After years of determined effort the Orthodox bloc in the coalition government of Israel succeeded last month in securing the passage of an anti-conversion bill in the Knesset (Parliament).

Under the new law, six months’ imprisonment can be imposed for direct attempts to convert Jewish minors. Such conversion is prohibited unless consent in writing is provided by both parents, by a court, or by the surviving parent or guardian. If the child is over the age of ten, his own consent is required as well.

Some time ago the Knesset rejected a bill substantially intended to prohibit missionary activity. The defeated bill, proposed by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz of the National Religious Party (Orthodox), stipulated:

No person shall accept into an educational institution in which religious instruction or religious worship takes place, a minor belonging to another religion, except with the written consent of the head of the religion to which the minor belongs.

The new law is considerably less than the Orthodox rabbis had hoped for. They wanted included in the law a provision requiring permission of the rabbi, as well as the consent of the parents, before a minor could convert.

As it now stands, the law not only prohibits Jewish minors from converting to another religion but also prohibits minor children of mixed marriages from converting to Judaism without both parents’ consent.

The law actually provides little that has not been observed since the days of the British mandate. For nearly fifty years no minor in the Holy Land under eighteen years of age has been allowed to convert if his parents object.

The present bill received government support for two reasons. First, although it is short of the law that the Orthodox wanted, it will calm the majority of Israel’s population that is uneasy over occasional exaggerated reports of the conversion of minors.

Second, the new measure provides Israel with an anti-conversion law that does not violate Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations and signed by Israel, for the law applies only to minors.

Dr. Maas Boertien, executive secretary of the United Christian Council in Israel (Protestant), thought that the bill represented no great defeat for the liberal forces in Israel. Such a bill has been expected for some time, and it could have been much worse.

Dr. Solomon Birnbaum, director of the Beth El Children’s Home and School in Haifa, showed little enthusiasm for the new law. He fears that it will give fanatical religious groups a “handle with which to cause trouble.” His school was one that suffered a raid by Yeshiva students in September, 1963, and has been a target for repeated Orthodox Jewish attacks.

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Dr. Birnbaum insists that his school does not entice children to convert. Before a Jewish student can enter his school, the parents are advised that both the Old and New Testaments are taught. Both parents must sign their approval. They are free to take their children out of the school at any time.

“It is the parents who do the enticing,” he said. “We have a long waiting list of children whose parents wish to enroll them in our school.”

The provision for heavy punishment to be meted out to anyone converting a child to or from Judaism without meeting the legal requirements will have to be tested in the courts before the real effect of the law will be known.

A Case Of Intervention

The Sheraton hotel in Tel-Aviv, Israel, canceled a Christian Science lecture under pressure from the local Religious Council. The group threatened to remove the hotel’s kashrut certificate if the lecture took place.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the head of the Tel Aviv Religious Council, along with other orthodox groups in the country, had intervened with the Sheraton management. The lecture was to have been delivered by Mr. Charles Louis Reilly of Los Angeles on March 7.

Mr. Pinhas Sheinman, chairman of the Religious Council, told reporters that “Christian Scientists are a fifth column both in the field of education and in the field of religion in this country.” A Christian Science member emphatically denied that Christian Scientists in Israel are engaged in any missionary activity whatever.


Cuban Arrests

Two Southern Baptist missionaries were among some sixty Protestant pastors and laymen whose arrests were announced by Havana Radio this month. They were charged with operating a spy ring.

Reports from Havana said that two-thirds of all Baptist pastors in western Cuba had been taken into custody and accused of passing military information.

The Americans arrested were Dr. Herbert Caudill, 61, superintendent of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board work in the western part of Cuba, and his son-in-law, the Rev. David Fite, 31, who had been teaching in a theological school in Havana and serving as pastor of a suburban church.

Dr. Arthur B. Rutledge, executive secretary of the Home Mission Board, said he was shocked that Caudill would even be considered as involved in subversive activities. It was pointed out that while in the United States last year for medical treatment Caudill refused even to discuss Cuban politics so as not to jeopardize his spiritual ministry.

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Caudill’s wife apparently was not seized. Neither were Fite’s wife (the Caudills’ daughter) nor the three Fite children.

Havana Radio charged that Caudill and other clergymen organized a counter-revolutionary group for missions of espionage and subversion.

Caudill has served in Cuba since 1929 and Fite since 1960. Both are graduates of Mercer University, Macon, Georgia. Caudill studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Fite at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Two women missionaries who served under the Southern Baptist board were expelled from Cuba in July, 1963.

Some Cuban refugees suggested that this month’s arrests of clergymen were aimed at discouraging Easter observances.

The School Aid Bill

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which represents a vast new approach to federal school aid, moved toward almost certain enactment this month. The bill is historic because it represents the first broad program of federal aid to schools below the college level. Some observers feel that it marks a serious encroachment upon the principle of church-state separation.

The measure passed the House by an overwhelming margin. Several attempts to amend it in the Senate were defeated (one amendment would have provided for a judicial review to determine the constitutionality of aid to parochial school children). Senators backing the administration’s education program resisted amendments to avoid sending the bill into conference.

The most costly aspect of the bill is its anti-poverty feature. More than a billion dollars is allocated for the education of children of low-income families.

The bill gives a tremendous boost to the shared-time or dual school enrollment concept, wherein children attend Christian or other private schools for some classes and public schools or centers for other courses.

Sexual Dialogue

Modern man’s preoccupation with sex seems now to be taking on ecclesiastical aspects.

At Judson Memorial Church (American Baptist) in New York’s Greenwich Village, a dance program last month included a number in which a man and woman, both nude, moved across the stage in a face-to-face embrace.

The pastor of the church, the Rev. Howard Moody, in an article earlier this year in Christianity and Crisis, called for a new definition of obscenity.

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“For Christians the truly obscene ought not to be slick-paper nudity, nor the vulgarities of dirty old or young literati, nor even ‘weirdo’ films showing transvestite orgies or male genitalia,” said Moody. “What is obscene is that material, whether sexual or not, that has as its basic motivation and purpose the degradation, debasement and dehumanizing of persons.” The word “nigger” from “the sneering lips of a Bull Connor” is the dirtiest word in the English language, according to Pastor Moody.

In California, a group of Protestant clergymen have formed the Council of Religion and the Homosexual, purportedly to “establish a dialogue” between homosexuals and the religious community. A spokesman has said that the group will “try to get laws passed which don’t discriminate against homosexuals.”

The group’s first big showdown came last New Year’s Day at a fund-raising ball for the benefit of homosexuals which the ministers helped to sponsor. Police broke up the ball and arrested five men and a woman. Two of the men were charged with lewd conduct on the dance floor after an official warning against public intimacies. The ministers protested the police intrusion.

In Washington, an inter-faith conference was held to attract attention to the rising tide of obscenity. After two days of discussion, a list of resolutions was drawn up calling for action against pornography at all government levels. Religious leaders and church groups were urged to show more concern and to exercise more initiative on local levels.

Bills have been introduced in Congress providing for the creation of a presidential commission to consider all aspects of the obscenity problem.

Sunday Elections

The Lord’s Day Alliance of the United States is calling for the defeat of a U. S. Senate bill to legalize Sunday elections. The bill, introduced by Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, would become effective in 1968.

The Rev. Samuel A. Jeanes, interim executive director of the alliance, said the legislation “would constitute an unwarranted intrusion upon the day when most of the people of our nation worship.”

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