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Crisis Averted over the ‘who is a Jew’ Issue

December 1, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The government coalition leadership blocked presentation of the “Who is a Jew” amendment in the Knesset tonight, averting an immediate crisis over the bitterly controversial issue.

The amendment to the Law of Return, sponsored by the Aguda Israel Party, would have come up for debate at tomorrow’s Knesset session. Instead, the Aguda was persuaded to back off and a three-man committee was set up to decide when the amendment will be submitted. The committee consists of Premier Menachem Begin, Avraham Shapiro of the Aguda and Haim Druckman of the National Religious Party.

Shapiro told reporters tonight that the measure must be submitted before the Knesset retires for its Passover recess next spring and hinted strongly that if it was not, the Aguda might quit Begin’s coalition. Likud MKs denied that any such deadline was set.

The amendment would change the Law of Return to define a Jew as someone born of a Jewish mother or converted according to “halacha” — religious law. Halachic conversion is not specified in the law as it presently stands. Its inclusion would deny automatic Israeli citizenship to any convert to Judaism converted by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

The amendment is firmly opposed by the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism in the U.S. and elsewhere and by many Israelis, including members of Likud’s Liberal Party wing and virtually the entire Labor Alignment. The Aguda was accused of trying to take advantage of the absence of many Knesset opponents–who are currently on a trip to Brazil — to push the measure through parliament. The Aguda denied this.

It demanded that Begin live up to his promises to do his best to have the measure passed once it reaches the Knesset. That was one of several concessions to Orthodox religion Begin made to induce the Aguda to join his government in the summer of 1981.

Aguda MK Menachem Porush warned the other coalition partners tonight that “You might just wake up one morning and find we have gone.” Porush claimed the coalition needed the Aguda to survive, “not Rabbi Schindler and the American Reform movement.”

He was referring to Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and other Reform leaders who cabled Jerusalem today urging the Knesset not to pass the amendment.

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