The extremists vs. the moderates

If attacking moderates who support the IDF and its conversion program is what keeps the haredi attention seekers busy, so be it.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
I never thought I would be responsible for a full page ad in the haredi press. On Tuesday morning, Yated Ne’eman and Hamevaser printed public statements by the rabbinic leadership of the Lithuanian haredi community decrying fictitious conversions and stating that all conversions performed without “acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot” are invalid.
This direct attack on conversions performed in the IDF – an attack orchestrated by a small group of fund a m e n t a l i s t extremists within the haredi community who deliberately distort facts and figures to compel senior rabbis to join their machinations – may actually highlight a positive development.
When ITIM sued the Chief Rabbinate a few months ago, we didn’t know it would come to this. Following the High Court hearing in which the state attorney intimated that IDF conversions were questionable from a legal perspective, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar issued a statement saying that, historically speaking, the religious community has always stood behind those individuals who converted in the IDF, and the rabbinate has always performed marriages for them.
EARLIER THIS week, when the Walla and Kipa websites carried stories that “sources close to Rabbi Amar” had stated he never said he stands behind the army conversions, Amar’s office denied such a statement and restated its program to hold a meeting of the Chief Rabbinical Council next week to sort out the issue.
Now, though Amar’s statement of September 15 didn’t go far enough, in my mind, to certify the IDF conversions, it is inaccurate to say that he remained silent on the issue. In fact, to a large extent, the virulent reaction of the haredim to IDF conversions is an attempt to attack him for taking a stand in support of the converts. In this sense, the letter of the Lithuanians is actually a demonstration that the chief rabbi supports conversion, and the haredim are concerned this may invalidate them.
While the Chief Rabbinate still needs to make a more unequivocal statement supporting conversion in the IDF, it is clear that the issue of IDF conversions is now an ideological war between the moderates, who stand behind the soldiers who have joined our ranks fully, and the isolationist ultra-Orthodox, who don’t serve and don’t care about those who have.
The chief rabbi may soon have to decide to whom he owes allegiance. But for now, the haredi attack shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, I, and most of the moderates who stand with me, also believe that the acceptance of mitzvot is a necessary part of the conversion process (perhaps we disagree on the definition of this elusive phrase, but I’ll leave that for another time).
If attacking moderates who support the IDF and its conversion program is what keeps the haredi attention seekers busy, so be it.
The writer is director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center (