letter from Lithuanian rabbis
letter from Lithuanian rabbis News photo

Hareidi Ashkenazic Rabbinic leaders from the Lithuanian community and the Chabad-Hassidic community  voiced  opposition to the conversions to Judaism conducted in the IDF. Their statement of disapproval followed a ruling by Sephardi religious leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who agreed with Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar's position that  the conversions were valid and with support for the IDF rabbis from religious Zionist rabbinic figures.

Several months ago, Ashkenazi hareidi rabbis also caused a major uproar by declaring some of the conversions by religious Zionist courts, then under the supervision of the venerable Rabbi Chaim Druckman, head of the Ohr Etzion Hesder Yeshiva,  invalid retroactively.

The hareidi rabbis who oppose IDF conversions said that they believe that in the IDF converts are allowed to proceed with their plans to convert even if they do not intend to attempt to keep a  halakhic lifestyle.

They wrote: “Everyone knows that these people did not plan to keep any of the major elements of religious observance, not the Sabbath, not kashrut [religious dietary laws – ed.], and not family purity". The letter was signed by several leading hareidi-religious rabbis, among them Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. Their source for this generalization was not given.

Another  letter, signed by  a group of Chabad rabbis, warned that failing to hold would-be converts to a standard that includes observance of Jewish law harms both the converts and the Jewish people. Substandard conversions “pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish people, and show ingratitude toward those who seek to convert, by deceiving them in the name of welcoming them, and making their lives miserable by giving them a conversion certificate that has no basis in Jewish law.”

The Chabad rabbis criticized the IDF's acclaimed Nativ pre-conversion program, claiming that teachers in the program had mixed Torah messages with those contradictory to Torah. “And the main thing: even the rabbis who performed the conversions themselves left out, downplayed, or belittled the essence of conversion, that is, the acceptance of the mitzvot [commandments] at the time of conversion and the intent to keep them for the rest of one's life!”

The Rabbi of Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, made his opposition to the Chabad rabbi's letter public, stating that the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself had said that conversions should be left to the Chief Rabbinate, which supports the IDF conversions. 

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a renowned Torah scholar and the spiritual leader of Shas, stated that the IDF conversions are valid.  

President Shimon Peres praised Rabbi Yosef this week for his stance on the issue. His ruling “strengthens and unifies the Jewish people,” Peres said.

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