David Rotem 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a private member’s
bill submitted by the head of the Knesset Law Committee, MK David Rotem, and by
MK Robert Ilatov (both from Israel Beiteinu) stating that all conversions
conducted by army chaplains were valid.
The bill is aimed at putting an
end to the question of the status of IDF conversions, after the issue erupted
into a heated public controversy in September during a hearing on a petition in
the High Court of Justice.
According to the bill, “The chief military
chaplain is permitted to appoint military courts to deal with the conversion of
soldiers. The decision of such a court to convert a soldier will serve as
decisive proof of his Judaism.”
In the bill’s explanatory notes, the
legislators wrote that “to erase all doubt regarding the validity of the IDF
conversions, which have been unnecessarily questioned, and to remove the mist of
uncertainty enveloping those who underwent the process and who are undergoing it
now, this bill proposes to clearly and unequivocally determine that the
conversions... are halachically valid. All the state’s institutions should
recognize them and cast no doubt on them.”
It was the state that cast
doubt on them and set off the furor in the first place.
occurred during a hearing on a petition filed by Rabbi Seth Farber, head of
ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center; Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eliezer Stern
and others against the refusal of marriage registrars in four cities to register
couple in cases where one of the partners was converted in a court not part of
the Rabbinic Court system.
During a hearing on September 6, the state’s
representative, attorney Yochi Gnessin, informed the court that none of the
4,500 conversions already conducted in the military conversion courts were
valid. The state immediately issued a disclaimer to the statement and said
Gnessin had been misquoted, but the damage was done.
Chief Sephardi Rabbi
Shlomo Amar tried to douse the flames by upholding the army
But he later backtracked and the Chief Rabbinical Council
appointed a committee of five rabbis to investigate the matter.
refused to wait. He submitted his private member’s bill on November 1 and
explained that “all [military] conversions are kosher and impeccable.
am sorry that due to pressure, there are those who cast doubt on the Judaism of
hundreds of thousands of individuals who served in the IDF and risked their
lives for the state.”
The wording of the ministerial committee’s decision
regarding Rotem’s bill was different from the usual formulation in that it said
the committee approved the bill for preliminary reading. Private member’s bills
must be approved by the Knesset four times while government bills are approved
only three times. The first approval for private member’s bills comes in
preliminary reading before the Knesset plenum.
According to Amatzia
Bar-On, the media adviser to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, the committee
approved the bill specifically for preliminary reading and not necessarily for
the ensuing readings. This means the government could call on Rotem to make
certain changes when his committee prepares the bill for first
In another development, the committee sent a bill proposed by MK
Ya’acov Katz (National Union) to the coalition’s “governing committee” for
further discussion. The governing committee, which includes one member of each
coalition faction, was established to deal with legislation affecting elections
and the political power of the coalition factions.
Katz’s bill would
grant the write to vote in national elections to anyone registered in the voter
registration who has held a valid Israeli passport for at least 10 years.
Although Katz wrote in his explanation attached to the bill that it was aimed at
Israelis who happen to be out of the country on business on election day, it
would also allow Israelis living abroad to vote.
Last February, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman informed
their party factions that they would back legislation giving Israelis living
abroad the right to vote. At the time, a private member’s bill initiated by
Israel Beiteinu MKs Rotem and Alex Miller had already been submitted.
bill was worded exactly like the current one.
However, the announcement
at the time aroused strong opposition and Netanyahu backed down. The bill was
also opposed in the coalition by Shas and the Labor Party. Each coalition party
has the right of veto regarding bills that call for constitutional changes.