Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Adar 5761 - March 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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"Conversions in the IDF Are not Orthodox"
by G. Lazar

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 Orthodox.

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.


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