by Amiram Barkat | Ha'aretz | May 2003
Most of the new immigrants who joined the Israel Defense Forces over the past year were not registered as Jews, Chief Education Officer Brigadier Elazar Stern said yesterday at a conference in Jerusalem's Heichal Shlomo, headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate.
"Last year 51 percent of the immigrants who joined the IDF were not registered as Jews," Stern said, adding that some 8,000 non-Jewish soldiers are serving in the IDF. Until now the number of non-Jewish soldiers was estimated at about 6,500. Some 20 percent of IDF soldiers are new immigrants.
Stern said a military base in the north recently requested 600 copies of the New Testament for swearing in new recruits. The Chief Military Rabbinate, which is in charge of religious services, supplied the books.
Stern urged the Chief Rabbinate and rabbinical courts to facilitate the conversion procedures of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Simha Meron, former director of rabbinical courts, said the problem is not the conversion procedures but that the immigrants themselves do not want to convert.
The number of non-Jewish immigrants in Israel is estimated at between 250,000-300,000.