Panel for Examining IDF Conversions Slow to Convene

One of the committee's five rabbis quit the panel this week, and there is no indication of when the first meeting might take place.

A committee established to issue a recommendation on whether the chief rabbi should approve conversions performed in the military has yet to convene. The panel was set up by the Chief Rabbinical Council last week.

The office of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he would look into the matter today and get the committee working.

One of the committee's five rabbis quit the panel this week, and there is no indication of when the first meeting might take place. Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of Be'er Sheva and brother of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, said he stepped down because he wasn't interested in issuing recommendations that might never be adopted.

"After considering the issue and consulting with a Torah sage, I decided that since the committee is authorized only to submit its recommendations - and unfortunately, from my experience in a similar position several years ago... the recommendations were not adopted - I have decided that I am not interested in accepting this appointment," Deri wrote in his resignation letter.

He would not name the rabbi he had consulted with, but did say it was not Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Another rabbi appointed to the panel complained that no one has yet been designated to lead it. "I don't even know who's supposed to be chairman of the committee," he said.

The Chief Rabbinical Council established the committee last Thursday at the request of Amar, who was fiercely criticized by Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbis earlier this month for what they consider to be his overly lenient attitude toward conversions performed under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces. Aides to Amar tried to defuse the controversy by saying he never gave his blessing to conversions performed in the military.

The committee was also supposed to examine civilian conversions.

The Chief Rabbinical Council ordered the committee to "examine the preparation process and the conversion process, both in the civilian state conversion system and in the IDF." The panel is then instructed to advise Amar on whether he should sign conversion papers issued by the army's rabbinical courts for conversion.

The chief rabbi's stamp graces the conversion documents of Israeli civilians, and a recent session of the High Court of Justice made it clear that the military's conversion documents are also supposed to be approved by the Chief Rabbinate. If Amar agrees to do so, however, he will once again be exposed to criticism from Ashkenazi Haredi leaders.

"Rabbi Deri was smart," said an official in the Chief Rabbinate. "He has a brain, he understands that Rabbi Amar wants to share responsibility for any decision on conversion."