Chief rabbi recognizes military conversions


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi reportedly has ordered the recognition of all Israeli’s military conversions after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in a letter that the conversions were valid.

Yosef, a former chief rabbi, spiritual head of the haredi Orthodox Shas party and president of the Torah Sages Council, issued a letter Jan. 14 declaring conversions under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces kosher.

“Concerning my knowledge of the IDF conversion process, the instructors teaching in it, the rabbinical judges and all those involved in this holy task, and after hearing the [three-man advisory committee], which was formed at my request, I have reached the conclusion that by Halacha, the IDF conversions are valid, according to our holy Torah. And the good recommendations of the rabbis, members of the committee, should be implemented,” read the letter signed by Yosef, which was translated and printed in The Jerusalem Post.

The letter followed the recommendation of a three-member panel of senior rabbis appointed by the current Sephardic chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef Amar, to investigate whether the halachic standards of military conversions were on a high enough level for him to endorse.

The advisory committee reportedly recommended that those being converted through the military study more Torah and Jewish law, and that some of the rabbinical judges employed by the army be replaced.

By law, the chief rabbi’s signature is required on all military conversions,  which has been lacking since the institution began granting conversions.

Some 4,500 soldiers have undergone conversion under the auspices of the military.

A military conversion bill sponsored by the Yisrael Beiteinu party is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday in the Knesset Law Committee. The bill would designate the IDF chief rabbi with signing off on IDF conversions instead of the Chief Rabbinate. 

David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu told The Jerusalem Post that the party would not withdraw the bill, despite Amar’s approval, since the haredi Orthodox Lithuanian community has said it will not recognize the conversions.

On Sunday, a haredi Orthodox newspaper, Yated Neeman, considered to be a puppet publication of the leader of the Lithuanian haredi community, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, attacked Yosef for his decision to approve the conversions, calling it "a desecration of God’s name" that will lead to "increased danger of major assimilation among the people of Israel," Haaretz reported.  

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