therefore urge that no legislation be adopted in Israel which would jeopardize the current status of the law.” The 21 organizations and their leaders who signed the cabled message are:

Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith: Nathan Perlmutter

Association of Reform Zionists of America: Rabbis Charle Kroloff and Eric Yoffie

B’nai B’rith International: Seymour Reich and Daniel Thursz

B’nai B’rith Women: Elaine Binder and Irma Gertler

Central Conference of American Rabbis: Rabbi Joseph Glaser

Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot: Lillian Kaplan and Rabbi Mordechai Liebling

Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion: Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk and Richard Scheuer

Labor Zionist Alliance: Rabbi Arthur Seltzer and Ezra Spicehandler

Na’amat USA: Shoshanna Ebstein and Gloria Elbling

National Committee for Labor Israel: Eliezer Rafaeli and Aaron Solomon

National Council of Jewish Women: Lenore Feldman and Dadie Perlov

National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods: Avrum Bondarin and Carl Burkons

National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods: Eleanor Schwartz and Dolores Wilkenfeld

Rabbinical Assembly: Rabbis Kassel Abelson and Wolfe Kelman

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association: Rabbi Joy Levitt

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: Rabbi Arthur Green

Union of American Hebrew Congregations: Charles Rothschild Jr., Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Rabbi Daniel Syme and Albert Vospan

United Synagogue: Jacob Stein

Women’s League for Conservative Judaism: Bernice Balter

Women’s League for Israel: Bernice Backon and Muriel Lunden

World Union for Progressive Judaism: Gerard Daniel.

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