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Leaders of 13 Jewish Organizations Warn Against Change in Law of Return

August 14, 1984
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Leaders of 13 American Jewish organizations warned here today that if the efforts of the religious parties in Israel to change the Law of Return were successful, it will lead to a “massive alienation” of American Jewry from Israel. They urged Israel’s political leaders to resist the demands of the Orthodox parties and avert a major rift between Israel and world Jewry.

Israel’s Orthodox parties are demanding a change in Israel’s Law of Return, known also as the Who is a Jew law, as the price for their support in forming a new government. They want to secure a promise from whichever party forms the next government to change the present law so that it would recangnize only those conversions performed according to halacha (Jewish law), that is, according to the Orthodox interpretation of halacha. Because of the close race between Labor and Likud, the religious parties are playing a pivotal role in the negotiations to form a new coalition government.

In a joint statement issued at a press conference, hosted by the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish leaders, representing the major branches of Reform and Conservative Judaism, as well as other American Jewish organizations, warned that the proposed change would “do violence to the principle of Jewish unity and jeopardize the sense of solidarity that binds the Jewish people everywhere to the State of Israel.”


The statement, which was read by Theador Ellenoff, chairman of the AJC Board of Governors on behalf of the 13 leaders who signed it said: “Jews in Israel and Jews in the diaspora need each other. The self-serving demand of a group of Orthodox spokesmen in Israel that they be recognized as the sole interpreters of Jewish religion, and specifically that their authority to determine the legitimacy of conversions performed outside Israel be spelled out in the secular of Israel, is morally and religiously offensive to us.”

The statement charged, “By explicitly rejecting the legitimacy and authenticity of non-Orthodox movements the Knesset would be taking a judgemental action totally beyond its competence. This would damage the capacity of the State to call upon every Jew equally for support and weaken the appeal for aliya. The State of Israel, the major unifying force in Jewish life, would thus become a force for injecting divisiveness. “The statement concluded: “We strongly urge the citizens of Israel and its leaders in the government and Knesset to continue to recognize the reality and importance of religious diversity and pluralism among the Jewish People, and therefore to reject all demands for revision of the Law of Return.”

The joint statment was issued by leaders of the AJCommittee, American Jewish Congress, Americans for Progressive Israel, ARZA — Association of Reform Zionists of America, B’nai B’rith, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Rabbinical Assembly, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Synagogue of America, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.


A separate statement was issued at the press conference by the National Jewish Resource Center. The statement was signed by Rabbi lrving Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi who is president of the Center.

His statement read, in part:

“The pressure to change the law by adding the words ‘conversion only according to halacha,’ comes primarily from rightwing Orthodox groups who deny the spiritual validity whatsoever to Conservative and Reform Jewry …. Such an amendment will be offensive to millions of Jews in the diaspora who identify with non-Orthodox religious governments.”

Max Fisher of Detroit, the prominent Jewish leader, also signed the statement of the 13 Jewish leaders. Fisher previously served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and president of the Council of Jewish Federations.

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