Despite opposition from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the IDF conversion bill to certify the validity of all Jewish conversions conducted by the Israel Defense Forcespassed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, December 15th.
The IDF conversion law would allow any Jewish conversion conducted by the army, and without the approval of the Chief Rabbinate, to be considered official and valid in the eyes of the state.
The bill, which caused a great deal of stress within Netanyahu’s coalition and pit the Shas strongly against Yisrael Beitainu, passed with a very strong margin of 74 for and only 18 opposed.
In fact, Shas is still so strongly against the bill that the party threatened to turn its back on Netanyahu’s coalition and act on its own in attempts to extinguish the bill.“If this [advancement of the bill] should happen, we will be free of our coalition obligations,” said the Shas party leader Eli Yishai on Wednesday.
Because most of today’s Jewish conversions in Israel are conducted through IDF courses, the bill is seen by opponents as dangerous. Shas believe that the Chief Rabinite should hold all the power regarding every conversion in Israel.
Yishai, in a last minute impassioned speech, implied that supporters of the bill indirectly destroy the Jewish people. He then quoted a letter from the IDF chief rabbi which said that conversions in and outside the IDF should be unified.
However, MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, who proposed the bill, argued that voting against this bill will simply lead to ultra-Orthodox factions questioning the legitimacy of a soldier’s religious status.
“The IDF chief rabbi said he cried when he saw soldier’s conversions being questioned,” Rotem declared during the debate.” Those who want to spit in the faces of soldiers who converted, who have fought for us, will vote against this bill.”
After the bill’s approval, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said “It is clear that there is a difference between the approaches of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. Everyone needs to live with each other.”
“Israel has one real melting pot, and that is the IDF, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he added at a Yisrael Beiteinu party meeting.
Pime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who showed his strong support for the bill, said after the vote was approved that “These soldiers are risking their lives for our security and this is the minimal recognition of gratitude that they deserve.”
It now has to be seen whether Yisrael Beiteinu will succeed in advancing the bill.