Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Knesset Committee Discusses the Need for Sifrei Yuchsin

by Eliezer Rauchberger

"I am in possession of statistics indicating that 80% of the immigrants arriving in Israel today, are not Jewish," UTJ MK Rabbi Shmuel Halpert warned, members of the Knesset Aliya and Absorption committee.

The committee had convened to discuss the possibility that a sefer yuchsin would have to be opened.

The issue was raised by MK Yossi Paritzki (Shinui).

The proposal resulted from the tremendous impact made by a statement from maranan verabonon on the urgent need for lineage records, due to the huge increase of non-Jews immigrating from the C.I.S.

Currently, the practical aspects of expanding the sifrei yuchsin project -- which was started about two years ago - - are being examined and the idea is gaining impetus.

It is noteworthy that secular groups and non-religious public bodies, who want their progeny to remain Jews, are showing great interest in the possibility.

Rabbi Halpert also said, that he has information that of 100 children who immigrated within the framework of the Naaleh plan, only two were Jews. He said that the problem isn't only religious, but also a national one of the utmost importance, which is threatening the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

In his opinion, records in lineage books will take place whether one likes it or not, due to the dangers posed by non- Orthodox movements and the massive non-Jewish immigration. According to the spokesman for the Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, the original organizers of the sefer yuchsin project, the problem is intensified since the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has not taken proper measures to compile a complete and clear list of the non-Jews and false converts in Israel.

Minister Michael Melchior admitted that 55 percent of the immigrants in recent years are non-Jews, and that 10% of them are grandchildren of Jews and immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. According to the information of the Vaad, the percentage of current non-Jewish immigrants is around 80%.

"An increasingly large part of them have absolutely no affinity to even the broadest definition of Judaism," Melchior said. He said that he supports the change of the Law of Return in order to limit the non-Jewish immigration, adding that there is no reason to regard this law as one which cannot be changed.

Along with this, Minister Melchior reiterated his support for conversion institutes which will operate together with the Reform and Conservative movements, and said that these institutes should be established both in Israel and the C.I.S.

The Conservative representative who participated in the committee meeting congratulated Melchior for his plans to expand the conversion activities and the institutes.

Benny Ish Shalom, the head of these institutes, said that they are receiving broad government support, and reported that there is a plan to establish 100 such institutions in Israel and abroad.

Maranan verabonon, gedolei Yisroel vehemently oppose the founding of institutes which collaborate with the Reform and the Conservative movements or any form of collaboration with these heretical movements. At the request of the Vaad and Yated, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate issued an official statement reiterating their position prohibiting any cooperation with the Conservative and Reform, and disqualifying them from taking any part in the conversion process.

All of the prominent rabbonim in Israel, including those of Shas and the NRP, also sharply oppose such collaboration.

MK Yitzchak Gagula (Shas) said that since there are hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish immigrants in the country, there is no alternative but to establish a data base of the Jews in the country, in order to prevent mixed marriages.

The chairman of the committee, Naomi Blumenthal (Likud) claimed that the establishing of such a lineage database will create class A Jews and class B Jews. "That is a disturbing thought," she said.

She admitted that the likelihood of massive intermarriage is indeed high due to the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who immigrate to Israel from the C.I.S. She said that there is no choice but to change the Law of Return in order to restrict the non-Jewish immigration to Israel.

In another development United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz introduced a bill aimed at tightening up immigration laws, only to withdraw it a few minutes later.

Similar to a bill presented by Nachum Langental (National Religious Party), Rabbi Ravitz was calling for the abolition of the section of the law which allows the non-Jewish grandchildren of Jews to immigrate.

All religious MKs are backing the change, with signs that an increasing number of other MKs are also falling in line with the idea, given that an excess of 200,000 new immigrants are said to be non-Jewish.

Secular MKs are launching a fight against such proposals. Democratic Choice leader Roman Bronfman obtained the signatures of 25 MKs on a letter he sent to Prime Minister Ehud Barak arguing against any changes to the law.

Rabbi Ravitz said he decided to withdraw his bill for several reasons: he decided at the last minute it was better not to quickly pass the reform through the Knesset without a broad political consensus; several supporters got what he called cold feet just before the vote; the government and Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Committee chairwoman Naomi Blumenthal both asked him to work on the issue with them.

Though Bronfman applauded the withdrawal of the law, he noted that 51 percent of Jews in the U.S., Canada, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are now marrying gentiles.

A day earlier MK Nachum Langental (National Religious Party) introduced a private member's bill in the Knesset calling for the repeal of the "grandchild" section of the Law of Return. The reason this section was included in the original law was to offer a home to all those persecuted for their links to Judaism, said Langental.

Today such threats do not exist, he added, but because this paragraph remains, hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have been able to enter the country in recent years.

The change he is proposing is that only Jews or their children would be entitled to immigrate.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Minister Michael Melchior, responsible for Diaspora affairs, and Interior Minister Natan Sharansky are also working on a plan to tighten immigration laws.

One of their main proposals is likely to be in line with that proposed by Langental.

According to Melchior, in private conversations Barak has displayed a flexible approach.

MKs from seven factions called on Barak to retain the status quo in the Law of Return led by Roman Bronfman (Democratic Choice). The MKs have been joined in their call by 16 former Prisoners of Zion and refuseniks.

The feeling among those politicians who work closest with American Jewry is that there would be an uproar should the law be changed.

On the other hand, it seems there is a move among many MKs from the former Soviet Union that the time has come "to ensure the Jewish nature of the state" by preventing an additional influx of immigrants whose Jewishness is questionable.

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