Rabbis Clash Over IDF Conversions

Ultra-Orthodox political activists collect signatures of leading Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis to condemn a recent religious ruling stating that conversions to Judaism performed by IDF rabbis are valid.

Ultra-Orthodox political activists are collecting the signatures of leading Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, to condemn a recent religious ruling stating that conversions to Judaism performed by Israel Defense Forces rabbis are valid.

In the wake of Friday's ruling by influential Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Chief Rabbinate has begun approving 4,500 military conversions.

Shortly after Yosef publicized his ruling, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar appointed a representative to complete the conversions carried out by religious judges in the army. The conversion certificates had not been submitted to Amar for his signature, as required.

In another sign that Ashkenazi Haredim are gearing up to fight the ruling, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne'eman is expected to run an editorial today attacking Yosef, one of Amar's predecessors as Sephardi chief rabbi. The editorial is the latest salvo in an attack that began yesterday, when the paper's red-lettered (but rather verbose ) lead headline was "Shock and painful and vigorous protest over the desecration of God's name in approving thousands of 'military conversions.'"

Shas wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state publicly that he will shoot down a military conversion bill initiated by Yisrael Beiteinu, which would allow military conversions to be approved without the chief rabbi's signature. The Yisrael Beiteinu party plans to discuss the proposal in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow ahead of the bill's first reading.

In yesterday's Yated Ne'eman article, anonymous sources identified as "longtime religious judges and rabbis" vilified the military conversion process, saying the army taught the soldiers "heresy rather than religious commandments."

The article also attacked Yosef himself, saying it was difficult to understand how he could have made the ruling, which it described as contrary to Jewish law and liable to cause "extensive assimilation among the Jewish people."

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi of Shas said the paper's comments were "filth" and should be ignored.