Knesset winter session 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The controversial IDF conversion bill passed in its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon. The bill passed with a very strong margin, 74 MKs voted in favor and only 18 MKs opposed it.
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Likud and Habayit Hayehudi voted in favor of the bill, with the orthodox Shas, UTJ and National Union parties opposing it. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud had withheld its support until the last minute, saying that he would only support the bill if no compromise could be reached with Interior Minister Eli Yishai's Shas party.
Speaking at a press conference following the vote, Lieberman promised that the bill would be passed fully though the Knesset within a month's time.
Prior to the vote, Yishai gave an impassioned speech accusing those
supporting the bill of seeking headlines and destroying the Jewish
people. He said that throughout the Diaspora all over the world, the one
thing that the Jewish people have guarded is the Torah. The interior
minister accused the bill's supporters of attempting to destroy that.
In a futile last-minute plea, Yishai asked Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor
Lieberman to think twice about the law, of which the consequences for
the Jewish people are unknown. He quoted a letter from the IDF chief
rabbi saying that conversions in and outside the IDF should be unified
and claimed that there has never been a need for such a law.
Sponsor of the law MK David Rotem of Habayit Hayehud spoke after Yishai
and retorted, that those who support the bill are the true supporters of
the people of Israel.
A spokesman for Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar stressed on Tuesday
that he wanted to form a committee that would ensure due respect for the
soldiers, rather than create a second class of conversions for them.
Serious rabbis are to be part of the committee, the spokesman said.
As head of the country’s rabbinic courts, Amar’s signature is needed on
military conversion certificates, a technicality that was overlooked for
years. When asked to provide his name for the documents, Amar said he
needed to examine the IDF conversion process, and formed a committee to
advise him while issuing a letter saying the conversions were in
accordance with Halacha.
That committee fell apart shortly after its inception, after which Rotem
proposed his bill to give IDF conversions independence from the Chief
Rabbinate by bestowing power on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final
signatory on military conversions.
Critics say that such a change will create different classes of
conversions, and that military conversions will not be recognized by the
Orthodox establishment. Most of today’s conversions in Israel take
place in IDF courses.Jonah Mandel and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.