Soldiers in the army’s Nativ conversion course,  Daniel Bar-On / Jini
Soldiers in the army’s Nativ conversion course in 2008. Photo by Archive: Daniel Bar-On / Jini
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State-sponsored conversions in Israel suffered another major blow yesterday when a representative of the State Attorney's Office informed the High Court of Justice that the conversion of thousands who became Jews under an IDF-sponsored program may be invalid.

The statement by attorney Yochi Gnessin shocked the court presided over by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. The court heard deliberations in a petition against city rabbis who refuse to register the marriages of converts.

A number of the cases mentioned in the petition involve new immigrants who converted as part of an army program, and Gnessin sought to defend a number of city rabbis who refuse to register their marriages. "There is legal doubt about the conversions being carried out in the IDF," she said.

She also said that for years the Chief Rabbinate has questioned the thousands of conversions carried out under the auspices of the IDF.

"A framework was set up without anyone at the Chief Rabbinate supervising it," Gnessin said.

"What the lady says is that all the conversions in the IDF are not kosher," Beinisch said.

"It is repulsive to think that a soldier who converted will be told such a thing," Justice Uzi Vogelman added.

An estimated 5,000 conversions have been carried out to date in the army. Unlike the civilian conversion program that is supervised by the Prime Minister's Office, the IDF program has been spared the political bickering surrounding the crisis affecting conversions in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate has been complaining for years about the quality of conversion in the army program, which lasts three months, as opposed to the year-long civilian conversion process. Senior Rabbinate sources argued that the officials carrying out the conversions in the army are "too friendly" and pass 90 percent of those being tested, and do not require the converts to adopt a religious life style.

Itim: The Jewish Life Information Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to "making Jewish life accessible to all," which is petitioning in the conversion case, issued a statement saying that "the state's position presented today is scandalous. The state is questioning one of the most important Zionist enterprises of the past decade."