1941-2017

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, Founder of Israel's Official Conversion Program, Dies

Rosen dedicated his life to finding solutions to integrating technology and Jewish religious law

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Emil Salman

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who founded the government’s conversion program and founded and headed the Zomet Institute, passed away Thursday night at age 76 at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem. Rosen trained as an electrical engineer but devoted his life to two Jewish religious projects: establishing a national system for conversion to Judaism and integrating science and Torah, technology and halakha — Jewish religious law.

Rosen served as a religious judge, a dayan, in the special conversion courts and was a prolific writer. He was also known over the years for his extreme right-wing views, including support for denying Arabs certain rights. He also often attacked the left, the media and the High Court of Justice.

Rosen was born in Tel Aviv in 1941. He served as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces in the Nahal infantry brigade as part of the hesder yeshiva program that combines army service and religious studies. During the Six-Day War, he fought in the Gaza Strip and later joined the Jerusalem brigade, and in the Yom Kippur War, he fought on the Egyptian front. He later served as the rabbi of a battalion, a brigade and then a division.

In 1976, he established the Zomet Institute in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion bloc in the West Bank, and remained at its head until his death. The institute studies contemporary issues in Jewish life and thought, from how to run a modern country in accordance with Jewish values to how to adapt Jewish religious law to modern life. In addition to researching such issues, Zomet also develops technological devices intended to help individuals observe the requirements of halakha. In 1995, Rosen was asked to establish the national conversion program and administration and to head it. He was involved in the program until his death.

In 2006, Rosen said terrorists acts on Israel's part are the proper response to Arab terrorism. He proposed establishing armed militias to act against Arabs, but later acknowledged that the proposal was "ineffective," saying that it would be discovered and create a backlash against Israel, mostly because of what he called "the ‘leftist underground’ in the media.”

In 2010, he said “the time has come to declare war against Arab Israelis.” He called for denying them civil rights. “The reason for our inability to carry out this war," he added, "can be found in our ‘internal enemy,’ among our Jewish leftist brothers, notably some of the justices of the High Court of Justice.”

Two and a half months ago, he resigned from his position as a member of the presidium of the Habayit Hayehudi party after he discovered that the party employed a lesbian as its spokeswoman. He said he was not surprised the party hired a gay spokesman, and explained: “I have nothing against her or them, but I feel that the defiance and demonstrative pride of this community is inappropriate and impossible in a party that professes to represent religious Zionism.”

Rabbi Rosen was a resident of the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion bloc. He is survived by his wife, Shlomit, five children and a large number of grandchildren.

The Zomet Institute issued a statement saying that it mourns the passing of its leader, who it called a man of both vision and action. "His halakhic courage and distinction, as well as the relationships he formed with the greatest halakhic decisors of his generation led to dozens of halakhic solutions that assisted the elderly and the disabled to live and keep the Sabbath according to Jewish law," the institute noted.

The National Union, a faction of the Habayit Hayehudi party, said Rosen was a trailblazer who was foresighted "and knew how to link the developing characteristics of Israeli reality and the vision of the prophets while embracing technological development and the modern world."