Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Text size

Conversions to Judaism that have been performed under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces are valid, former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled Friday. Yosef, whose authority as a Sephardi rabbinic scholar and as the spiritual leader of the Shas party carries great weight, issued the ruling on halakha (Jewish religious law ) to dispel any doubts raised about army conversions.

He announced the decision after meeting with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and members of a panel appointed by Amar on the issue. The panelists, however, had only focused on the validity of future army conversions and not the 4,500 conversions already performed in the IDF, which are at the center of the dispute. The latter were converted according to Orthodox Jewish practice, but their conversion certificates were not submitted to Amar for his signature, as required.

In Friday's halakhic ruling, Yosef threw his full weight behind the validity of these conversions, providing a basis by which Amar could sign off on them.

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi welcomed Yosef's ruling, saying: "Doubts have been dispelled not only for the present, but for generations to come."

Margi also praised Amar, saying he had made efforts not to call IDF conversions into question, "despite threats and statements from extreme elements among the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi public."

The ruling does not resolve matters entirely, however, as the Yisrael Beiteinu party has announced that it will continue to push for legislation that will protect army conversions from being invalidated by the Chief Rabbinate.

Furthermore, unnamed elements within the ultra-Orthodox community quickly denounced the ruling, accusing Yosef in distributed statements of legitimizing invalid conversions.

For his part, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) - one of the initiators of his party's conversion bill - said Yosef's halakhic ruling would not dissuade him from pursuing the legislation or from holding hearings on it this week before the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, ahead of its submission to the Knesset for a first reading.

The bill would disallow the Chief Rabbinate of any involvement in ruling on the validity of army conversions.

Yisrael Beiteinu said past IDF conversions have now been recognized as valid only as a result of the party's continued pressure.