An article Saturday incorrectly said a bill defeated by the Israeli parliament reflected the Orthodox view that "adherents of other Jewish traditions are not truly Jews." It should have said the bill reflected the view that conversions to Judaism conducted by non- Orthodox rabbis are invalid. (Published 8/27/87)

JERUSALEM, AUG. 21 -- A series of escalating conflicts this summer, played out in parliament, rabbinical offices and city streets, has revived a fundamental debate between Orthodox and secular communities over how religious the state of Israel should be.

Religious militants staged protests tonight in Haifa and Jerusalem against the screening of films on the Sabbath, prompting police to make several arrests and call in reinforcements before order was restored. Meanwhile, about 250 secular Israelis rallied outside a Jerusalem movie theater that the militants were seeking to shut down to protest their religious coercion and insist on the right to enjoy forms of public entertainment on the Sabbath.

Ultraorthodox Jews have tried to shut down movie theaters, block traffic and halt other activities that they consider desecrations of the Sabbath. Secular Jews have increasingly complained about the forcible, even violent tactics adopted by the Orthodox community in pressing its views about the sanctity of the Sabbath.

Many nonreligious Jews have decided to leave the holy city and move to coastal Tel Aviv, about 25 miles away, to escape harassment and embrace a more tolerant lifestyle in a place where restaurants, theaters and discos are usually jammed on Friday and Saturday nights. In Jerusalem, restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment close before the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday.

Mayor Teddy Kollek, who for 20 years has sought to restrain violent clashes between Arab and Jewish populations in Jerusalem, urged religious leaders to stay calm.

"To our regret there is tension in Jerusalem between Jews, and for this we must be sorry from the depth of our hearts," said Kollek. "Suddenly groups that have no responsibility for the city make out of these the major issue as if the {biblical} Temple were being destroyed."

The recent protests have highlighted the growing political clout of Israel's most militant religious movement. Its power base has grown steadily in Jerusalem, where Orthodox Jews account for a quarter of the population. The ultrareligious groups also exercise inordinate influence because of the political stalemate between Israel's two mainstream electoral alliances, Labor and the Likud.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, secular and religiously observant Jews have contested the issue on numerous battlegrounds. Religious Jews dispute among themselves whose interpretations of biblical law to follow.

Most of Israel's Jews are either nonpracticing or observe relatively few of the many Jewish religious traditions. But two staunchly religious movements, whose members regularly attend synagogue services and preserve a rich heritage of tradition, hold influence far beyond their numbers.

Of these movements, the Orthodox are larger and closer to the political mainstream here. Ultraorthodox Jews, who call themselves Haredim, represent an estimated 5 to 7 percent of the population.

The Haredim have long fought against movies on the Sabbath, when religious commandments forbid daily work and entertainment. Haredim fought Jerusalem police as early as 1949 when they noticed cinemas selling tickets before the official end of the Sabbath, at sundown on Saturdays.

"Whoever violates the Sabbath in public must be made aware that he is piercing the heart of the observant Jew as though with a sword," proclaimed a protesting rabbi, Avraham Shaag. The sentiment has been echoed in recent weeks, as protesters from the Haredi-dominated Mea Shearim district here have protested movie showings after the start of the Sabbath.

Municipal ordinances enacted to protect those who are sensitive to violations of the Sabbath bar commercial screenings of films, but permit cultural events that may include movies. At least one local theater has scheduled lectures before showing popular films in an effort to cast them as cultural presentations.

But, two weeks ago, an estimated 3,000 Haredim began a new campaign against any film showings, by marching against the offending theaters. Some protesters clashed with police, who dispersed them with tear gas.

The Haredim's recent campaigns have involved more than life-style issues. In early July, the ultraorthodox pushed a bill in parliament to bar nonorthodox converts to Judaism from becoming Israeli citizens. The bill, which reflected the ultraorthodox view that adherents of other Jewish traditions are not truly Jews, was defeated by a 60-to-56 vote.

Most disturbing to Israel's Orthodox Jews, the Haredim this year openly challenged the chief rabbis, Israel's official religious authority. The dispute came over a biblical commandment that Jews in Israel suspend most agricultural work for one year out of seven, a practice called shmitta.

The chief rabbis ruled that, during the shmitta year that began last fall, farmers could symbolically sell their land to non-Jews, thereby exempting their farms from the enforced sabbatical. The symbolic sale has been permitted since 1889, when rabbis ruled that a halt to cultivation would threaten the fragile communities of Jewish immigrants.

Haredi rabbis have disputed that ruling, and this year they underlined their dissent by pressing the government to arrange for costly special wheat imports from the United States to ensure that they would not have to eat wheat grown in Israel during the shmitta.