stern, elazar, 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The IDF's rabbinical conversion courts will convert to Judaism about 1,000 non- Jewish soldiers by the end of 2005 compared to 450 in 2004, said Thursday OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern. Next year the number will continue to grow.
"Those who have converted or are in the process of converting convince their friends and they bring more friends," said Stern.
More than three-quarters of those who convert are females.
"They ask me why. Well, it's more important and it hurts less," Stern told The Jerusalem Post.
Stern said the IDF was devoting extensive resources to conversion. He estimated that costs to the IDF were upwards of NIS 20 million a year.
Stern said that conversions within the IDF were the best solution to the demographic problem caused by the large influx of non-Jews from the Former Soviet Union.
"At any given time there are about 7,000 non-Jews serving in the IDF," he said.
"Faced with the large number of non-Jews here, it is essential that we present the most open version of orthodox Judaism possible," said Stern.
"That way more non Jews will be willing to join the Jewish people."
Conversions in the IDF, along with conversions performed by special rabbinic conversion courts, are overseen by religious Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the conversion affairs bureau in the Prime Minister's Office.
Ultra orthodox rabbis are highly critical of the IDF conversions, arguing that they are done too quickly under overly lenient halachic conditions in a very secular, coed environment. Even high-ranking officials in the rabbinate have voiced criticism.
However, Stern rejected the attacks on IDF conversions. He said they were launched either by ultra orthodox that do not recognize conversions made by the Israeli rabbinate or are motivated by political motives.
"If someone has something to say against the conversions they should tell Druckman. If someone does not rely on Druckman he should say so."
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar agreed to give Druckman the jurisdiction over conversions.
Stern said that many conversion court judges make the conversions of females younger than 18 years old conditional upon the signing of an affidavit that they will not enlist in the IDF.
"But we don't need them," said Stern. "We'll convert those girls ourselves. They are already marrying with religious Zionists, with their counselors and with settlers from Judea and Samaria. It is a good thing that I am not invited to all the weddings."
Stern said he has also been attacked by secular politicians for using the IDF as a vehicle for religious coercion and for the propagation of racism.
The conversions take place in the framework of the IDF's Nativ course that includes four stages. The majority of the converts are from the former Soviet Union.