An Independent I.D.F. Rabbinate Can Also Conduct Conversions

Conversions in the I.D.F.

In principle, the idea of allowing conversions in the army is extremely appropriate; however, the problem is the source of authority of the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. The first stipulation of a rabbi’s authority is – he must be independent, his halachic decisions must be made entirely according to their own merits and not swayed by external considerations and pressures. As regards to the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., who is selected by non-religious people such as the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff, who would fire him if he decided to act in contradiction to their beliefs — his authority is questionable.

Indeed, every rabbi and judge is part of society and is influenced by the mood and pressures of the general public, but they are not entirely dependent on them. However, when it is almost certain that the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. will be thrown out of the army if he dares to make a decision which contradicts the beliefs of his non-religious superior officers, his authority is questionable.

The way to improve this situation is to change the system of choosing the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi. In the meantime, only after an issue arises where the position of the Chief Rabbi contradicts that of the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff – and in spite of the pressures, he does not change his mind and nevertheless remains in his job, will we know that, indeed, his decisions are made independently. Without this, his authority as a ‘posek’ (Jewish law adjudicator) is questionable. He still has a very important job as the administrator of religious issues in the army, but not as a ‘posek’.

From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Exodus

Throughout all of the Torah portions in the Book of Genesis, I quoted at length many verses dealing with the Land of Israel. For a short while, it seemed to me that perhaps I was exaggerating. However, from reader’s responses, I realized that for many of them, this was an eye-opener. One Haredi Jew wrote me: “For tens of years I have learned the Book of Genesis, and I never paid attention to the fact that almost all of God’s revelations to the forefather’s deal with the promise of the Land of Israel.” Another person wrote that for the past few weeks, whenever he gives rides to Haredi hitchhikers, he asks them: “What did God say to Avraham aveinu” or “What did God say to Yitzchak aveinu” – as per that week’s Torah portion. In his great sorrow, many of them couldn’t answer, as if for them, all of the verses dealing with the Land of Israel in the Torah have been deleted. Those who are already familiar with the holiness of the Land of Israel were happy to read about it over and over again, as is befitting for such a blessed matter.

Rashi has already taught us in his first commentary to the Torah that the entire idea of the Book of Genesis comes to teach that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish nation. He did this by bringing the words of Rebbe Yitzchak from the Midrash, who asked why the Torah started with Creation and the accounts of the forefather’s instead of opening with an explanation of the mitzvoth. He replied: “He has declared to his people the power of his works, that He may give them the heritage of the nations”, for if the nations say to Israel ‘You are thieves! You conquered the land of the seven nations!’ They say to them: The entire world belongs to God. He created it and gave it to whoever He decided. [At first], He decided to give it to them, [now] He has decided to take it from them and give it to us.”

Faith Revealed in the Land of Israel

Delving deeper, it becomes clear that all our wars over the Land of Israel, since days of old and until today, rotate on this axis – the revelation of Heavenly faith within physical reality. This was the reason we went down to exile, and this is the reason we are returning today to the land of our forefather’s.

Answer to a Breslov Chasid

Accordingly, my answer to a Breslov Chasid, who with characteristic enthusiasm, wrote me: “Why does the honorable Rabbi speak about the Land of Israel? The main thing is to speak about faith in God,” not understanding that this is exactly what the Land of Israel is all about – to reveal faith within the world. Even Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan wrote about this in a number of their writings. All the talk about faith without its implementation in the Land of Israel is similar to castles in the sky; like the high of a drug addict, who, after the drug which thrilled him wears off, falls into a deep depression. Indeed, the great Breslov Chassidim were always strongly connected to the Land of Israel and its settlement.

Encouragement for the Settler’s

However, the thing that most encourages me is the reaction of the settler’s, who tell me just how heartening my words are, reinforcing them in mitzvoth, in the absorption of more families, and in building more houses. One woman wrote me: “I want to thank you, Rabbi, for the words of support which you customarily write in your column ‘Revivim’ concerning the importance of settling the land. As a victim of the building freeze, your words were of great encouragement, and helped me to accept the pains of the freeze lovingly. Presently, thank God, I am privileged to see my house being built. Thank you and all the best!”

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