The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
The Chief Rabbinate’s department for Jewish and marital status has been accused of a series of shortcomings and bad practices in dealing with the various requests that come before it for recognition of various religious-status issues.
The most severe complaints related to Orthodox converts from the US who wished to have their conversions recognized by the state, but had their requests refused with no explanation after a wait of up to a year and a half.
The ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying organization frequently assists people requiring clarification and approval of their personal status from the rabbinate, sending their requests and required documentation on to the department for Jewish and marital status on their behalf.
In one instance, the group sent a letter to the department on behalf of female convert from the United States living in Israel, who wished to have her Jewish conversion recognized so that she could get married. Included in the submission to the chief rabbinate was a certificate of conversion from the Beth Din of America, the rabbinical courts network of the Rabbinical Council of America, a large association of Orthodox rabbis in the US.
The letter was sent in January 2014, but it took the department for Jewish and marital status a year and a half, till June 2015, to answer the request. In the response, Rabbi Itamar Tubol, who runs the department, said the chief rabbinate did not recognize the conversion and provided no explanation as to why he was rejecting the request.
In another case dealt with by ITIM, a woman who converted in 2013 under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi from the US, sent a request for recognition of her conversion to the department for Jewish and marital status so that she could get married. In the response, Tubol denied recognition of her conversion, once again without any explanation.
Following this response, the Orthodox rabbi who conducted the woman’s conversion wrote to the department in March 2014 appealing the decision and asking for an explanation as to why her conversion had been rejected. ITIM sent follow-up letters in June and August 2014 after the rabbi’s appeal was unanswered. However, neither the woman in question, the rabbi who converted her or ITIM have received any further response from Tubol’s office to date.
Bizarrely, a separate convert who converted under the same auspices of the same rabbi successfully gained recognition of her conversion by Tubol’s department.
Aside from denying recognition of foreign converts, the department has also failed to deal with other requests in a timely manner. It took the department half a year to certify the get, or bill of divorce, of a divorced man from the US. In another case, it took three months to get approval for a resident of the UK to get married in Israel, but her fiancé received approval only two months later, causing distress and monetary loss to the couple.
Owing to these deficiencies in the operation of the department, ITIM wrote a letter to the director of the Chief Rabbinate, Oded Flus, outlining its concerns and drawing attention to the department’s obligations according to government regulations to provide a response to requests made to public officials within 45 days of the request, and the obligation of providing an explanation for any rejections.
Flus did not respond to ITIM’s letter.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber described the department’s practices as “unconscionable” and the list of cases outlined to Flus “a veritable shopping lost of offensive and outrageous inefficiency.” He added that the cases raised in the letter to Flus represented a fraction of similar cases it has dealt with in the past two years.
“Itim calls upon the rabbinate to immediately appoint a supervisor to this desk who is familiar with the nuances of Jewish communities in the Diaspora,” said Farber, “In addition, ITIM will insist that a full accounting of how many people had their legit - imate Jewish bona fides rejected because of incompetence.”
Following a request for comment by The Jerusalem Post regarding the two converts whose conversions were rejected, Tubol denied that in the first case the request was received in January 2014, saying it was received in April 2015, and that the conversion certificate from the Beth Din of America had not been sent to him.
Regarding the second case, Tubol said that he had never received any further correspondence regarding her case after the initial rejection and that he had explained the reasons for the rejection to the rabbi who had converted the woman.
A source in the Chief Rabbinate explained that “a severe shortage in manpower” was responsible for the delays.
In response to Tubol’s comments, Farber stated that, “In every case, ITIM provided initial letters, reminders, reminders to the reminders, and powers of attorney. The fact that the rabbinate claims that their file was opened on a certain date simply highlights the chaos that characterizes this sensitive office. ITIM has in its possession certifications of receipt from the rabbinate for each of the initial petitions.
“The categorical denial on the part of the rabbinate is, unfortunately, part of the problem. Rather than taking responsibility for the tragedy they inflict upon hundreds of immigrants each month, they simply bury their heads in the sand.”