Proponent of Conversion Law: Chief Rabbinate's Opposition Proves Need for Reform

If rabbinical committee does not approve IDF conversions, issue could destabilize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

The Chief Rabbinate's aversion to approving the conversions officiated by the Israel Defense Forces strengthens the necessity for reform, a top proponent of the Conversion Law said Thursday.

"Members of the conversion council under Rabbi [Shlomo] Amar will not reject the conversions, but they will also not approve them," said MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), chairman of the Knesset Law and Justice Committee.

David Rotem
Tess Scheflan

"They will put in place other terms and demands and in the end they will decide that there are class A conversions, and Class B and Class C," he added. "What they are doing is proof that the law must be legislated as soon as possible and I mean to do so only so the soldiers won't be placed in the middle between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic polemics," he said.

The soldiers affected by this must not be taken hostage, he declared.
Under mounting pressure from the conservative wing of the ultra-Orthodox leadership, a rabbinical council was appointed by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar to broker a compromise over the issue of army conversions. The committee is leaning toward rejecting the retroactive approval of the IDF conversions, most of which were granted to Russian immigrant serving in the army.

If the committee, which was formed to provide a solution acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate, bows to Haredi pressure, the issue would once again turn into a political and legal hot potato, and could destabilize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

'If the conversions are kosher – they should announce they are kosher and stop talking bullshit. It is misuse of power and I am going to put an end to it," Rotem said.

While the committee mulls its recommendation, the High Court of Justice is hearing a petition against the Chief Rabbinate's decision to nullify conversions that were performed legally.

The panel, which counts as its members the rabbinical judge Nissim Ben Shimon, Rabbi Shimon Elituv and Rabbi Aharon Dershowitz, is due to submit its conclusions to Amar next week.

The chief Sephardi rabbi said that the committee's mandate focused on a strictly technical matter - the retroactive confirmation of "conversion certificates" which verify that the conversion process is complete and was undertaken according to the rules of Orthodox Judaism.

Due to a technical snag, the certificates were not shown to the chief rabbi, whose signature is required by law to confirm the conversions. The snafu resulted in legal difficulties surrounding the issue.

The conversions affect thousands of soldiers who underwent the process as part of their service in the army. Most of the soldiers are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Yisrael Beiteinu, the party whose constituency is largely comprised of Russian-speaking Israelis, sponsored legislation which would legalize conversions performed in the IDF.

The bill was approved by a wide majority in its preliminary reading, with Netanyahu voting in favor.

Two weeks ago, the government sent the bill to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where Shas hopes it will remain stuck in bureaucratic processes while Yisrael Beiteinu, whose representative chairs the committee, hopes to fast-track the legislation.