'IDF conversions invalid from religious point of view'

By DAN IZENBERG, GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
September 7, 2010 04:37

Yochi Gnessin says soldiers converted to Judaism in the IDF cannot register in the rabbinate to be married because conversions incomplete.

3 minute read.



NETZAH YEHUDA Battalion commander Lt.-Col. Dror Spiegel (left) talks to one of his company commander

Haredi Soldiers 311. (photo credit: YAAKOV KATZ)

An attorney representing the state dropped a bombshell in the High Court of Justice on Monday when she told the court that soldiers who converted to Judaism in the IDF could not register in the rabbinate to be married because their conversions were incomplete.

Most of the roughly 4,500 soldiers who have converted over the past few years are women, since the religion of children is determined by that of the mother. Thus, many women who thought they were Jewish – and the children they have had – are apparently not Jewish.

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The announcement was made by attorney Yochi Gnessin during a hearing on a petition regarding a related subject, the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts in general for marriage. She told the court she had discovered that the validity of the conversions performed in the army is in doubt “because they are not approved by the Chief Rabbinate and are often conducted by people who are not authorized dayanim [religious court judges].”

Gnessin said the conversion certificate issued through the IDF applied only to legal matters having to do with the bearer’s membership in the Jewish community. “It opens the door [to being Jewish] but nothing more,” she said.

After hearing Gnessin’s explanation, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told her, “What you are saying is that all of the IDF conversions are invalid.”

Justice Uzi Fogelman said Gnessin’s statement “makes me sick. To say such a thing to a soldier who has converted.”

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, a prominent member of the national religious movement and a supporter of the petition from ITIM – The Jewish Life Information Center, told The Jerusalem Post the situation described by Gnessin was intolerable.

“How is it that rabbis working for the state are being paid to invalidate conversions by other rabbis in the IDF?” he asked. “The notion that they can annul conversions and keep people in limbo – who gave them that right? They’re playing with people who are defending the country. If there’s no other choice, there will be two separate religious systems. It’s a shame the State of Israel has given the keys to a group of people, many of whom don’t even recognize its existence.”

Stern called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene on behalf of those who underwent conversions by IDF rabbis. He added that would-be converts rejected by the Chief Rabbinate were invited to come to national religious synagogues over the High Holy Days.

Gnessin said that senior government officials would meet to discuss the problem next week. “Our intention is to create a situation in which the problem will be resolved for all soldiers by way of the state. The Chief Rabbinate does not agree to this, but the state is authorized to do so.”

At the end of the discussion, the court returned to the petition itself and urged the state to find a better solution than it had come up with to solve the problem of marriage registrars who refuse to marry converts. The state had proposed that special registrars be appointed to deal with all cases where converts had trouble registering in regular rabbinical courts.

“The state’s proposed solution will discriminate against converts and give them a scarlet letter for life,” said ITIM head Rabbi Seth Farber afterward. “The judges essentially accepted this view and called upon the state to within 60 days offer a better solution that would allow for the appointment of regional registrars – not just for converts, but for anyone. We are pleased with this, though we are skeptical about the willingness of the state to do so.”


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