'Splitting conversion authorities not good for soldiers'

IDF chief rabbi says law to amend "technical problem" is unnecessary; Yishai says Shas may leave coalition if conversion bill advances.

By JONAH MANDEL, JPOST.COM STAFF
December 15, 2010 15:17
3 minute read.
Knesset session (illustrative)

Knesset winter session 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.- Gen. Rafi Peretz stressed on Wednesday that one unified conversion authority is for the best of the soldiers undergoing conversions, and didn't think that legislation was necessary to amend the “technical problem” of the lacking signatures on the conversion certificates.

Peretz's comments came after a 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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“The military conversion courts are under the ongoing supervision of the Military Rabbinate, and their conduct is to the satisfaction of the IDF chief rabbi,” Peretz wrote in a letter addressed to Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the State Conversion Authority.

“It should be noted that the rabbinic judges serving in the IDF conversion courts also serve in that capacity in the civilian conversion courts,” Peretz said.

“As far as the IDF Rabbinate and its chief rabbi, one conversion is to be preferred. The IDF Rabbinate should be an extension of the Chief Rabbinate, it is better in regards to the fortitude of the conversion, and also for the benefit of the soldiers, that the conversion will not be split,” he wrote.

“As far as the technical amendment, it does not necessitate legislation,” Peretz added.

In related news, Shas party leader Eli Yishai said Wednesday that if the IDF conversion bill advances beyond a preliminary reading, the party will consider leaving the coalition.

"If this [advancement of the bill] should happen, we will be free of our coalition obligations," Yishai said.

After the bill passed it's first reading in the Knesset, Shas released a statement attacking Israel Beiteinu and calling the party "Shinui Beiteinu" - meaning "a change in our home" and also referencing the liberal political movement Shinui.

Shas Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi also threatened that his party may leave the governing coalition if the IDF conversion bill passes its first reading in the Knesset.

"If the prime minister does not keep his promises and stop this law making its ways through the Knesset, there is no doubt that this will be considered crossing some red lines and cause a serious crisis even leading to a breakup of the coalition," Margi said during an interview with haredi radio station Kol Hai Radio.

However, Shas members have not completely lost hope, reported Army Radio. They expect that upon the return of the chief Sephardic rabbi to Israel, he will be able to reach an agreement with the IDF chief rabbi, and the conversion bill will not be implemented.

Also responding to the passing of the bill, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the Knesset's decision.

"It is important that the soldiers are converted halachically and we will not allow them to be harmed," Netanyahu said. "These soldiers risk their lives for our security, and and this is the least we can do to give them the gratitude they deserve."

Heads of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel expressed their satisfaction with the preliminary vote.

Head of the Reform Movement Rabbi Gilad Kariv said the Knesset was signaling to the Chief Rabbinate and its political supporters that there is a limit to the abuse of converts and contempt of Israeli public opinion, and head of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement Yizhar Hess congratulated the bill's sponsor, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), but stressed that the true test will be the ultimate passage of the bill. Hess also expressed his fear of an "un-kosher deal" that would enable the passage of Rotem's original conversion bill, which Amar wants, an act that would cause "huge damage to Israel-diaspora relations."


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