Rotem's law c'tee to debate military conversion bill

Amid speculations regarding Chief Rabbi Amar's stance on issue, MK says decision to be made that would determine independent status of IDF conversions.

By JONAH MANDEL
January 13, 2011 20:20
3 minute read.
David Rotem

Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))

Knesset Law Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) announced on Thursday that his committee would hold a discussion on his military conversion bill this Tuesday, at the end of which the committee might bring it for a vote.

The bill, sponsored by Rotem and fellow Israel Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov, would grant conversions conducted in the IDF independent status from the Chief Rabbinate.

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The law currently requires that all conversions in Israel, including those in the military, need the final signature of the head of the relevant religious community – in this case, the rabbi heading the rabbinic courts, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

Rotem’s announcement came after a flurry of speculations in the media regarding the projected conclusions of the committee Amar formed to advise him on the military conversions. According to some of the reports, the committee found problems in the IDF process and could not recommend that the chief rabbi accept them as-is. However, the three-man panel is merely a consulting body, and the final call will be Amar’s.

A few months ago, it was discovered that the chief rabbi’s signature – that of Amar and his predecessor – had been missing from the IDF conversions. Amar said that while the issue was essentially a technicality, he couldn’t give his signature to a process with which he was not sufficiently familiar, and formed an advisory committee from within the Chief Rabbinical Council. That first committee fell apart within days, leaving Amar in the lurch, and Rotem and Ilatov put forth the bill to free the IDF conversions from their legal dependency on the Chief Rabbinate.

This move surprised many of those who followed Rotem’s arduous attempts to pass his initial conversion bill, since that initiative proposed, among other modifications, that the ultimate authority over conversions in Israel, including those in the IDF, be none other than the Chief Rabbinate. Moreover, Rotem and Amar had collaborated closely on the formulation and promotion of that first bill, which the chief rabbi had supported wholeheartedly.

Rotem, in his announcement Thursday, seemed to be responding to reports that Amar had agreed to approve the military conversions on condition that the prime minister torpedoed the IDF conversion bill, which the chief rabbi, as well as Shas, entirely oppose.

A source close to the three-man advisory committee, however, drew a slightly more complex picture for The Jerusalem Post. The committee could not check every one of the thousands of converts who underwent the process years ago in the IDF, the source explained, and would find it difficult to recommend that Amar give his signature to those processes. Its concrete recommendations would deal with how to ensure from now on that the IDF conversions corresponded to the Chief Rabbinate’s standards and supervision.

However, a retroactive approval for the scores of conversions already conducted could be provided by the “broad shoulders” of the senior rabbinic leadership of our generation, the source said – a reference to Shas Council of Torah Sages head Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who, the night before the military conversion bill passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, had said that the lack of signatures was just a technicality, and everyone knew that the military conversions were kosher.

Rotem also reiterated Thursday his insistence on passing his military conversion bill under any circumstances, even if Amar did provide his signature and auspices to the IDF process. He explained that these conversions could not be prone to the whim of the chief rabbis, as no one could predict how stringent they would chose to be.

Political commentators pointed to a dire need on the part of Israel Beiteinu to show its constituency legislative results, which have been sorely lacking despite the party’s promises ahead of elections. This could explain Rotem’s determination to pass his law, even if it runs contrary to his original intention to bind IDF conversions officially to the Chief Rabbinate.

Meanwhile, Rotem’s proposed law would not be viewed favorably by IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, who expressed his objection to the bill in December.

Haredi media cited him on Thursday as reiterating his objection to heading an autonomous conversion entity, and threatening that he would refuse to be responsible for it if it were detached from the Chief Rabbinate.


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