Members of the Knesset Law Committee loudly debated on Tuesday whether the IDF
conversion bill proposed by Israel Beiteinu MKs was still necessary after
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar ruled last week that army conversions were
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Amar’s decision followed a halachic ruling to that effect by Shas
spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Committee chairman David Rotem, one
of the bill’s initiators, praised Yosef’s ruling officially recognizing the
conversions of thousands of soldiers. However, he said he was still determined
to pass the legislation, which would give the IDF conversion process legal
independence from the Chief Rabbinate.
“I intend to continue legislating
the bill so that no one will be able to cast another cloud [of doubt] in the
future on the legality of these conversions,” he told the committee.
issue of the IDF conversions came up during a High Court hearing several months
ago involving four haredi marriage registrars who refused to register
prospective couples in cases where at least one partner had converted in a
state-administered civilian or military conversion court.
hearing, the state’s representative, Yochi Gnessin, stunned the court by
informing it that none of the military conversions were legal because the
rabbinate had not signed the converts’ conversion certificates after the
military courts had approved their conversions.
At first it appeared that
the problem was only a matter of oversight. However, it soon emerged that the
rabbinate was unwilling to sign the certificates and that it was calling into
question the legality of the conversions.
One reason for this was that
Amar had come under heavy pressure from Ashkenazi haredim, many of whom oppose
the state- and army-administered conversions because of doubts over whether the
converts intended to maintain a religious lifestyle at the time of their
Amar appointed a committee of three rabbis to investigate the
military conversions. On Friday, they presented their report to the Sephardi
chief rabbi at a meeting with Yosef, who then issued his ruling approving the
Following that, Amar ordered Rabbi Raffi Dayan, who is in
charge of certificates in the Chief Rabbinate, to issue the appropriate
The committee also reportedly recommended making changes
in current IDF conversion procedures, which Yosef wrote “should take
In the final analysis, neither the MKs nor the public have seen
the committee’s recommendations.
Nevertheless, Rotem is under pressure to
shelve his proposed legislation on the basis of these documents.
Tuesday’s meeting, Rotem’s dispute was mainly with the haredi parties, Shas and
United Torah Judaism (UTJ).
However, the two parties do not agree with
each other. Given Yosef’s halachic ruling, Shas agrees that the IDF conversions
are halachicly acceptable, but does not want secular legislation to determine
halachic matters, and therefore opposes the law.
Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev
accused Rotem of drafting a bill to further his party’s political ambitions. He
said IDF conversions could only be acceptable if an agreement were worked out
between the army and the Chief Rabbinate and, at minimum, the chief army
chaplain fulfilled the requirements of a candidate for a city rabbi
Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the state-administered
conversion courts, said he also opposed the bill.
“Now that Yosef has
approved the conversions, there is no reason for concern or doubt about them,”
he said. “From now on, anyone who undergoes conversion in the army will receive
a conversion certificate.”
Druckman argued that there had never actually
been a halachic problem with the IDF conversions in the first place. The person
who had rung the alarm bells was Gnessin, and she had been referring to a legal
problem – that is, that the rabbinate had not signed the conversion certificates
– and not a halachic one.
All that has been solved now, he continued;
Gnessin herself informed the court that the conversion certificates were being
“We should praise Yosef and Amar,” said Druckman. “It doesn’t
matter what the committee recommended. The fact is that the converts received
their certificates. A law is not the solution to the
Despite imploring Amar to rectify the “technicality” of the
absent signatures speedily, and initiating his bill when the chief rabbi failed
to do so, Rotem was in no rush on Tuesday to have his committee vote on the
bill. “This is a serious topic that demands serious debate,” he
Representatives of the military conversion process noted the
anguish experienced by past and present converts in the IDF, who for some five
months had been in painful uncertainty of their Jewish status until Yosef’s
decision. To that, Rotem reiterated that “the IDF conversions are
halachic, and always were.”
Addressing the fear expressed by the bill’s
critics, including Druckman, that it would create two classes of conversions in
Israel – since the military one would not be accepted as valid by some marriage
registrars – Rotem noted that his bill would establish that the rabbis who
conducted the conversions would have the power to register the converts for
marriage. He also expressed his aspiration that the bill would include a clause
giving the state the power to fire marriage registrars – a less viable solution
since only the committee for appointing rabbinic judges has that
Rotem also expressed concern that Yosef’s and Amar’s endorsement
of the past conversions was dependent on the implementation of the advisory
committee’s recommendations to modify the military process – a claim denied by
Dayan, who brought as evidence the fact that Amar had already approved the
Rotem and others demanded that Dayan present the Knesset
with the full recommendations to get a better idea of where things stood as far
as the Chief Rabbinate’s updated attitude toward the IDF conversions.