The top education officer of the army, deputy General
Eliezer Stern, has confirmed that the conversions which are
conducted in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are not
Stern told this to non-Jewish soldiers on the education base
in the country's north. Stern was enraged when he saw them
taking an oath of allegiance to the IDF and to the State on
a copy of the New Testament, while refusing to take such an
oath on the Tanach. Stern reprimanded them and said:
"I don't want to sound like someone who is proselytizing,
but today there are various types of easy conversions.
Soldiers don't have to undergo Orthodox conversions. They
don't have to observe Shabbos and can keep a secular
lifestyle. But they have to be Jews. If they don't convert,
within a number of years their children won't serve in the
IDF, but will be in their own circles."
In his remarks, this past Thursday (Adar 6) in the media, he
said: "For me, the conversion of non-Jewish soldiers is a
challenge, and we have to find a friendlier way to conduct
conversions so that the soldiers will, of their own free
will, come forth and declare that they want to be Jews. If
society hasn't done this beforehand, we must, within the
army, find a sufficiently friendly manner, so that those
people won't be apprehensive. Their very willingness to
serve in the IDF and to sacrifice their lives for the good
of the Jewish Nation is a very essential part of the
conversion process. Perhaps it is the most significant part
of the conversion process."
Stern stressed that what bothers him about the fact that the
non-Jewish soldiers don't convert is this might cause them
not to want to advance to higher ranks nor to be promoted,
and also might result in their children's not enlisting in
the future in the IDF.
Two weeks ago, the Hebrew Yated reported the fact that
oaths are being made on the New Testament, a fact confirmed
to Yated Ne'eman by an IDF spokesman.
Soldiers who were present at the base when Stern made his
remarks, claim that he said that non-Jewish soldiers are not
as good as Jewish ones, and that he wasn't referring to
Druse, Circasian or Bedouin soldiers, but rather to
immigrants from the C.I.S. Stern stressed that the non-
Jewish immigrants now constitute 50 percent of the
immigrants who are drafted to the IDF.
Stern's remarks aroused a storm in the media, as well as a
political storm. MK Roman Bronfman, chairman of Democratic
Choice, told Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz to dismiss Stern
from his position, saying: "Stern's remarks discriminate
between one soldier and the other on the background of
origin, and that is ugly racism." MK Ran Cohen (Meretz)
attacked Stern and said: "His remarks undermine the
foundation of the basic equality between IDF soldiers."
Top ranking officers in the IDF said: "Stern should not
interfere in issues involving the religion of the soldiers
and he should not violate the freedom of religious custom
which prevails in the IDF." They also said: "The IDF doesn't
enlist soldiers in order to convert them."
Stern himself publicly denied the remarks quoted in his name
and said that he didn't say that non-Jewish soldiers are not
as good as others, but rather that he would like to see them
as Jews who are promoted in the army to commanding positions
and don't live among themselves in their own groups.
This past Thursday night (Adar 7), outgoing prime minister
Ehud Barak ordered Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz to summon
Stern for a clarification of his remarks.
Rabbi Ravitz reacted to Stern's remarks, saying: "The Chief
of Staff must rebuke Stern for overstepping the bounds of
his authority, and about the farcical remarks he made in the
presence of military personnel on the issue of conversion.
Since when may an education officer issue halachic rulings
and speak against both the principles of Judaism and Israeli
law, which obligates conversion according to the halocho, as
recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. . . . The Chief of Staff
is obligated to put the chief education officer in his
place, and to tell him that he mustn't interfere in issues
beyond his authority."
Rabbi Gafni said: "Stern doesn't understand what he is
talking about. Judaism doesn't ask non-Jews to convert.
Whoever wants to convert must do so according to the
halocho. There is no such thing as a quasi-conversion,
and one mustn't mock the conversion process. Even one who
wants to find favor in the eyes of the anti-religious,
should know that there is no possibility to conduct
conversions under `better conditions,' and that one mustn't
make a game of the conversion process which requires
seriousness and the accepting of the ol hamitzvos and
malchus Shomayim, absolutely. A non-Jew doesn't became
a Jew just by declaring that he is a Jew. Conversion which
is not according to the halocho will not be regarded
seriously by the secular either. Being a highly dedicated
soldier does not qualify one for conversion. It is not a
stage in the conversion process, and there is no alternative
for conversion according the halocho."
The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav
Chaim Kreiswirth said that General Stern's remarks confirm
what the Vaad has been claiming for many years, namely that
the conversion standards in the IDF do not meet even minimum
halachic standards. The Vaad calls upon the IDF Rabbinate
not to involve itself in conversion matters. It is not
possible to properly prepare converts in a non-religious
military environment. All conversions should be referred to
the botei dinim kevuim vechashuvim of the Israeli
Chief Rabbinate, who will only convert candidates if it can
be thoroughly ascertained that they really intend to
completely observe Torah and mitzvos. Any conversion
candidate who does not meet this minimum halachic
requirement cannot be converted and other solutions must be
found for the problem of the large amount of non-Jewish
immigrants who have arrived in Israel over the last.
The Vaad has found out that the number of non-Jewish
soldiers now serving in the IDF is 7,000.