Military conversions are halachically valid, says Amar

Chief Sephardi Rabbi issues a letter saying the conversions are "in accordance with all religious standards."

September 17, 2010 03:08
3 minute read.
Chief Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar.

rabbi amar torah 311. (photo credit: AP)

Meeting the Knesset’s State Control Committee deadline, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar issued a letter on Thursday stating that military conversions are in keeping with the Chief Rabbinate and, hence, halachically valid.

“For many years the chief military rabbis acted to convert IDF soldiers in the army’s conversion courts,” the letter read. “The chief military rabbis acted in full cooperation with the chief rabbis of Israel, in all matters pertaining to religion and state. Soldiers who converted in these conversion courts, were also wed in keeping with the Halacha for many years by marriage registrars, in accordance with all religious standards.”

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The committee’s demand for this public clarification came after a stormy Monday meeting to discuss what was initially perceived to be the State Attorney’s Office declaring that military conversions were halachically invalid, after last week attorney Yochi Gnessin told the High Court of Justice that there was “a problem” with the army conversions.

This occurred during a hearing on a petition by Itim – The Jewish Life Information Center – against the Chief Rabbinate and four city rabbis who in their capacity as marriage registrars do not recognize the validity of conversions.

Gnessin, who attended the committee meeting, stressed that she had not spoken of the halachic aspects of conversions.

The committee, headed by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), then gave all the relevant authorities the deadline of Yom Kippur in order to “clear the mist” over the question of the validity of the IDF conversions by issuing a public statement and thereby relieve the 4,584 converts who underwent the IDF process since 2001 from the religious limbo they were cast into, before the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Amar’s announcement also noted that the chief rabbi will raise the topic before the Chief Rabbinical Council, and is working in coordination with the Justice Ministry to regulate all necessary procedural aspects.

The chief rabbi’s office used the opportunity to “call upon the prime minister and the members of the Knesset to act immediately to legislate a conversion law in Israel, in face of the great importance of regulating this issue, to prevent mishaps and anguish to the converts, soldiers and civilians.”

Amar had been one of the most enthusiastic advocates of Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem’s Conversion Bill, which did not pass in the previous Knesset session.

Hasson praised Amar and all the other parties involved, including Gnessin and members of the Military Rabbinate, “for their swift treatment of the military conversion issue, in accordance with the time limit set by the Knesset’s committee.

“Thanks to the committee’s involvement,” Hasson continued, “thousands of soldiers who underwent military conversions will be able to enter synagogues this Yom Kippur with the rest of Israel, tranquil and certain of the validity of their Judaism.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, who as head of Itim filed the petition that triggered the maelstrom, was less enthusiastic.

“We are pleased that, ahead of Yom Kippur, the chief rabbi is also taking action for the IDF converts and clarifying to whoever still might have doubts that the military conversions [that took place over the years] are valid in every matter and aspect.

“At the same time,” Farber continued, “the chief rabbi is refraining from affirming that the military conversions are taking place today, too, under the Chief Rabbinate’s supervision, and therefore an additional and unambiguous announcement is still needed.

“We hope the Chief Rabbinical Council and its subordinate rabbis will act according to this declaration, and we will not encounter any further instances in which [stateemployed rabbis] do not recognize the state’s conversions.”

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