Amar's c'tee on IDF conversions calls for end of course

Rabbinic c'tee says inclusion of Reform, Conservative teachers in staff of Nativ course "casts heavy shadow" on all military conversions.

March 9, 2011 02:59
3 minute read.
Amar's c'tee on IDF conversions calls for end of course

shlomo amar. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The rabbinic committee appointed by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar recommended that he terminate the Nativ course held for potential IDF converts, since Reform and Conservative teachers are part of its staff, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.

“In this [Nativ] course about 10 of the staff of 170 teachers are Reform or Conservative. We perceive this as a severe problem, that casts a heavy shadow on all of the military conversions, and every effort should be made to cancel this course and/or to not have it as a precondition to the IDF process,” the report quoted from a letter the three-man advisory committee wrote.

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It was in the middle of January that senior Sephardi adjudicator Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that the military conversions were kosher, a stance Amar endorsed. Over 4,500 such conversions from past years thus received a stamp of approval, after a tense few months since it was discovered during a High Court of Justice hearing in September that this chief rabbi and his predecessors had inadvertently not been signing the conversion certificates for years.

While the immediate remedy would have been to have Amar sign the certificates, the chief rabbi issued a letter endorsing the IDF conversions, but declared his right to consult on the topic before granting his signature.

To that end, Amar formed a committee of rabbis from within the Chief Rabbinic Council, which fell apart after a few days. The chief rabbi then appointed senior Rabbis Nissim Ben-Shimon, Shimon Elituv and Aharon Dershowitz to scrutinize the military conversion process.

The three men presented Amar and Yosef with their findings, following which Yosef wrote that “by Halacha, the IDF conversions are valid, according to our holy Torah.

And the good recommendations of the rabbis, members of the committee, should be implemented.”

Those “good recommendations” were never made public, neither by the chief rabbinate nor by MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who received them after demanding of Amar’s representative to see them during a hearing on the military conversion bill in the Knesset Law Committee he heads a few weeks ago.

Rotem is still continuing to advance a bill he penned with MK Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu) which would grant conversions conducted in the IDF independent status from the Chief Rabbinate. The bill was submitted to the Knesset in the period between September and January, when it was still unclear how Amar would decree on the military conversions.

The presence of non-Orthodox teachers in the Nativ course is no secret, and Amar undoubtedly was aware of it even before his advisory committee noted it. The three rabbis also recommended that the rabbinic judges in the military conversion courts, who they described as “Godfearing men who do their task with loyalty and dedication,” should not decide to convert after only one meeting with a soldier, but should hold at least two.

They also suggested eight months as a minimal time period from when the conversion request is submitted to the actual moment of conversion, and to add a third seminar of two weeks to the process.

A rally planned by the Ashkenaziharedi Eda Haredit and senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv last month protesting the conversions’ approval by Yosef and Amar was called off after dialogue between the sides enhanced the understanding of what they actually approved.

The Chief Rabbinate and Religious Services Ministry also probably helped gain the attention of the Eda Haredit when they heightened their supervision over the Eda Haredit’s prestigious kashrut certificates and marriage licenses after word of the rally began spreading.

The decision to call off the protest, however, was made by the Eda Haredit leadership, and was not to the liking of Elyashiv. The Lithuanian camp’s newspaper Yated Ne’eman declared two days after the protest was called off that “our rabbis have ordered to continue protesting the fake conversions.”

None of those involved in the military conversion process, the pending legislation or the non-Orthodox movements wished to comment on Israel Radio’s exposure, which was widely seen as part of the Lithuanian struggle against the IDF conversions and those who endorsed them.

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