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Debate Rages Over IDF Conversions

Scandal as state representative terms IDF conversions invalid, MKs call to resolve issue immediately.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 9/12/2010, 8:57 PM / Last Update: 9/12/2010, 9:06 PM

Flash 90

State Attorney Yochi Gnessin caused an uproar last week when she told the High Court of Justice that conversions that take place under the auspices of IDF rabbis are not recognized by the Rabbinate. Such conversions “open the door [to being Jewish], but nothing more,” she said.

High Court judges expressed shock at Gnessin's statement, with Justice Uzi Fogelman saying the remark “makes me sick.” Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told Gnessin, “What you're saying is that all of the IDF conversions are invalid.”

The issue of conversions was before the court due to a case brought by the Jewish Life Information Center, Itim, seeking to overturn a ruling by Rabbincal Judge Rabbi Avraham Sherman, who said that conversions performed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman were not valid.

The Knesset's State Control Committee scheduled a meeting for Sunday to discuss Gnessin's statement and the fallout from it.

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) said that there is no problem with IDF conversions. “The conversions performed under IDF auspices are recognized and are done according to Halacha [Jewish law],” he said.

“In order to save the Knesset's time, and the State Comptroller's time, the Chief Rabbinate, the conversion department in the Prime Minister's Office and the Justice Ministry should immediately state that they recognize the IDF conversions, which are performed according to Halacha,” he continued. “By doing so, they can even teach the state attorneys a thing or two.”

MK David Rotem, of Yisrael Beiteinu, expressed doubt that Gnessin had actually said what she was quoted as saying. Gnessin normally seeks ways to be lenient when it comes to conversion, he said. Rotem noted that his party has advanced bills that would reduce the bureaucracy in the conversion system, and would enhance coordination between state bodies in order to ensure “that the rabbi who converts can later conduct the convert's wedding ceremony as well.”

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) rejected Rotem's idea, and proposed that instead MKs vote in laws that would force the rabbinate to recognize IDF conversions.