Religious Law Calls for
Allegiance to Rabbinate

By Mitchell Bard

In an effort by Orthodox parties in Israel to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling allowing Conservative and Reform representatives from serving on local religious councils, the Knesset passed a law by a vote of 50-49 on January 26, 1999, compelling all religiously liberal representatives to accept the rulings of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate before taking their council seats.

According to the legislation, members of a religious council must sign a declaration of allegiance:

"I undertake to be faithful to the state of Israel and its laws, to fulfill my duties as a member of the religious council in accordance with the stipulations of this law, and to fulfill the decisions of the religious council.''

A member of a religious council can continue to serve only if he makes this declaration. Any violation of the declaration will be viewed as cause for ending his membership.

The bill also says the religious council and its members will act in accordance with the rulings of the local rabbinate and the chief rabbinate in every matter which is within the duties and powers of the religious council.

Reform leaders said they may seek court action to challenge the law.

Reform Jews were further angered when Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi called them "more dangerous to the Jewish people than the Holocaust." Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron subsequently said he never meant to compare Reform Jews to the Nazis, but wanted to make the point that Reform Jews had not learned from the Holocaust and were encouraging assimilation.

Sources: AP, January 26, 1999, and JTA, January 27, 1999.