Bill Hurts Role of Liberal Judaism

By Emma Blijdenstein
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 1999;
8:28 a.m. EST

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Deepening the rift between Israel and American Jewry, parliament today
narrowly passed a bill aimed at preventing liberal streams of Judaism from playing a more active role
in Israel's day-to-day religious life.

The bill requires representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements on local religious
councils to pledge allegiance to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate dominates
religious and personal status matters in Israel, including marriage, divorce and burial.

The legislation, sponsored by Orthodox legislators, passed 50-49, with one abstention.

The Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are predominant in the United States, but have
fewer followers in Israel. American Jewish leaders have warned that attempts by Israel's Orthodox
religious establishment to prevent the liberal movements from gaining more recognition in Israel are
dividing the Jewish people.

``The Knesset today pushed away two-thirds of the Jewish people and caused a split between Israel
and the Diaspora,'' said Rabbi Ehud Bendel, chairman of the Conservative movement in Israel.

Bendel said the liberal streams would not be deterred by the legislation. He said Reform and
Conservative members would go through the motions of pledging allegiance to the Chief Rabbinate
rather than stay away from the religious councils

``They (religious council members) will sign what they have to sign ... but of course we don't see the
Chief Rabbinate as the only arbiter of Jewish religious questions,'' he said.

Education Minister Yitzhak Levy, a member of the National Religious Party, said there could only be
one authority on religious law. ``It is impossible to have several points of view, several religions, in
the same council,'' he said.

Capping a prolonged court battle, the liberal streams only recently were awarded the right to be
represented on religious councils which disburse government funds to synagogues and supervise the
inspection of kosher eateries and ritual baths.

The Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Conservative and Reform movements was hailed as a
major victory in their battle for recognition.

As part of the bitter debate over the religious councils, a top Orthodox rabbi sparked outrage today
when he said the Reform movement encouraged intermarriage and assimilation and was eroding the
Jewish population just as the Holocaust did.

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the chief Sephardi rabbi, said assimilation has reduced the number of Jews
by more than the Holocaust did 50 years ago.

``I compared the numerical decimation of the Jewish people from the Holocaust, which was by
one-third, with the number lost through assimilation because of Reform Jews, which is more,''
Bakshi--Doron told The Associated Press.

Bakshi-Doron said he regretted that people were offended by his statements, but said Jewish leaders
have long referred to assimilation as the ``quiet holocaust.''

Still, the rabbi's comments caused anger in a country that has given refuge to hundreds of thousands
of survivors of the Nazi genocide in which 6 million Jews perished.

``It's incitement, I would say, almost a call to bloodshed,'' said Bendel.