Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The IDF's Conversion Court Meets at the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl
by Betzalel Kahn

A comprehensive investigation which appeared in the Yated Hashavua of parshas Bamidbar, discloses the conversion methods utilized by the military conversion court. The names of the members of that court have also been revealed after many years in which they were kept secret.

Today, there are approximately 7000 non-Jewish soldiers in the IDF. Every year, 100 soldiers are converted. The head of the IDF's manpower branch (Agaf Koach Adam -- AKA), General Yehuda Segev, long ago issued an order to the IDF's rabbinate to facilitate the integration of these soldiers by means of accelerated conversions. The IDF's Chief Rabbi is obligated to heed the directives of AKA's head. During the final period of for Chief Rabbi Gad Navon's term of office as the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, hardly any conversions were conducted in the army. As a result, a backlog of approximately 300 files, which still haven't been closed, has accrued. These files are in the stages of completion. As a result, the new chief rabbi was asked to speed up the procedures in these cases.

For many years, conversions in the army were performed by the authority vested in the chaplains who presided in their so-called capacities of roshei ho'eidah. The composition of the military conversion court was kept confidential for many years. Currently, this beis din is composed of the following members: the former dayan Rav Avraham Elmaliach, who is now the av beis din of this conversion court, the Chief Chaplain of the IDF, Major General Rabbi Yisroel Weiss; and the head of the army's Personnel Management Department, Lieutenant Colonel Rav Shachar Matneh. The deliberations of the beis din are coordinated by Lieutenant Colonel Aharon Mendelovitz, who has been in that position for many years, since the term of office of former Chief Chaplain Gad Navon.

The dayan Rav Avraham Elmaliach presides on the panel in this beis din in his official capacity as a dayan, while the two others are not dayanim. The deliberations of this beis din are generally held in the General Staff compound (Kirya) in Tel Aviv, and the entire area is tightly guarded by the IDF, making if very difficult to get near it in order to see what takes place there.

Information which Yated Ne'eman received, led its staff, at the beginning of last week, to wait unobtrusively for the members of the IDF's conversion court at the entrance to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. The meetings of the beis din are occasionally held in the Security Ministry's booth on the cemetery's premises.

Last week a number of male and female soldiers, as well as three female civilians who had already finished their military service, appeared before the panel of the military conversion court.

The investigation which was published in this past week's Yated Hashavua includes the statements of soldiers who sought to convert. These statements were secured after the soldiers emerged from the Security Ministry's booth in the cemetery on Mount Herzl, as was as a tape-recorded conversation with Lieutenant Colonel Rabbi Shachar Matneh (res.) who, as the Chief Chaplain of the IDF claims, is his assistant.

Lieutenant Colonel Rabbi Matneh claims that at the meeting of the conversion beis din held at Mount Herzl, the applicants were not converted. The meeting, he said, was a preliminary one whose purpose was to determine whether the applicants are qualified for conversion. Yated Hashavua published photographs of the members of the beis din as they entered and left the cemetery on Mount Herzl.

One of the questions posed in the investigation was: Why are the meetings of the beis din held on the cemetery on Mount Herzl? Doesn't the army have rooms in Jerusalem where the meetings could be held? Lieutenant Colonel Rabbi Matneh claims that the meeting was held in Jerusalem because Rav Elmaliach found it difficult to come to some of the meetings in Tel Aviv.

Leading rabinical members of the IDF Chaplaincy who are quoted in the article, deny any connectin with the IDF conversion program and completely disassociate themselves from it.

In light of the findings of the investigation, the Vaad Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, the ga'avad of Antwerp, demands that the IDF stop its involvement in conversions immediately and transfer the control over the conversion system to prominent and permanent botei din. The Vaad claims that there is no reason for the IDF to conduct conversions, since conversions are supposed to be conducted only by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, especially since most of the IDF converts have already joined civilian life.

The IDF's spokesman responded that the IDF's conversion court functions in conjunction with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and in accordance with its guidelines. "The meetings of the beis din generally take place in the office of the IDF's Chief Rabbi in the Kirya in Tel Aviv. But at times, out of consideration for the situations of the av beis din, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF or the members of the beis din, the place can change. The time and location of the meetings of the beis din are made known to all of the involved chaplains, so that the beis din does not meet in secret."

The spokesman of the IDF did not state the reaction of the Chief Chaplain of the IDF about the demand to stop the military conversions.


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