Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar II 5763 - March 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Wholesale Geirus in the IDF
by Betzalel Kahn and E. Rauchberger

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 halachic guidelines."

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 Rabbinate Council.

"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.


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