Rabbinical panel likely to reject IDF conversions, despite signs of compromise
Conversions affect thousands of soldiers who underwent the process as part of their service in the army, most of who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Under mounting pressure from the conservative wing of the ultra-Orthodox leadership, a rabbinical council appointed by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to broker a compromise over the issue of army conversions is leaning toward rejecting the retroactive approval of thousands of conversions performed in the Israel Defense Forces.
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.
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.
Amar is exerting significant efforts to kill the bill for fear it will strip the Chief Rabbinate of the authority to authorize conversions performed in the IDF. Amar and Shas officials said that while there is no halakhic stipulation that would deem the conversions illegal under Jewish law, the conversions present "technical" problems.
Now, however, the main obstacle to compromise appears to be the Amar committee's reluctance to anger the most conservative elements in the ultra-Orthodox clergy. Some of the committee members, who were chosen due to their relatively moderate stances compared to the rabbinical establishment, are now saying that they will not grant wholesale approval of IDF conversions.
Meanwhile, pressure on Amar and his committee is coming from the Lithuanian wing of the Haredi leadership. In recent days, bulletin boards throughout ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods have been plastered with competing declarations by followers of Amar and the Lithuanian Haredi rabbis, who have denounced the Sephardi chief rabbi's "abandonment of Torah."