IDF soldiers from the Golani Brigade pray.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan is seeking to streamline the IDF’s Jewish conversion program, by reducing the waiting time between different stages of the process and shortening a preparatory course.
In the last five years, just under 800 Israeli citizens who were born in or whose families immigrated from the former Soviet Union have converted each year, comprising upwards of 15% of all converts.
However, the dropout rate from the IDF conversion program after the initial preparatory course, called Nativ, is as high as 50 to 60 percent, according to Ben Dahan.
The deputy minister says that various modifications to the course could significantly reduce the dropout rate.
The IDF’s conversion program is divided into three sections: Nativ, which is currently seven weeks long and deals with Jewish history and heritage, and two separate seminars, three to four weeks in length, that deal with religious observance.
All three components involve full-time participation and study six days a week, with the seminars on religious observance totaling approximately the 400 hours of study required in the civilian state conversion program, and in some cases slightly more.
Since Nativ does not involve religious study, its content is not provided by the IDF rabbinate and is not considered critical for the halachic process of conversion.
In addition, there can often be a wait of up to a month between Nativ and Seminar A, and then a again between Seminar A and Seminar B.
According to Ben-Dahan, between 40 and 50 percent of conversion candidates who complete Nativ do not continue on to the seminar programs, which he describes as a wasted opportunity by the state to help those who have already expressed interest in conversion complete the process.
Under the deputy minister’s proposal, Nativ itself will be reduced by two weeks and the extended waiting period between the different stages will be reduced to a maximum of one week.
In this way, soldiers who begin the conversion process and are anxious to get back to their original units and comrades will be able to complete their conversion without such undue delays.
This expedited program will be piloted in the next two intakes of the IDF conversion course, and the dropout rate will be examined to identify if the reduced waiting times lead to greater numbers of successful conversion candidates.
“We want to make an effort to reduce the dropout rate...
and we see this as incredibly important, since the IDF is the people’s army and part of its goal is to help young soldiers who are not Jewish according to Jewish law and want to convert complete the conversion process while they are in the army,” said Ben-Dahan.
“The best conditions to [go through] the conversion process are in the army, because of the support network there and because there are no other responsibilities or financial obligations on soldiers at this time,” he continued.
Like in the IDF, the dropout rate from the state’s civilian conversion program is also extremely high, with as many as 50% of all candidates who begin the course deciding to abandon it before converting.
Many of these candidates face obstacles such as long travel times to classes and a squeeze on their available time due to existing job and family commitments, as well as a lack of institutional support.
The deputy minister contends that in the absence of these problems in the army, the IDF’s conversion program has significant room to reduce its dropout rate, which he hopes the streamlining process will achieve.