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Religious Parties Seen Joining Begin Government Even if He Refuses to Meet Their Demands on the ‘who

July 13, 1981
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Political observers here believe that the National Religious Party and the Aguda Israel will ultimately agree to join a Likud-led coalition government even if Premier Menachem Begin declines to meet their demands for an iron clad guarantee that the controversial “Who is a Jews” amendment to the Law of Return will be adopted by the next Knesset. The two religious parties are expected to cast their lot with Begin, as

they did in 1977 when the Likud leader promised to “do his utmost” to get the amendment through parliament. The amendment has been effectively shelved during the past four years for lack of political support, even within Likud ranks and the opposition to it is as strong now as when Begin first took office.

Simcha Ehrlich, a leader of Likud’s Liberal Party wing, gave notice over the weekend that he and his party were not prepared to support the proposed amendment which went against their conscience.

The amendment would define as a Jew any person born of a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox rabbi “according to halacha.” Ehrlich said he hoped the coalition negotiations would not break down over the issue. “I’m sure we can find a formulation … the Hebrew language is rich enough for that,” Ehrlich told reporters.


Israel’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis, Shlomo Goren and Ovadia Yosef, have sent telegrams to all religious members of the Knesset to withstand pressures from non-Orthodox Jewish communities and their leaders in the diaspora to kill the amendment. The Chief Rabbis noted that the non-Orthodox religious community in Israel represented “a tiny minority” of the people and its leaders “live in the diaspora because they wish to do so” but still seek the right to influence decision-making in Israel.

While the Chief Rabbis’ counter-pressure is expected to have some impact, particularly on the NRP, observers here noted that neither of them issued a halachic ruling requiring the religious parties to stay out of the government unless they were assured that the “Who is a Jew” amendment was certain to be adopted. It was recalled that in 1974, the NRP stayed out of the Labor-led government of Premier Yitzhak Rabin for a time on the strength of such a ruling by Goren.

The ruling, however, had been issued at the NRP’s request. This time it has made no such request and one NRP politician observed privately today,” We’ve learned our lesson. We shan’t ask for an halachic ruling this time.”

Meanwhile, a leading Reform figure in Israel, Prof. Michael Klein, Dean of the Hebrew Union College Jerusalem branch, stated in an open letter to Begin over the weekend that “Over three million affiliated non-Orthodox Jews throughout the world are concerned about their legitimacy being questioned by the State of Israel.”

Klein declared: “In the post-Holocaust period of our history we cannot afford to suffer another division at the hands of a small, intolerant and presumptuous group of ultra-Orthodox politicians… We respectfully but rightfully demand equal rights and religious freedom for all Jews in the State of Israel as guaranteed by the declaration of independence.”

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