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Beleagured Shas MK: R. Ovadia’s OK on IDF Converts Vindicates Me

MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem (Shas), widely felt to be a party renegade, says he knew he was right all along in supporting IDF conversions to Judaism.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/20/2011, 9:41 AM / Last Update: 1/20/2011, 9:33 AM

MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem of the hareidi-Sephardic Shas party, who is widely felt to be a party renegade, says he knew he was right all along in supporting IDF conversions to Judaism.

The latest ruling by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas and of most of Sephardic Jewry in Israel, states that the soldiers who converted to Judaism in the framework of the IDF Rabbinate are “kosher.” He added, though, that future conversions should be done according to more stringent rules.

The issue of such conversions had been a controversial one of late, with many rabbis claiming that the soldiers were not planning to be religiously observant and that therefore their conversions were not valid. Rabbi Amsalem had been among the minority that stated that once a kosher Rabbinical court converts a non-Jew to Judaism, the deed cannot be undone.

The Shas party is now continuing its efforts to stymie a proposed bill by MK David Rotem – a religious member of Israel Our Home – to have such conversions recognized once and for all. Shas says that the latest ruling by Rabbi Yosef obviates the need for such legislation.

Speaking with Arutz-7, MK Rabbi Amsalem – the author of a book detailing Halakhic [Jewish legal] leniencies regarding conversion – said that many in the religious world have apologized to him over the past few days. He says he forgives all except the political leadership of Shas.

“All along,” he told Arutz-7 on Wednesday, “my position was based on Rabbi Yosef's rulings regarding conversion, which I quoted precisely. They attacked me and said I was a heretic, etc., but now everything has been overturned. Because of their attempt to stop Rotem’s bill, Rabbi Yosef came out with his letter recognizing the conversions that have been done until now. All the attacks in the Ashkenazi yeshiva world are now against Maran [Rabbi Yosef – ed.] instead of against me. I am happy to be in good company with Maran.”

“On the one hand, it’s hard for me to see how they now attack and insult Rabbi Yosef, but on the other hand, I am happy that I have been vindicated.”   

“What kept me going throughout this time was the knowledge that I was speaking the truth. I said the whole time that conversions cannot be retroactively nullified, even if it turns out in the end that the convert is not observant. This is the straightforward Halakhah.”

Goes One Step Further
Amsalem has apparently gone one step further than Rabbi Yosef, however, in stating that non-Jews who have made Aliyah to Israel because of family connections and who serve in the IDF can convert to Judaism, even if they only wish to be “traditional just like most Jews in Israel.”

Amsalem said that ever since Rabbi Yosef’s letter, “I have not stopped receiving calls and letters of apology. Many now realize, including Shas MKs, that they were deceived. Reporters, too, are now apologizing for slandering me.”