Prominent Montreal rabbi, Adam Scheier, told representatives of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate on Monday that he had been personally hurt by his inclusion on the infamous “blacklist” of 160 Diaspora rabbis whose authority the rabbinate had rejected.
Scheier, along with other North American rabbis, traveled to Israel to take part in a meeting on the matter initiated by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) and hosted by the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee.
Chief Rabbinate Director-General Moshe Dagan reiterated his previous response, saying the list was never intended to be a blacklist, but a list of applications for marriage licenses that were rejected because of unsatisfactory or incomplete processes. “There was no blacklist,” he said heatedly, fending off accusations from many MKs and rabbis in the room. “I’ll say it 10 times.”
The list, he said, was taken out of context and was not against any specific rabbis.
Rabbi Scheier, specifically, he said, had sought to marry a divorced woman, but the rabbinate had not received the necessary divorce documents.
“Why do we, rabbis from abroad, need your approval?” asked Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
“I don’t understand why those who live abroad need to justify themselves,” agreed MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), commenting that US Jewry existed before the State of Israel and helped to found it.
Shuki Friedman, director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, said the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was turning into the “Chief Rabbinate of the World.”
Scheier said the rabbinical group damaged his reputation, even among his own community.
“We love Israel because we believe in the depths of our souls that Israel is a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name].... It is therefore so painful to observe that the recent actions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate are causing chillul [desecration of] Hashem,” he said. “Don’t these rabbis, doesn’t the State of Israel feel a sense of responsibility to our community? We feel so close to them. Do they care about us? How can they treat rabbis in such a way?” “I have no answer. I have wondered about that same question many times. Why do they treat Diaspora Rabbis – why have they treated me – with such distrust?” he continued.
“IT WAS only a few weeks ago, after all, that a local rabbi in my city told a member of my community that they should not invite me to officiate at their children’s wedding. His reason? Because I am not accepted by the State of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.... The rabbanut has eroded my own community’s trust in my reliability,” he charged.
“This must end. The bureaucracy and exclusionary practices do not meet basic standards of decency and professionalism. This is not a matter of religious standards, this is a matter of basic humanity. If I am not to be trusted, then please share, once and for all, why not. Please let me, my colleagues and our communities know what, in eyes of the Israel Chief Rabbinate – and therefore in the eyes of the State of Israel – what makes a rabbi “kosher?” Scheier concluded, drawing applause from attendees at the meeting.
Dagan, while denying the rabbinate had done anything wrong, apologized “that this rumor came out about a blacklist... I apologize for the part played by the rabbinate in this.”
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the Itim organization that exposed the “blacklist,” said: “What the rabbinate is doing is first and foremost contrary to Jewish law.” He noted that throughout the generations there were Jewish communities across the world who recognized the legitimacy of one another.
“In the past few years, we have received a significant increase in immigration to Israel,” Farber noted. “Behind every rabbi who is disqualified for no substantial reason, there is a community of hundreds of people whose status as Jews is questioned and their integration into Israeli society is prevented. The time has come for the rabbinate to come to its senses and put an end to this, with the publication of transparent, egalitarian and logical criteria for rabbis abroad, as it committed to do.”
In December 2016, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical judges of the Supreme Rabbinical Court established a joint committee to draft criteria for recognizing weddings, divorces and conversions officiated by rabbis in the Diaspora. But it emerged last month that since its formation, the committee had only met once.
Chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, MK Avraham Neguise, expressed hope that the next time the committee discusses the matter, it would be equipped with the approved criteria.
The idea of the committee was raised after years of scandals in which Orthodox immigrants to Israel aced severe difficulties in getting their conversions and personal statuses recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. In numerous cases, Orthodox converts have been rejected outright, as have the credentials of Orthodox rabbis, particularly from the US.