Eda Haredit calls off IDF conversions approval protest

Arye Deri mediates understandings between Yosef, Ashkenazi rabbis.

By JONAH MANDEL
February 21, 2011 04:37
Arye Deri.

Arye Deri 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Eda Haredit organization announced on Sunday evening that it was calling off its rally planned for Wednesday, which was to be in protest over the recent approval of the IDF conversions by senior Sephardi adjudicator and head of the Shas Council of Torah Sages Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

For the past six weeks, since Yosef and Amar okayed the military conversions, the senior haredi-Ashkenazi rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, have been expressing their discontent over what they considered a breach of the purity of Israel. The planned rally, an example of rare collaboration between the Eda Haredit, headed by Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, and Elyashiv, was going to be a protest against the sweeping approval the Sephardi rabbis gave to the IDF conversions, which according to Weiss and Elyashiv include those of people who never really intended to accept Torah and mitzvot, and therefore should have their conversions annulled.

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The understandings reached on Sunday, mediated by political opponents former Shas chairman Arye Deri and current Shas chairman Eli Yishai, were that someone who can be proven to have had lied at the time of his or her conversion regarding his intent to accept the mitzvot, will not be considered Jewish.

This could be an acceptable formula for Yosef and the three rabbis meeting with the Eda Haredit leadership on his behalf, since it does not represent a deviation from his original adjudication. Proving one’s intent is nearly impossible, especially when the instance at hand – the conversion – might have taken place years ago. That means that the conversion of a secular convert would not necessarily be annulled.

At the same time, it changes the sweeping nature of the approval of the military conversions, and leaves room to investigate cases that are problematic.

This option is important for the haredi Ashkenazi establishment, even if it won’t act on it on a regular basis, as most converts avoid friction with marriage registrars who might cast aspersions on their Judaism.

Rabbi Nahum Eisenstein, of the capital’s Ma’alot Dafna neighborhood and chairman of the International Rabbinical Committee for Conversion Matters, who represents Elyashiv on matters pertaining to conversion, said on Sunday before the official decision to call off the rally that he was “pleasantly surprised and very satisfied over the fact that talks were under way. This is a first very positive step in the past six weeks since the conversions were approved.

“This kind of understanding will be best for the unity of the Jewish people,” Eisenstein continued.

“Such a decision – which has a bearing on the entirety of the Jews – must be reached through the consensus of the leading sages of our generation,” he said of Elyashiv, Yosef and Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, the leading hassidic adjudicator.

“You can’t force the whole nation to be bound to one opinion, it’s neither democratic nor good for the Jewish people. At the same time, there is no room for compromise on such matters.”

Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim of the Eda Haredit explained that the tension of the past weeks was a result first and foremost of miscommunication between the sides.

“There was never the notion of establishing lax conversions; Yosef was in line with the rest of the leading sages, his words were simply misinterpreted,” Pappenheim said.

“If there are specific complaints regarding a conversion, it can be examined.”

When asked by The Jerusalem Post how it can be determined what a convert’s intent was at the time of his or her process, regardless of where they are in life years later, Pappenheim replied that what is important is “what kind of instruction they received, if it was from a real Jew who has a Torah lifestyle, if the convert was exposed to that kind of household, if the process was done by a serious rabbi. But if it is clear that the convert was merely prompted on what to answer the rabbinic judges at the conversion court,” that would not be acceptable.

As for whether the IDF conversion process met the standards he described, Pappenheim said that in the past there were problems, but in the past six months things have been improving.

“This all came from a big misunderstanding. There were people from both sides who had an interest to raise the flames; once serious figures from both sides got involved, this was resolved,” he said.

The Eda Haredit had been under heavy fire recently, after it started organizing the demonstration, which was perceived by Yosef’s supporters as directed against him. Not only did the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut division recently tighten its supervision over the procedural – as opposed to halachic – aspects of the Badatz Eda Haredit kashrut industry, but also the Religious Services Ministry, headed by Shas’s Ya’acov Margi, warned the Eda Haredit last week that it would inspect its marriage registration, following a State Comptroller’s Report on the topic.

“After the state comptroller raised the issue of marriage registration with us and in the wake of numerous complaints regarding your conduct, you must coordinate a time for us to inspect the claims and the alleged nonimplementation of the necessary procedures,” the director of the ministry’s marriage and rabbinate division wrote in a letter to the Eda Haredit on Thursday.

“If such a meeting is not set up within a month, we will have to stop providing you with marriage certificates, and the current arrangement of marriage registration we have will be ended.”

Surprisingly, the final understandings were reached without Amar’s involvement, a spokesman for the chief rabbi confirmed on Sunday evening.

Shas had issued numerous furious announcements against Deri, who they said humiliated Yosef by “bending” his ruling in a “compromise” that had the sole purpose of gaining the former Shas leader media attention.

Yishai was also active in meetings with the heads of the Eda, but Deri apparently was the one who came up with the formula both sides could agree upon.

A spokesman for Deri said he and Amar had spent the entire weekend in the same location, and were fully coordinated on the issue.

“This is a happy day for me, in which the dignity of the Torah and its sages was saved,” Deri said in a statement.

“It is time we put our energies into finding the uniting and merging elements, rather than what separates and distances us.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, the head of ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center, however, who set the military conversion dispute into motion when he filed a High Court of Justice petition against marriage registrars who do not recognize military conversions, called the understandings “a cynical use of people’s lives to make political deals, immoral and against the explicit Halacha to not deceive converts.

“The heavy doubts over the identity of thousands of Jews, who converted according to Halacha, have reappeared.

Since the Chief Rabbinate can’t reach a solution that ensures the future of the IDF converts, we will have to return to find it in the court through our petition,” Farber said.


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