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Israeli Orthodox Leadership Condemned by Head of the JTS

July 9, 1981
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The current proposal of Orthodox groups in Israel is a “religious affront to the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people,” according to Dr. Gerson Cohen, Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Cohen released today a cable he has sent to Israeli leaders urging them to reject the demand of the religious parties mandating a change in the Law of Return as their price for joining a viable Israeli government.

Cohen said, “The Law of Return is being made a political tool, subject to the selfish interpretation of a tiny Orthodox group. They have constituted themselves as the sole arbiters of the question of who is a Jew, and seek to use their momentary political clout to have their idiosyncratic interpretation enacted into the laws of the State of Israel. It is not difficult to imagine that, under such a law, Jewish refugees from some future anti-Semitic excess could be denied admission to Israel just as an earlier generation of would-be immigrants was turned away by the intransigent policies of the British protectorate.”

The Seminary, Cohen continued, “Recognizes that the determination of who is a Jew must be made according to the dictates of halachah. However, it objects to the move under consideration because the Orthodox minority is using its improper, but calculated interpretation as a means of excluding the majority of established rabbinic authorities from the valid and responsible application of the Jewish laws of personal status.”

The insistence of the leaders of Agudath Israel, Cohen concluded, “to have their interpretation of who is a Jew made part of the laws of the State of Israel shows indifference to the universal nature of halachah, and contempt for the millions of Jews who live today outside the State. Such legislation would constitute the first tragic example of an official action of the State of Israel taken in violation of the spirit of Torah.”

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