IDF conversion course back on after budget row resolved
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IDF conversion course back on after budget row resolved

Finance Ministry agrees to front millions needed to save Nativ program; hundreds convert to Judaism through army each year

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), along with the IDF's then-chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Schermeister (right), and several participants in the army's Nativ conversion course on December 15, 2010. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO, File/Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), along with the IDF's then-chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Schermeister (right), and several participants in the army's Nativ conversion course on December 15, 2010. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO, File/Courtesy)

The Israel Defense Forces’ popular Jewish conversion course is back on track after the Finance Ministry stepped in to end a budget row that had threatened its continuation.

The IDF had suspended the program last month due to lack of funds, while the Defense Ministry and the Treasury were embroiled in a bitter dispute over the army’s 2015-2016 budget.

The dispute stemmed from a misunderstanding regarding the source of the funding of the program, which is financed separately from the general defense budget, Channel 2 reported Friday.

The NIS 20 million ($5.22 million) required to cover the program’s 2015 budget is slated to come from the Conversion Department of the Prime Minister’s Office and then handed over to the Treasury, which allocates the Defense Ministry’s budgets. In August, however, the army said that the Treasury had failed to transfer the funds for the Nativ 2015 budget, forcing it to suspend the September semester. At the time, the IDF warned the future of its program was in jeopardy.

According to Channel 2, the dispute between government ministries was resolved earlier this week, with the Finance Ministry agreeing to provide the necessary funds for the upcoming semester. In the future, the report said, the program will be jointly funded from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry.

Army officials said soldiers already enrolled in Nativ will be allowed to complete the 7-week program unaffected by its short recess.

Eli Ben Dahan, the Deputy Defense Minister and former director general of the rabbinic courts, praised the compromise as appropriate, saying “conversion is a national duty, and we will work together to strengthen it.”

Nativ is the only state-recognized conversion system in the country not controlled by the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate. Hundreds of soldiers, most of them non-Jewish relatives of Jewish 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.

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