Haredi Soldiers 311.
(photo credit: YAAKOV KATZ)
Before Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgement, and Yom Kippur, the Day of
Repentance, Jews strive for self-improvement, especially in interpersonal
Yet in a mind-boggling exercise in utter disregard for the
feelings of others, a lawyer in the State Attorney’s Office, representing the
State of Israel, has, this week of all weeks, insulted thousands of soldiers,
present and past, who converted to Judaism during their stint in the
“Conversions are taking place, I don’t know for how long... without
proper authorization,” attorney Yochi Gnessin told the High Court of Justice on Monday.
“It turns out that some sort of framework was set up which is
not supervised in any way by the Chief Rabbinate,” added Gnessin, at a savage
stroke casting unwarranted doubt on the Jewishness of at least 4,500 converts
and their children.
Gnessin, whose self-professed ignorance could have
been alleviated had she so much as performed a simple Google search, was
referring to the NATIV program, first established in 2001. This offers IDF
soldiers – mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were not Jewish
but received Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they were
related to Jew – a Jewish studies course. The program including “adoption” by a
religious family, and eventually leads to conversion in IDF rabbinical
The rabbinic judges who serve on these courts are all
Orthodox rabbis ordained by the Chief Rabbinate and many of them serve on
“officially recognized” conversion courts as well. NATIV and the IDF conversion
courts have been operating under the tacit, if not expressed, authorization of
the Chief Rabbinate.
BY REJECTING the legitimacy of the NATIV program,
the state attorney was essentially defending a small number of state employees –
the haredi chief rabbis of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rehovot and Rishon LeZion – who are
being sued for refusing to register IDF converts for marriage in their
respective cities because their conversions are deemed to be invalid.
a perplexing role reversal, the State of Israel, via Gnessin, is now
backtracking on its previous policy, which saw as a national priority the
conversion of approximately 350,000 FSU immigrants and their offspring who are
not Jewish. As Absorption Ministry officials put it in the State of Israel’s
2009 budget, “[Statefunded] preparation for conversion is aimed at answering the
needs of the [non-Jewish FSU] immigrant and his desire to be a part of the
Jewish people, for the purpose of absorption and integration in the
Central to this pro-conversion policy was the desire to
prevent intermarriage and foster cultural and religious unity.
the State Attorney’s Office has joined the forces of religious extremism which
have already overrun the Chief Rabbinate.
This reversal is unfortunate,
to put it mildly, since there are many contemporary Orthodox rabbis, like the
ones who serve in the IDF’s conversion courts, who identify with the state’s
goal of integration through conversion.
They take into consideration that
most prospective converts have a Jewish father or some other familial tie with
the Jewish people. Though not Jews according to Halacha, these people are
considered “the seed of Israel” – zera Yisrael – which means they should be
encouraged to convert.
These rabbis have also been more lenient with non-
Jews who intend to remain in Israel and tie their destiny to the Jewish people,
or who have shown their commitment to the Jewish people’s well-being through,
say, IDF service.
Orthodoxy’s moderate voices, which strive to make
Judaism accessible and relevant to as many Israelis as possible, should be
heard. If not, pressure will build to change the present religious status quo, a
move which will inevitably lead to unnecessary strife.
ON ROSH HASHANA
eve, as Iran strides unimpeded toward a nuclear capability, Hamas consolidates
its hold over Gaza and threatens stability in the West Bank and Hizbullah gains
influence in Lebanon, we should be looking for ways to foster unity and improve
relations among ourselves.
Rejecting the Jewishness of thousands of IDF
converts is definitely not the way to kick off the new year.