Stop Preaching to Us About the IDF Conversions
February 18, 2011
Barbara Sofer , THE
recent article arguing against the expansion of the program of converting
to Judaism during military service is bizarre and inexplicable.
who has made public his delight that his own children would not serve
in the IDF and that he's comfortable being protected by other people's
children (like mine) pontificates about the alleged deficiencies of military
conversion from a wobbly platform.
So it is that my fellow columnist Jonathan Rosenblum argues against expanding
the successful program of converting to Judaism while doing military service
("Why army conversions are lacking," January 7). Rosenblum begins by reminding
us that among the immigrants who arrived at the urging of the Jewish
Agency "were many who felt no
connection to the Jewish people, but harbored extremely negative feelings."
How many alleged
anti-Semites have crossed into the Promised Land together with the sacred
Russian return to Zion is indeed an unanswered question, but we can assume
that most men and women who are willing to serve in the low-perk position
of IDF soldier are not among them. Military service is, after all, low-pay,
uncomfortable and dangerous. And the IDF requires you to spend a lot of
time in close quarters with Jews. The army isn't a kiddush club, it's
a kiddush hashem club.
Further, the call for expansion of the successful military program, claims
Rosenblum, rests on a mindless call for a "more lenient" program, which
would lead to a "trivialization of Halacha and a slap to any rabbi who
views himself as its guardian."
"Imagine the Knesset passing a law to recognize completion of a short
IDF medic's course as sufficient to practice medicine, while requiring
the health ministers and all government bodies to recognize such graduates
as full-fledged doctors," he says.
What a telling analogy. Medics are trained for four months and serve for
three years under supervision in the IDF. Indeed medics cannot do computerized
hip replacements or liver transplants, but they take on one the most admired
and high risk jobs in the IDF. They save lives. The physician course is
more comprehensive. After six years of medical school, a year of internship,
and four to seven years of specialization, two to four years of fellowships,
most physicians who begin their studies after military service at 22 (the
majority are officers) finish close to 40. A dedicated Jewish scholar
who put in the same number of hours, (around 80 a week) for the same number
of years (16 to 18) might be able to head a yeshiva or sit on a rabbinical
THE CONVERSION course aims at producing entry-level Jews young enough
to bring up Jewish families, not hoary-headed yeshiva principals and rabbinical
The linchpin of Rosenblum's argument is that "if one were to conceive
of an environment to inspire commitment to mitzva observance, the IDF
would be the last place."
What, we have to wonder, would be his ideal venue to be exposed to traditional
Jewish values? Would he host potential converts of army age at Shabbat
tables where youngsters are brought up to disdain national service and
internalize a feeling of superiority? They would sit side by side with
healthy young men and women who won't risk exposure to the outside world,
let alone life and limb. Would not-yet-Jewish soldiers serving in Intelligence
Unit 8200 identify with families who don't care about their children learning
mathematics, science and English so that they can contribute to increasing
the ability of the Jewish state to reach economic strength and independence?
Rosenblum argues that "even many soldiers from national religious homes,
who have attended religious schools all their lives, leave observance
in the army."
While it's certainly true that exposure to a world outside of our sheltered
environments - universities, armies, working - have always presented challenges
to maintaining religious practices, it is also true that there are many
more religious role models in IDF leadership today. Doubling the number
of religious soldiers, your children for example, would further increase
exposure to religiously educated and committed Jews.
THE NOT-YET-JEWISH men and women in the IDF have already chosen to cast
their lot with the Jewish people and are willing to risk nothing less
than death to defend the Jewish state and its people.
I hail them. I thank them. Not one of us could live our lives for an hour
in the State of Israel without their willingness to make this sacrifice.
We owe them the opportunity to convert to Judaism in a manner that is
engaging and inspiring.
Already committed to the Jewish people, they need to discover why it's
beneficial to spend the rest of their lives enjoying Jewish practice.
Conversion is ultimately personal. What better time could there be for
them to encounter the wisdom of the texts and inspiration of the traditions
of Judaism? This isn't a gut course in Jewish basket-weaving; the vaunted
halachic expert Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef has approved the
conversion program offered during IDF service. Let us remember that the
vast majority of Jews today are not religious not because they hate spirituality,
but because they're unfamiliar with Judaism's beauty or are turned off
by a negative example they have encountered in religious Jews they have
Rosenblum's most galling statement is that "employing minimal standards
for entry into the Jewish people conveys the message that being Jewish
is something trivial, and makes our ancestors' willingness to give their
lives for their religion something bizarre and inexplicable. That is not
a message we wish to send when trying to explain to our young why there
is any reason to remain here in the face of threats all around."
Bizarre and inexplicable, I'd say. Please do not call up my ancestors'
willingness to risk their lives for Judaism when ironically the very sector
of the population to which you belong is totally unwilling to risk their
lives, and yet you demand a monopoly on Jewish identity. And if you are
having trouble explaining to your young why they should stay here and
not retreat to Williamsburg, despite the Iranian threat and a revolution
in Egypt, they might benefit from the selflessness ingrained in the men
and women of the IDF, Jewish and not-yet-Jewish.