C'tee gives state deadline to clarify IDF conversion stance

Knesset’s State Control Committee demands all conversion bodies to issue clear statement on legal status of IDF conversions.

311_state conversion panel (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_state conversion panel
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Knesset’s State Control Committee is demanding of all bodies involved in conversion in Israel to convene and issue a clear statement on the legal status of conversions conducted by the IDF, which have recently been called into question.
The Monday resolution set Yom Kippur as the deadline for a summit to be attended by representatives of the State Attorney’s Office, Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and a military conversion official.
The failure to meet it is liable to lead the committee to order a State Comptroller probe into how the work of the state-mandated IDF conversion authority might not be recognized by the state.
The stormy committee meeting, attended by some 15 Knesset members, was summoned on short notice by chairman MK Yoel Hasson.
The Kadima member, who like most of the public was led to believe last week that Yochi Gnessin, an official from the State Prosecutor’s office, told the High Court that there was “a problem” with the army conversions. This occurred during a 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.
A visibly distraught Gnessin insisted during the meeting that she never spoke of military conversions, as the protocol of the court hearing shows, and as the announcement from the State Attorney’s office reiterated following the hearing, which spawned the notion that the state does not consider the 4,584 IDF conversions conducted since 2001 valid. When some of the politicians demanded that she clearly state that Israel recognizes military conversions, which have been taking place for more than 50 years, Gnessin, one of the few legal professionals attending the session, stressed that she had no authority to do so, as her office was awaiting answers from the IDF Rabbinate and Military Attorney General Corps on the topic, and noted that the problems in the conversions were not of a halachic but rather procedural nature.
Many of the lawmakers stressed the immense damage casting doubt on the validity of such conversions would have not only on the military and civilian rabbinical judges involved in the process, but first and foremost on the converts who underwent it. Officials from the military conversion authority noted that since last week, many currently learning toward conversion expressed the desire to quit the course of action, which they fear would not be recognized even by the same state that established the process.
Rabbi Seth Farber, head of Itim, said after the hearing that while there indeed “may be a technical legal lacuna in conversions being done in the army, the way to resolve that is not to bring it up in a court hearing. The damage is already done,” he said of the impact on the past and potential converts.
“We fully support the call of the committee to bring powers together to resolve the issue, and hope the court will stand behind us in efforts to take away rights from those who refuse to recognize conversions,” Farber added.