Israeli Chief Rabbinate blacklists 160 Diaspora rabbis

By
July 9, 2017 12:52

Among the list are several prominent Orthodox rabbinical leaders from the US, Israel and Canada.

4 minute read.



Council of the Chief Rabbinate

The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate. (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)

The Chief Rabbinate has compiled a blacklist of some 160 rabbis from around the world, including many Orthodox rabbis, whose authority to approve Jewish and marital status it rejects.

Among those on the list, details of which emerged on Sunday, are several prominent Orthodox rabbinical leaders, including “open Orthodox” leader Rabbi Avi Weiss and one of the founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.

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Graduates of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot are also on the blacklist, along with Conservative and Reform rabbis.

It has been known for years that the Chief Rabbinate rejects the credentials of some Orthodox rabbis from the Diaspora. That has caused significant problems for some immigrants, especially those from the US, when they register for marriage in Israel.

Similar controversy has surrounded rejection by the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical courts of conversions performed by some Orthodox US rabbis. Last year, a regional rabbinical court was followed by the Supreme Rabbinical Court in rejecting the conversion of a woman who converted through the same rabbi who supervised the conversion of Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump.

When Jewish immigrants to Israel register for marriage, they must provide evidence of their Jewish status, including a letter from a communal rabbi who knows them, affirming that they are indeed Jewish.

In recent years, however, many immigrants have had those letters rejected by the Chief Rabbinate, creating headaches and difficulties ahead of their weddings in Israel.

The seemingly random rejection of credentialed Orthodox rabbis who are in good standing in their native countries has been seen as an attempt by the Chief Rabbinate to expand its authority over Jewish status issues to the Diaspora, and as a slight to Orthodox rabbis and communities outside of Israel.

Along with Weiss and Fass, the blacklist also includes Rabbi Adam Scheier, a community leader in Montreal who is close with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Rabbi Daniel Krauss, of Kehilath Yeshurun Synagogue in New York, where until recently White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attended services.

Weiss pioneered the liberal-Orthodox movement, loosely defined as open Orthodoxy, and has long been persona non grata with the Chief Rabbinate, which rejected his credentials in 2014, before doing a U-turn and accepting him again after a furor erupted over the incident. But it appears that he is once again no longer in good standing with the Chief Rabbinate.

Other rabbis on the blacklist include Rabbi Josh Blass, a senior educator at Yeshiva University; Rabbi Isaac Nathan Lerer, head of the Conservative Temple Menorah in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Rabbi Leonid Feldman, head of Temple Beth El congregation in West Palm Beach, Florida; Rabbi Baruch Goodman, head of the Chabad house at Rutgers University in New Jersey; and Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, head of the Mekor Habracha Synagogue in Philadelphia, who has rabbinical ordination from the prestigious haredi Ner Yisroel Yeshiva in Baltimore.

Two other Chabad rabbis in the Anglo-Jewish world were on the blacklist: Rabbi Aron Moss of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and Rabbi Pesach Fishman of Johannesburg, South Africa. Argentina had an unusually large number of rabbis on the blacklist, with 27 in total.

The list of 160 rabbis whose credentials are not accepted was released to the ITIM religious services advisory organization following a freedom of information request it made for the list.

ITIM has fought a lengthy legal battle against the Chief Rabbinate to force it to draft transparent criteria for accepting the credentials of Diaspora rabbis whose letters affirming Jewish status it will accept.

The organization had demanded to see criteria, but the Chief Rabbinate has said it has none, and disclosed a list of 160 rabbis whose letters have recently been rejected as a partial response to the freedom of information request.

“This list is a badge of shame for the Chief Rabbinate’s behavior toward Diaspora Jewry, and I wonder who authorized the rabbinate to decide that a rabbi of a specific community abroad is not accepted and that the members of his community aren’t Jewish,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.

Farber said that by casting doubt as to the Jewishness of Diaspora Jews, the Chief Rabbinate is creating “a massive split between Jews abroad and those in the State of Israel,” adding that its policies contravene Jewish law and tradition, in which different Jewish communities throughout history lived alongside each other in mutual recognition.

“The Chief Rabbinate is trying to turn itself into the exclusive global authority over Jewish status issues. This behavior is causing world Jewry to worry about what is coming next,” said Farber.

Following its publication, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate denied that the names were a blacklist, saying, instead, that it was a list of letters affirming Jewish status letters that had recently been rejected by the Marriage and Conversion Department of the Chief Rabbinate.

The spokesman emphasized that the list was not a matter of which rabbi issued the letter, but, rather, the specific case the letter addresses, adding that future such letters written by the same rabbis could, in fact, be accepted.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, however, strongly denounced the blacklist, stating that he had no knowledge of it until Sunday, and that it was the work of the clerk in charge of the Marriage and Conversion Department, who created it without proper authorization.

In a letter to Chief Rabbinate director-general Moshe Dagan, Lau said he was “astonished to discover this list,” that it was “unthinkable” a clerk would create such a document of his own accord, and demanded that the clerk be reprimanded.


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