Military conversion bill one step closer to approval


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill that would validate conversions to Judaism through Israel’s military rabbinate has moved one step closer to approval.

The Knesset House Committee on Tuesday approved the bill and assigned it to the Law and Constitution Committee; the bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset earlier this month,

Members of the United Torah Judaism party, which chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, have threatened to hold passage of the biannual budget hostage over the conversion bill. A vote on the budget is due to take place on Wednesday. If the budget is not passed by Jan. 1, then the government will fall. The United Torah Judaism party has also threatened to leave the government coalition in the coming week over the conversion bill.

The bill, which still must pass two more readings in the Knesset, would allow conversions to be approved by the state without the signature of the Chief Rabbinate. It would protect Israeli soldiers who have converted through military conversion courts from having their conversions overturned. The measure would force all state agencies — including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars — to accept the converts as Jews.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has formed a committee to study religious ways that would allow him to approve the conversions. The United Torah Judaism party claims that the prime minister had promised to stall the conversion bill in committee pending the decision of Amar’s committee. Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz is also said to be opposed to the legislation, Ynet reported.

Last September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. The court hearing was addressing the refusal of town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage.

About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

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