December 25, 2000
TEL AVIV (December 25) - The IDF has plans to convert up to 5,000 immigrant soldiers a year to Judaism, but OC Chaplaincy Corps Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss said yesterday he wants each conversion process to take at least a year.
Weiss told military reporters he prefers the conversion program to be a gradual one, which 16 or 17 year olds would begin before induction and then continue in the IDF.
The idea of converting soldiers arose after it was discovered that many thousands of immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union, were not halachicly Jewish. OC Education Corps Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Stern had initially looked into the matter with Minister Michael Melchior, who is responsible for Diaspora affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, but Weiss took over the issue after his appointment in October.
Currently, some 100 to 150 soldiers undergo conversions in the IDF each year. Weiss said he would prefer to see a number of paths that lead to conversions. His idea is to have a pre-army course for 16 and 17 year olds who would learn in a non-military framework.
They would spend at least a year learning Hebrew, Israeli history and geography, and Jewish heritage in order to draw them closer to the Jewish state, and only after this would they study Judaism, Weiss said, undergoing conversion after they are drafted. The program, he added, would best be run by groups like the Jewish Agency.
The present IDF conversion course is just three months long. But Weiss is pushing to extend this to at least a year, arguing that it is best for the students to experience a whole yearly cycle of holidays and Jewish festivals before they join the Jewish people.
Stern and Melchior, Weiss said, would like to see up to 5,000 soldiers undergoing conversions each year.
So far, there has been no formal decision on the conversion process in the IDF. Weiss acknowledges that there are still problems, such as those who request to undergo the process with various streams of Judaism, such as haredi, Conservative, or Reform conversions.
The Chaplaincy Corps is working on the conversion programs, Weiss said.
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