Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Elul 5764 - September 1, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











IDF Quietly Promoting Large-Scale Conversion
by G. Lazer

IDF Personnel Department Commander Gen. Elazar Stern has decided to expand the army conversion process by opening more conversion courses for any of the IDF's 7,500 non-Jewish soldiers who express an interest.

Ranking army officials confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of soldiers enrolling in the conversion preparatory course, but noted that the issue is highly sensitive and is being handled far from the public eye. "The goal is to have all those who wish to do so, complete the process," said one high-level officer.

The Vaad HaRabboni Haolami LeInyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l once again wishes to stress the position of the gedolei haposkim that there is absolutely no possibility of establishing a valid halachic conversion program in the IDF which is a totally secular environment and not a place to prepare people for a religious lifestyle which is a prerequisite for a proper conversion. Conversions should only be performed by botei din kevu'im vechashuvim and not by an IDF-appointed beis din.

An IDF source said the fact that the course takes place shortly after induction makes it possible for more soldiers to take part. He explained that the process is divided into two parts. First the head of personnel is responsible for locating candidates, and second the Rabbinate botei din are responsible for approving the conversion.

"The matter must be understood in context," says the IDF source. "The course began after we found that over 60 percent of immigrants in basic training ask to swear [loyalty to the State] on the Christian Bible and not on the Tanach."

The IDF is trying to keep a low profile on the matter. "This is a sensitive issue," explained the IDF source. "There are figures outside of the army who could easily interfere. It's important to stress that the conversion process is according to all of the parameters and the soldier receives the approval of the Rabbinate beis din after he has proven beyond any doubt that he meets them."

At first IDF Chief Rabbi Lt.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss, who is keeping close track of the program, resisted the idea of offering the course within the army framework, due to concerns it would turn into "a conversion factory" and soldiers who passed through a Rabbinate beis din would encounter problems in the future when they wanted to marry or turn to the Rabbinate regarding another matter after discharge. But when the course began, the IDF Chief Rabbi examined the curriculum and effectively approved sending the soldiers to the Rabbinate beis din, which then decides whether they are indeed eligible to receive approval.

The Vaad notes that in its experience and perspective on the proper conversion process, the curriculum and even the ultimate knowledge of the candidate of Jewish tradition is not the main criteria for accepting a possible convert. Rather the responsibility of the converting beis din is to make sure that the candidate is sincere and will fully observe Torah and mitzvos after the conversion. The IDF atmosphere is usually not conducive to the practice of Torah and mitzvos.

"The success rate in the conversion process is more than 90 percent [of those who try]," says a ranking army official. He says 60 percent of the 2,200 course graduates are still not Jewish. "So far 335 soldiers have converted and this September another 100 are expected to convert. The figures are in an upswing and this trend will continue."

Last month Prime Minister Ariel Sharon attacked the now- dismantled Religious Affairs Ministry and the rabbinical establishment for supposedly heaping obstacles in front of immigrants interested in converting. "There is no need to come to them with demands that none of us would be able to meet," he claimed.

In response to the grave reports of "wholesale conversion" in the IDF, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni told Yated Ne'eman, "Today everyone knows that most of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not Jews. Nonetheless Interior Minister Avraham Poraz and his cohorts in the Shinui Party are hard at work to continue bringing more non-Jews into Eretz Yisroel en masse through brand new methods and inventions, making use of the Interior Minister's authority in a scandalous and forceful way. And all this is taking place with the consent and silence of the entire government, with the NRP giving them backing in spirit by signing understandings to permit mixed marriage in Israel and to apply stringencies to deferments for yeshiva students.

"It comes as no surprise that as a result, tens of thousands of non-Jews serve in the IDF, taking an oath of loyalty to the IDF and the State of Israel on the Christian Bible. Instead of acknowledging this disturbing fact, IDF figures are trying to whitewash the situation by carrying out formal procedures of `wholesale and virtual conversion' that have nothing to do with halachic conversion. These so-called converts do not accept the yoke of mitzvas and the yoke of Heaven and they themselves make a mockery of this whole ceremony and do not attribute any value or importance to it, explaining they agreed to take part in this charade because, `otherwise their children will have difficulties in the future.' Now they have decided to step up the pace and to increase the scope of this phenomenon to alarming dimensions."

Rabbi Gafni says the head of the IDF personnel department does not have the authority to organize the conversion of non- Jews in the IDF and he must leave the handling of this matter in the hands of authorized rabbinical figures who will act according to the halochoh handed down to us through the generations. "I am certain the IDF Chief Rabbi will not lend a hand to these virtual games and I intend to contact him soon to make him aware of the gravity of the matter," said Rabbi Gafni.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.