'Even Putin knows our strength comes from the mitzvot'

Chief Rabbi emphasizes importance of commitment to commandments in religious conversion.

Yedidya Ben-Or,

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
Caremi Ronen

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef addressed a gathering of teachers from Israel’s largest conversion network, Ami – Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, on Monday to discuss what has become an increasingly politicized issue in Israel.

Led by Rabbi Haim Druckman, the Ami – Yeshivat Bnei Akiva network is affiliated with the national-religious stream of Orthodoxy. In recent years, tensions have mounted between the national-religious and haredi rabbinic courts over the validity of some conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, as well as by Orthodox rabbis abroad.

Monday’s gathering took place in Beit Meir, west of Jerusalem, and included Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, Ami director-general Naftali Kandler, network director Carmi Ronen, as well as ‘veteran’ converts of Ami who assist new converts and those seeking to complete the conversion process.

During his speech, Rabbi Yosef sharply criticized attempts to convert or encourage conversions without acceptance of the commandments.

“My father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, signed a letter affirming that without acceptance of the commandments, there is no conversion, and that a conversion should only be approved when it is clear that the convert intends to keep the commandments after the conversion.”

As an aside, Rabbi Yosef pointed out that even Russian President Vladimir Putin had reflected on the importance of Torah observance in preserving the Jewish people.

“Even Putin told me that he understands that the strength of the Jewish people comes from observance of the Torah and commandments.”

The Russian leader made similar statements in a meeting with Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, who told Rabbi Lazar that “The Jewish people survived [the exile] because of the commitment to true Judaism.”