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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Based on the Law of Return: The Non- Jewish Agency?

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

If Konstantin Umansky gets the job he wants, he will be the Jewish Agency's first non-Jewish emissary. Umansky, whose grandfather was Jewish, immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine eight years ago under the Law of Return (which allows for the immigration to Israel of the children and grandchildren of Jews, even if they themselves are not Jewish).

The Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth has sharply criticized the Jewish Agency for its plans to send a non-Jewish emissary to the C.I.S.

The Vaad joined the many other protesters including even the Conservative movement, which understood the seriousness of the issue.

UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni sent a letter few weeks ago to the Minister of Absorption, Yuli Tamir, and to the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Salai Meridor warning against such a step. "The State of Israel was established in order to be the state of the Jewish people. This was determined explicitly in the Declaration of Independence. The Law of Return, which is one of the central laws on the issue, determines that the State of Israel, including all of its authorities, encourages the aliya of Jews to Israel" Rabbi Gafni wrote.

According to the spokesman for the Vaad, the decision of the Jewish Agency is an additional slide in religious values in the country, which is bringing about the uprooting of every vestige of Judaism in the State of Israel. The decision to transfer the turbine on Shabbos in order to destroy the Shabbos is on par with the decision to send a non-Jew as an emissary.

The Vaad also sharply criticized the Conversion Administration of the Chief Rabbinate which criticized the emissary solely for his lack of interest in converting.

The spokesman of the Vaad was shocked by the fact that a representative of the Chief Rabbinate said that every one of the masses of non-Jews who arrived in Israel with the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union can convert easily, if they so wish.

The spokesman warned that proper halachic conversion obligates genuine kabbolos ol hamitzvos,something which can't be expected from most of the immigrants. As a result, every conversion of such immigrants is null and void even bedi'eved.

"Conversion is not a solution for the problem of the masses of non Jews who arrived in Israel, and other solutions should be found," the spokesman said.

The Vaad HaRabbonim called on the Chief Rabbinate to stop senior officials of the Conversion Administration from making statements, which contradict halocho. "The Chief Rabbis themselves must convey publicly the position of the Chief Rabbinate regarding conversion," the spokesman said.

According to a report in Ha'aretz, in the last five years Umansky has worked for the Immigrant Students Administration, jointly run by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption.

About a year ago, he tendered his candidacy for Jewish Agency emissary to the city of Dniepropetrovsk, one of the largest cities in the Ukraine, with a Jewish population of about 50,000. Umansky underwent the entire selection process, including the course for emissaries, without having been asked whether or not he was Jewish.

However, when the local rabbi in Dniepropetrovsk, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminsky, found out that Umansky was not Jewish, he told the Jewish Agency that the would not allow him to work within the community.

"We have worked in full cooperation with the Jewish Agency and the Liaison Bureau since 1990, and we have never told them who to send," Rabbi Kaminsky told Ha'aretz.

"We have had people here with earrings, nose rings and piercing in all kinds of strange places and we worked with them in full cooperation," Rabbi Kaminsky lamented. "But to send us a goy who does not even plan to convert, that is impossible. After all, he is supposed to work with the community and bring them closer to Judaism. How can he do that if he himself is not Jewish?"

"I never thought there would be any problem with my candidacy," Umansky told Ha'aretz. "The Law of Return does not discriminate between those who are Jewish and those who only have a Jewish parent or grandparent.

"In all my years in Israel, I have dealt with immigration and students and I feel that I have a great deal to contribute in this matter. Jewish tradition is close to my heart and I don't think that Judaism is a matter of biology [sic]."

Umansky's supporters maintain that the moment the Law of Return does not distinguish between Jews and those who are children or even grandchildren of Jews, the Jewish Agency should not make any distinction as to who it sends as immigration emissaries. In their view, only professional criteria should be used to judge their suitability for the job.

The Supreme Emissaries Committee is to meet soon to decide whether or not Umansky is suitable for the job from a professional standpoint.

Various sources from within the Jewish Agency have said that it appears that the committee will opt to disqualify Umansky on personal grounds in order to avoid having to decide on the matter in principle.

Umansky has already told Ha'aretz that if that happens, "It is completely clear that the disqualification will be on racial grounds and I intend to appeal to the High Court in that case.

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