Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Heavily pressured by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef yesterday qualified a sweeping authorization of IDF conversions that he had issued last month. Following Yosef's apparent turnabout, which was articulated in a special document prepared by Shas rabbis, leaders of the extremist Eda Haredit sect decided yesterday to cancel a protest rally against Yosef that they had planned for Wednesday.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Yosef's qualifications will persuade Lithuanian Orthodox leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to desist from attacking the ruling Yosef issued last month.

"Israel Defense Forces conversions are valid under our sacred Torah," the Shas spiritual leader declared in his January 14th ruling.

Yesterday he clarified that statement, saying his words apply only to candidates who are sincere in their declaration that they intend to uphold religious commandments. Converts who clearly mislead dayanim (religious court judges ) and who have no intention of upholding the commandments, are not to be considered eligible to marry under Jewish law and custom, Yosef explained yesterday.

Just how these qualifications will impact thousands of army converts remain to be seen. Similarly unclear are the criteria for establishing that certain candidates are "misleading" the conversion judges.

Still, it appears Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's latest qualifications are liable to cast doubt on the Jewish status of many IDF converts.

Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai insisted yesterday that Yosef "remained steadfast" and that his qualifications "change nothing."

"IDF conversions are valid," Yishai added.

The compromise between the Shas rabbis and the Eda Haredit rabbis was reached after days of tension, which saw mutual threats and denunciations, along with polemical publications.

Yesterday Yishai, accompanied by three Shas rabbis, delivered the document outlining Yosef's qualifications to the home of Eda Haredit leader Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss. The paper featured quotes from an old halakhic ruling delivered by Yosef, regarding a situation wherein a convert does not uphold the commandments and has no apparent intention of doing so. In that ruling, he held that the convert cannot be considered truly Jewish.

The document brought to Weiss was signed by the three Shas rabbis, along with Yosef.

Yishai told Haaretz yesterday that it would be wrong to exaggerate the significance of the document. Eda Haredit leaders, in his estimation, "wanted a ladder on which they could climb down from the tree" - meaning they were looking for a pretext to cancel Wednesday's demonstration.

"The rabbi remained strong and steadfast in his view throughout this entire period," the Shas chairman insisted, referring to his party's spiritual leader. "There is nothing new in this document. We never said that a convert can reject the obligation of upholding the Torah and the commandments. We brought [them] the rabbi's opinion, which was articulated years ago - and he hasn't changed his view since then."

Shas insiders close to Aryeh Deri, Yishai's predecessor as party chairman, said yesterday that the fact that Yishai affixed Yosef's name to the bottom of the document, and the fact that the paper's existence was made public, "insults the dignity of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef."

Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, released the following statement: "In an unsurprising cynical fashion, peace was reached between the various ultra-Orthodox factions at the expense of IDF soldiers who convert to Judaism, and who will lead Jewish lives with the constant fear of what could happen when they register to get married. This is further proof of the despicable cynicism that exists among rabbis who don't send their own sons to military service, and yet are ready to turn IDF soldiers into hostages of their pathetic power struggles."