IDF conversion bill passes preliminary reading

Lieberman promises bill to be fully passed in a month; Likud, Habayit Hayehudi vote in favor; Yishai says bill's consequences are unknown.

Knesset winter session 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Knesset winter session 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The 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.
Likud and Habayit Hayehudi voted in favor of the bill, with the orthodox Shas, UTJ and National Union parties opposing it. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud had withheld its support until the last minute, saying that he would only support the bill if no compromise could be reached with Interior Minister Eli Yishai's Shas party.
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Knesset set to vote on IDF conversion bill
Speaking at a press conference following the vote, Lieberman promised that the bill would be passed fully though the Knesset within a month's time.
Prior to the vote, Yishai gave an impassioned speech accusing those supporting the bill of seeking headlines and destroying the Jewish people. He said that throughout the Diaspora all over the world, the one thing that the Jewish people have guarded is the Torah. The interior minister accused the bill's supporters of attempting to destroy that.
In a futile last-minute plea, Yishai asked Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman to think twice about the law, of which the consequences for the Jewish people are unknown. He quoted a letter from the IDF chief rabbi saying that conversions in and outside the IDF should be unified and claimed that there has never been a need for such a law.
Sponsor of the law MK David Rotem of Habayit Hayehud spoke after Yishai and retorted, that those who support the bill are the true supporters of the people of Israel.
A spokesman for Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar stressed on Tuesday that he wanted to form a committee that would ensure due respect for the soldiers, rather than create a second class of conversions for them. Serious rabbis are to be part of the committee, the spokesman said.
As head of the country’s rabbinic courts, Amar’s signature is needed on military conversion certificates, a technicality that was overlooked for years. When asked to provide his name for the documents, Amar said he needed to examine the IDF conversion process, and formed a committee to advise him while issuing a letter saying the conversions were in accordance with Halacha.
That committee fell apart shortly after its inception, after which Rotem proposed his bill to give IDF conversions independence from the Chief Rabbinate by bestowing power on the IDF chief rabbi to be the final signatory on military conversions.
Critics say that such a change will create different classes of conversions, and that military conversions will not be recognized by the Orthodox establishment. Most of today’s conversions in Israel take place in IDF courses.
Jonah Mandel and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.