Should service in the IDF be a criterion for judging whether someone may convert to Judaism? Sounds crazy, right? Yet in a poll appearing yesterday in Ynet, Israelis put IDF service above observance of the commandments or Jewish ancestry as a factor in deciding whether someone has become Jewish. Given the large number of former-Soviet immigrants who are not Jewish according to halakha, and are not observant but do serve in the IDF, this is a serious claim to be making.
From the standpoint of traditional Jewish law, army service means very little in the conversion process, which focuses principally on acceptance of the Torah’s commandments. Yet at the same time, there is something deeper going on in this poll than simple Israeli patriotism, or the militarization of secular-Jewish identity — something that reaches deep into the Jew’s historical perception of himself. The classical example of the convert in Jewish tradition is Ruth the Moabite, who famously told her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people is my people, your God is my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth then married Boaz the Judean, and one of their descendants was none other than King David. Ruth’s commitment was not simply religious (the belief in the God of Israel), but national as well (the belief in the Jewish people). Following this vein, for centuries rabbis would discourage converts, telling them about the horrific trials that the Jews have faced through history, and only accepting them once they had bound their faith up with that of the Jewish people.
Now that the Jewish people have a state, what greater indicator of national commitment can there be than a willingness to fight and die for one’s country? Something for the rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, to ponder.