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Minister Submits Resignation Over Conversion Dispute

January 4, 1987

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s interior affairs minister, ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, submitted his resignation Sunday to protest a court ruling ordering him to register an American convert as a Jew.

″It’s a pity to give up a position of power, but even more of a pity to give up a principle,″ Peretz told reporters.

The synagogue-state dispute over registration of converts pits the civil judicial system against a religious establishment that considers Jewish religious law the supreme authority in matters of civil status.

The resignation takes effect Tuesday, but Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other government officials are trying to persuade Peretz not to resign. The minister announced his intention to quit the Cabinet last week.

The resignation is not expected to threaten the government, but Shamir hopes to avoid upheaval in his fragile six-week-old coalition.

Peretz refused to carry out a Dec. 12 decision by the Supreme Court ordering him to register Shoshana Miller of Colorado Springs, Colo., as a Jew on her identity card. Ms. Miller, 43, was converted to Judaism by a Reform rabbi in the United States before emigrating to Israel.

Orthodox Jews, including Peretz’s tiny Shas Party, refuse to recognize conversions carried out by Reform or Conservative rabbis.

″I will never give my hand to the false conversion of Jews,″ Peretz wrote in his resignation letter to Shamir.

Reform and Conservative Jews for years have fought for recognition in Israel, where Orthodox rabbis control all divorce, marriage and conversion.

There are 4 million Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States, but fewer than 9,000 of Israel’s 3.5 million Jews belong to those two groups.

Ms. Miller, who is on a visit to the United States, said Peretz’s resignation was ″convincing proof of the necessity of granting equal status to all streams of Judaism.″ She spoke in a telephone interview with Israel Radio.

″When I decided to convert, I thought innocently that I was making a strictly personal commitment,″ she added.

Peretz rejected earlier compromise proposals, including a proposal that he resign for one day while Shamir signs the order to stamp the identity card with the word ″Jew.″

Peretz was elected to Parliament in 1984 at the head of Shas, short for Sephardi Torah Guardians, which holds four seats in the 120-member Knesset.

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