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Jewry's great - and growing - divide

(Page 3 of 3)

Meanwhile, Orthodoxy drew on its renaissance in Israel to become stronger in the Diaspora, too.

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In the US, Orthodox Jews remain only about 10 percent of the American Jewish population, according to Harvard University sociologist Nathan Glazer. But, he says, Orthodoxy includes an increasing proportion of young Jews, which was not the case in the past. Professor Glazer and other sociologists attribute this change to a search found throughout America for religious values.

''There's a rising tide of militancy in Orthodoxy,'' says Arthur Levine, president of the United Synagogues of America, the national coordinating organization of Conservative synagogues. ''Religiously, it translates into greater strictness. Politically, it translates into greater self-confidence.''

This new militancy has strained cooperation between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The Orthodox have never recognized the theological legitimacy of the other brands of Judaism, and soon they may no longer work with Reform or Conservative Jews on social and political issues.

''They are becoming more right wing,'' says Milton Himmelfarb, a sociologist with the American Jewish Committee, ''and that is causing tension because most Jews are traditionally liberal.''

Reform Judaism is responding to the Orthodox challenge by becoming more sensitive to tradition. Specifically, it is increasing the use of Hebrew in its synagogues and restoring other traditional practices.

''In its desire to eliminate everything that smacked of non-reason, early Reform went too far,'' says Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform association of synagogues. ''Now we're more willing to accept the mystical, emotional aspects of Judaism.''

Reform is also counterattacking by strengthening its international influence outside its American stronghold. In Israel, it is lobbying to have its rabbis fully recognized as legitimate by the state. At present, marriages and other Jewish ceremonies conducted by non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized in Israel.

Rabbi Schindler recalls how he told Prime Minister Begin that ''the gates of Auschwitz were open'' to all Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, so surely ''the gates of Jerusalem must be open to all Jews.''

Rabbi Michael Williams of Paris's Rue Copernic Synagogue, the first Reform synagogue in France, adds that the exclusion is unwise: ''Only a minority of Jews are going to remain Orthodox. All the others who want to retain some contact with Judaism will have no place to go. They'll either drop it totally or become mad.'' In Israel, his prediction rings true. The anger of many nonreligious Jews is swelling. And the Petach Tikva battle has become a key test for the whole nation. The Labor Party majority on the municipal council is hoping to set a precedent that will keep open entertainment spots in cities throughout the country. Mayoral spokesman Dan Ben Canaan says the dispute involves the very soul of the Jewish state.

''The fanatics are trying to transform Israel into a religious dictatorship, prohibiting the freedom of the individual, just like in Iran,'' Ben Canaan says. ''We want to keep religion and state separate.''

The religious, of course, don't see the problem this way. They say violence against nonobservant Jews is committed by a few misguided youths. They also say they don't want rabbis to rule Israel but merely to create enough Jewish ''atmosphere'' so that Israel retains a true Jewish flavor.

''I'm not telling them what they must do inside their houses,'' says Rabbi Aharon Beifus of Petach Tikva. ''I'm just saying that outside in the streets, the Shabbat (Sabbath) must be guarded.''