The rabbi overseeing conversions within the Israel Defense Forces declared Monday that soldiers who undergo the process during their service were "real Jews", defending the army's program in the face of state criticism.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, who was accused in the past of forging conversions, told Army Radio on Monday that the IDF's conversion system was properly operating and in accordance with Jewish law (Halakha).
Druckman was responding claims by the State Prosecutor's Office that IDF conversions are not properly supervised and should be re-examined
"The conversions are implemented precisely according to all the rules of Halakha, and the rabbinic judges in the IDF are fully authorized to carry out conversions," said Druckman. "All of the soldiers who converted to Judaism in the IDF are real Jews," said Druckman
Druckman's comments follow a dramatic court debate on the issue of army conversions. The High Court of Justice debated a petition submitted last March against the Chief Rabbinate and four municipal rabbis, for their refusal to recognize conversions authorized by state officials.
Yochi Gnessin, who represents the State Prosecutor, questioned during the debate whether thousands of conversions carried out by army officials were actually valid.
"All the conversions that take place in the IDF are legally questionable," said Gnessin.
Rabbi Druckman, who was the head of the state-sponsored Conversion Authority, was at the center of controversy in 2008, when the Rabbinical Court nullified thousands of conversions he had performed by Druckman. The rabbinical court's accusations led to Druckman's removal from office.
Gnessin shocked the court presided over by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch when he informed the court that the conversion of thousands who became Jews under
an IDF-sponsored program may be invalid.
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 the 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.