The IDF Chief Rabbinate has agreed to begin systematic
conversion of immigrant soldiers from the Former Soviet
Union, after reaching a compromise with the IDF's Chief
Education Officer, who originally proposed converting 3,000
soldiers per year.
According to a report last week in Ha'aretz, during a
meeting at the Prime Minister's Office attended by officials
involved in conversion a decision was reached to transfer
cases of soldiers who had completed "conversion" preparations
at the Joint Conversion Program from special conversion
botei din in the civilian sector to special IDF
conversion botei din.
The IDF says it has been performing a small number of
conversions every year in the IDF beis din. According
to Ha'aretz, IDF Chief Rabbi Brigadier General Yisroel
Weiss torpedoed a plan two years ago by Chief Education
Officer Brigadier General Elazar Stern to convert soldiers on
a massive scale within a military framework, but has now
agreed to accept the study plan for "conversion" candidates
at the Institute for Jewish Studies that includes heretical
faculty members. While Rabbi Weiss has consented not to
reduce the number of converts, by refusing to bring in more
dayanim he is effectively rendering Stern's goal of
3,000 annual conversions unfeasible.
According to Ha'aretz the compromise agreement
followed heavy pressure on Rabbi Weiss. "Prime Minister
Sharon, top IDF officials, the Jewish Agency and more and
more National- Religious rabbis see not converting the
immigrants as a national failure. They claim large- scale
conversion within the military framework is the most amenable
solution to the problem . . . The Chief Rabbinate [of
Israel], Rabbinate botei din and chareidi rabbis
firmly oppose any lightening of conversion conditions, citing
concerns of `breaches in the walls' and `fictitious'
conversions, and are liable not to recognize conversions
performed by the Army Rabbinate."
IDF Chief Rabbinate officials say that in recent years the
number of converts in the IDF has leveled out at around 100
per year, "which is not a significant increase." In response
to a Yated Ne'eman inquiry, the Army Rabbinate,
replying via the IDF Spokesman, said, "The IDF conversion
beis din works in coordination with the Chief Rabbis
of Israel and no change has been made in its operations in
recent years. As in the past, the IDF Rabbinate will accept
any candidate who asks to undergo the conversion process
under the following conditions: a genuine desire to join the
Jewish people and keeping the practical halochos of the
mitzvos in the Torah."
Commenting on the article about systematic conversions, the
Spokesman said, "The IDF Rabbinate has not seen any massive
growth in the number of conversion candidates. As the body
authorized to handle the conversion of IDF soldiers, the IDF
Rabbinate will continue to handle soldiers according to
The Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim
Kreiswirth zt'l, says the IDF Spokesman and the IDF
Chief Rabbi are avoiding direct comment on the recent report
that the IDF Rabbinate is slated to expand its conversion
programs in cooperation with the Joint Study Programs, which
were banned by all gedolei Yisroel and by the Chief
"The IDF's reply does not contain a clear response regarding
what the halachic guidelines consist of and whether a survey
has been done on those who have already undergone conversion
to see whether they really keep Torah and mitzvos fully,"
says the Vaad Spokesman. "Even one hundred conversions per
year is a lot, and generally people in a secular, army
framework cannot be expected to undergo a real conversion
with a serious acceptance of the mitzvos. According to
documents and investigations done by the Vaad, most of the
converts through the military are not shomrei Torah
umitzvos as required after giyur."
Although only 94 soldiers underwent conversions in 2002, 176
conversion files were opened in the IDF Rabbinate, according
to figures presented in the Knesset last week by Deputy
Defense Minister MK Ze'ev Boim, in response to an inquiry by
MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman.
Boim added that the IDF does not intend to reduce conversion
activities due to defense budget cuts, but does not intend to
expand conversion programs either.