Bill to shift conversion responsibility to IDF rabbi

Three out of five members of Amar advisory panel resign, while Sephardi Chief Rabbi is still yet to give his consent to process.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A day after the committee meant to advise Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar on the quality of conversions in the army unofficially shut down, Habayit Hayehudi submitted a bill on Wednesday endowing the IDF chief rabbi with the authority to be the final signatory for military conversions.
The proposal, penned by Habayit Hayehudi MKs Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach, came after Amar, in his capacity as head of the rabbinical courts, did not give his immediate consent to sign the conversion certificates of military converts, as the law demands.
When it was pointed out during a High Court of Justice hearing last month that Amar and his predecessors had inadvertently overlooked this fact for years – a point that caused a public uproar, as it appeared to cast serious doubt on the validity of thousands of conversions – the immediate remedy was to have Amar sign the military conversion certificates. Amar issued a letter endorsing the military conversions and noted that a discussion on the topic would take place in the next Chief Rabbinical Council meeting. When the council convened last Thursday, he declared his right to consult on the issue before granting his signature.
Critics said that the five-man committee formed by Amar – which was charged with submitting recommendations within four months based on an inquiry into the military conversions – was an attempt to divert the heavy criticism the Sephardi chief rabbi faced from the Ashkenazi haredi establishment – which objects to the IDF conversions – by leaning on the panel’s anticipated advice.
But on Tuesday, two members resigned: Hebrew law expert Rabbi Dr. Ratzon Arusi, and Rabbi Yaakov Rozhe. They joined Beersheba Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who announced on Friday that he was quitting the committee that had yet to begin work.
In the notes to the bill, Orlev and Orbach noted that the committee had already fallen apart, but “the lack of an unequivocal and immediate decision by the chief rabbi of Israel, charged by law to provide the conversion certificates for the military conversions, caused a public uproar” and “necessitates a swift and permanent solution.”
Regardless of the outcome of Amar’s decision on the issue, Orlev said on Wednesday, the recent events surrounding the army conversions proved the need to legislate a shift of responsibility: This procedure, which takes place in the army, should fall under the IDF chief rabbi’s jurisdiction, just as he is in charge of kashrut and Shabbat observance in the military.
Another blow to the committee came in the form of an atypically harsh letter sent to Amar on Monday by Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom. In his capacity as chairman of the Directorate of the Institute of Jewish Studies, Ish-Shalom is also in charge of the military’s Nativ conversion courts.
In the letter, which was obtained by The Jerusalem Post, Ish-Shalom pointed out that Amar was “involved in the conversion system and in the conversion process in the IDF since your first day in the position of chief rabbi of Israel, and are well aware that these conversions are kosher and valid beyond the shadow of a doubt. The special conversion courts and the conversion courts in the IDF have been functioning for decades and carry out conversions according to all the requirements of the Halacha.”
He continued, “The denigration of the conversion process and the converts, which comes from elements that have either ideological motivations or personal interests in the issue, slanders both the converts and the conversion courts and causes untold damage to an issue that is paramount to us and to the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”
Ish-Shalom proceeded to demand that Amar “express his clear and unequivocal support of the conversions in the IDF and in the conversion system as is dictated by his role and responsibility,” and even went as far as to inform the chief rabbi that the directorate would bar members of the committee from entering the Nativ classrooms.
Amar’s office did not comment on the topic Wednesday.