Chief Rabbinate to probe IDF, civilian conversion

Five senior rabbis will be presenting their findings to Chief Sephardi Rabbi, Chief IDF Rabbi within four months after doubt over army conversions.

Rabbis meeting 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbis meeting 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Chief Rabbinical Council on Thursday formed a committee to examine the conversion processes not only in the IDF but also in the State Conversion Authority. Five senior rabbis will be presenting their findings to Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Chief IDF Rabbi Rafi Peretz within four months.
The council's decision came after questions regarding the validity of IDF conversions arose during a September court hearing on a petition by Itim – The Jewish Life Information Center – against the Chief Rabbinate and four city rabbis who in their capacity as marriage registrars do not recognize the validity of conversions, during which a state representative Yochi Gnessin told the High Court of Justice that there was “a problem” with the army conversions. Gnessin was not referring to a halachic problem, rather a procedural one, but the statement brought the Knesset' State Control Committee to call on the rabbinate to issue an announcement to “clear the mist” over the military conversions.
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Amar accordingly wrote mid-September that “For years... the chief military rabbis acted in full cooperation with the chief rabbis of Israel, in all matters pertaining to religion and state. Soldiers who converted in these conversion courts, were also wed in keeping with the Halacha for many years by marriage registrars, in accordance with all religious standards.” The chief rabbi would “even raise the issue before the Chief Rabbinical Council,” the letter said.
In the time between Amar statement and the council's meeting, the Ashkenazi haredi press produced many statements and articles undermining the validity of the military conversion, with Yated Ne'eman spearheading the claims against the “fake” IDF conversion industry.
Thursday's resolution came since the “problem” with army conversions lies in the fact that despite the law necessitating the signature of the chief rabbi in charge of the rabbinic courts (Amar in this case) on every conversion certificate to legally validate it, such a signature was never provided for the military conversions. To amend this situation would demand Amar's retroactive approval, but the chief rabbi cannot do that without conducting an examination of the system he is requested to okay.
Sources in the rabbinate who attended the closed council meeting said that Peretz agreed to the claim that surfaced in haredi papers in the past few weeks, according to which the content of some of the military conversion classes contained “heretic material,” and welcomed a inspection into the mechanism.

This rationale, however, does not explain why the rabbinical council committee would also examine the State Conversion Authority, where the chief rabbi's signature is provided at the end of the conversion processes conducted there.
The Reform and Masorti movements slammed the rabbinate for its decision, and Kadima called on the rabbinate to find any possible way to ease the path of those seeking to join the Jewish nation.
Head of ITIM Rabbi Seth Farber expressed his disappointment over the decision, and his expectation of “the Chief Rabbinical Council to act in a statesmanlike manner, and not to succumb to pressure applied by go-getters, who misinform the senior haredi rabbis.”
“All of the IDF conversions are conducted with full acceptance of mitzvot, and adhere to all of the necessary halachic criteria,” Farber said. “These go-getters consider themselves stringent, but in fact are transgressing the explicit halachas regarding tormenting converts. The Chief Rabbinate, which is responsible over the fate of the converts, must come out with a clear and irrevocable statement that removes any shadows of doubt on the military conversions, and not form committees that will continue the torment of converts.”
MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), whose efforts to pass a law aimed at making the orthodox conversion process more accessible failed last Knesset session, was furious at the council's decision.
“The very existence of a Rabbinical Council hearing on the topic is a scandal, that proves there are rabbis who do not understand the importance of conversion. The IDF conversions are in full accordance with Halacha, and have been going on for years. The fact that there are factors pressuring rabbis raises the notion that it would be a good idea to disperse the Chief Rabbinical Council,” Rotem said, adding that he would promote legislation to that end.
In an address later that evening, at an event in honor of outgoing director of the rabbinical courts Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, Rotem distinguished between the chief Sephardi rabbi and the Chief Rabbinical Council on Thursday's decision.
“Whoever dares to doubt the validity of the conversions that that took place for 20 years in the IDF, does not understand his position and should resign,” Rotem said. “Amar is in a difficult battle, but he is alone, surrounded by people who are not assisting him.” Rotem later reiterated that in his opinion, the decision was reached against Amar's will.