The chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on Wednesday condemned the language used by his fellow party member in describing women who go through a specialized IDF conversion to Judaism.
In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Moshe Gafni was asked about comments made by UTJ MK Yitzhak Pindrus, according to which women who convert to Judaism as part of the IDF’s Nativ program are “shiksas,” a pejorative term for non-Jewish women.
“I completely disagree with that, [and] I told him this. He told me that he took that back. He was at some panel event… a word slipped out that was inappropriate,” said Gafni.
“[Pindrus’ phrasing] was very unfortunate and I trust his word that he recanted, and he showed me that it was published that he recanted,” Gafni continued.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pindrus apologized on Channel 12 for his use of the term “shiksa,” admitting that it had not been appropriate.
“I apologize to those who were converted according to halacha [Jewish law] and were offended by what I said,” he told Channel 12.
However, Pindrus stood by his statements that the IDF’s conversion program was not religiously legitimate.
In his original comments, he had added: “If someone marries her, their father needs to sit shiva [the traditional mourning period], rend his garments, and say Kaddish [the mourner’s prayer]” over their lost son.
The military’s Nativ program, founded in 2001, is the only state-recognized conversion system in the country not controlled by the Chief Rabbinate. Hundreds of soldiers, most of them non-Jewish immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, enter the army’s conversion system each year. Thousands have successfully finished the program and converted to Judaism through the IDF’s rabbinic court, which is Orthodox.
Gafni said that while he condemns Pindrus’s choice of words, he stands by the position that ultra-Orthodox authorities are the ones who should have the last say on conversions to Judaism in Israel.
“We need to discuss this with the facts, and on the facts we are right; he shouldn’t bring up words like that, people might worry that what we’re saying is incorrect. What we’re saying is correct,” said Gafni.
“Conversion [into Judaism] is not a national matter, and conversion is not a civil matter; it’s not a topic where one can just come over and make a ruling on it – especially not in a court of those who don’t understand the matter at all,” he continued.
When asked by the interviewer whether conversion to Judaism was a political matter, Gafni told the host, “It’s a religious matter! Not political.”
The UTJ leader excoriated the High Court of Justice for its ruling Monday that will require the Jewish state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism performed in Israel for citizenship purposes.
The bombshell ruling dents the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Rabbinate’s control over conversions in the country. The decision came after the court urged the government to legislate the issue for 15 years.
“[This is] the same High Court of Justice that scolds us, politicians, and explains to us that we cannot make dramatic decisions on the eve of elections – since it would seem like we want to affect the elections – and so [it tells us to] postpone things that can be postponed,” Gafni said.
Israel is holding its fourth election in two years on March 23.
Gafni said that even pressing issues have been postponed due to the elections at the court’s order. “There are things that I can say are unequivocally in the citizens’ favor, but we can’t make decisions [about them]. And suddenly, that same court makes a decision and tells us that 15 years went by without a decision [on conversions], so it’s making a decision three weeks ahead of the elections.”