Amar defends his decision on IDF conversions

Chief rabbi differentiates between converts who left observance, and those who never planned to keep mitzvot.

January 24, 2011 15:49
2 minute read.
Chief Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar.

rabbi amar torah 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar defended on Monday his decision to approve the military conversions that are undertaken according to Jewish law.

He was responding to claims from parts of the Ashkenaziharedi camp that such conversions are invalid, since the process the candidates underwent was faulty and the converts never really intended to maintain a Jewish lifestyle, as evidenced by the fact that many do not keep mitzvot in the years that follow.

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In a letter apparently aimed at senior Ashkenazi haredi rabbis, Amar cites the general guidelines for conversion – that the convert (if male) be circumcised, must immerse in a ritual bath, face a qualified three-man panel of rabbinic judges and “take upon himself the mitzvot of the Torah.” The absence of any of these conditions can prevent or even retroactively annul a conversion.

The chief rabbi then proceeds to make the distinction between those who never really accepted “Torah and mitzvot at the time of [their] conversion,” and are thus not considered converts, and those who had the right intent at the time of their conversion, but did not remain observant afterward.

The latter are Jewish and must be married and divorced accordingly, he wrote.

“A convert who was circumcised and immersed in a ritual bath, and accepted the Torah and mitzvot in front of three [rabbinic judges], and everything was done according to Halacha, and later on returned to his old ways and transgresses the Torah’s mitzvot – such a person is considered a Jewish apostate,” Amar wrote.

“But his Jewish matrimony and divorce” are valid, the chief rabbi stressed, citing Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch, who ruled this way.

At the end of the typed letter, Amar added by hand that not only do the IDF converts accept the “burden of Torah and mitzvot” after learning the principles of Judaism and being tested on them, they have also spent time in the homes of religious families, who give their appraisals of the candidates to the rabbinic judges overseeing the conversion.

Amar also noted that in his ruling he was following the lead of senior Sephardi adjudicator Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, whose affirmative decree on the halachic validity of the military conversions was what led the chief rabbi’s decision on the topic some 10 days ago.

Monday’s letter, which was also endorsed by Yosef, who signed it at the bottom, does not seem to include anything new. Amar had already declared that the military conversions are, and were, conducted in accordance with Halacha, and therefore receive his approval and signature, as the law demands.

But sources close to Amar explained that the doubts cast by the Ashkenazi haredi rabbinic world on the military process, which inevitably led to criticism of the two senior Sephardi rabbis – Yosef and Amar – who endorsed them, led the chief rabbi to release the latest letter.

On Sunday, there were reports in the haredi online media that senior Ashkenaziharedi authority Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv had signed a letter declaring the IDF conversions halachicly invalid, and that other senior haredi rabbis were adding their names to it.

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