Israel MPs back move to recognise army conversions

JERUSALEM - Israeli MPs on Wednesday granted initial approval to a draft bill recognising conversions performed by military rabbis, over the strong objection of several religious parties.

By (AFP)

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Published: Wed 15 Dec 2010, 7:29 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:17 AM

The measure, which faces significant hurdles before becoming law, was proposed by Yisrael Beitenu, the secular rightwing party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The bill would essentially break the existing monopoly of Israel’s chief rabbinate by allowing rabbis in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to oversee conversions to Judaism that would be recognised by the state.

The measure is fiercely opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, including Shas, which is a key partner in Netanyahu’s fragile coalition alongside Yisrael Beitenu.

Netanyahu, who gave members of his Likud party the freedom to vote according to their conscience, welcomed the passing of the bill on its preliminary reading.

“The conversion process is carried out successfully within the IDF. It is important that these soldiers be converted according to the Halacha (Jewish law),” a statement from his office said.

“I will not allow any harm to come to these soldiers who put their lives in danger for our safety — this is the very least we can do for them.”

The law will affect more than 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them Russian immigrants who converted to Judaism in the last 10 years under the supervision of military rabbis.

Despite their conversion, there was no guarantee that the chief rabbinate, which oversees the authorisation of conversions, would recognise them.

The measure passed with the support of a significant majority of the Knesset’s 120 members, with 74 voting in favour and 18 against.

It must now be approved by a parliamentary commission and then pass three successive readings before passing into law, in a process that could take months.

Shas and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party strongly denounced the measure, which they said would “destroy the unity of the Jewish people” and create two parallel systems for religious conversion.

The ultra-Orthodox argue that military rabbis do not uphold their strict standards for conversion and all converts should be subject to the same requirements.

More than a million immigrants from Russia have arrived in Israel over the past two decades, taking advantage of the Jewish state’s Law of Return, which permits any Jew to move here.

For the purposes of the Law of Return, Israeli law considers as Jewish anyone who was born of a Jewish mother as well as anyone who converts.

There are more than 300,000 immigrants from Russia who are not recognised by Israel’s chief rabbinate, which only recognises as Jewish those born to a Jewish mother, or converts who converted according to Orthodox rules.

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