In yet another blow to relations between the religious establishment in Israel and the Diaspora, the Chief Rabbinate recently rejected the validity of a divorce certificate issued by a highly respected Orthodox rabbinical court in Western Europe. The case involves a man who divorced some years ago in his country of origin in Europe, which cannot be specified at this time, and he is scheduled to re-marry in August in Israel.
On June 23 Rabbi Itamar Tubul, the sole individual at the chief rabbinate responsible for the authorization of certificates establishing marital status, rejected the certificate of divorce issued by the rabbinical court in Europe. Tubul wrote that he rejected the divorce certificate because it bore the signature of only one of the rabbinical judges from the court.
It is not an official religious document and differs from the bill of divorce, or get. Once the get, which is a religious document, is completed by three rabbinical judges, it is ritually torn up to prevent either side from contesting it.
A valid certificate of divorce can be signed by one to three rabbinical judges, depending on local custom. The president of the rabbinical court in question said that his court’s custom was for the most senior rabbinical judge – of the three who arranged the divorce – to sign the document, and that he didn’t need the signatures of the other two judges.
He added that this practice was adopted in line with the rulings of Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, who serves as the head of the Eda Haredit in Israel, an exceedingly strict haredi communal association and rabbinical court.
The ITIM religious services, an advice and lobbying group, which is dealing with the case for the man involved, issued a strongly worded letter to the Chief Rabbinate criticizing its policy and calling on it to rectify the mistake and approve the divorce certificate so their client can get married next month.
“Until the letter of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, no God fearing person even considered doubting the strict level of adherence to Jewish law of this rabbinical court for conducting divorce procedures and, moreover, never refused to recognize an official document produced by this court,” ITIM wrote in a letter to the Chief Rabbinate last week.
The organization added that the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize the divorce bill was unreasonable and injurious to the name of the rabbinical court, and went on to say that such policies create “anger and frustration in the Jewish world and humiliates rabbinic institutions that respect the dignity of the rabbinate in Israel.”
ITIM accused the Chief Rabbinate of employing arbitrary and opaque practices in its dealings with Diaspora Jewry, its institutions and their legal proceedings and documents.
It requested that the rabbinate make available its policies and procedures for authorization of personal status documents from rabbinical institutions in the Diaspora.
“There is a need for major reform in the way the rabbinate addresses Diaspora communities and rabbis,” said ITIM director and Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber.
“When the rabbinate rejected rabbis’ letters [of Jewish status] we had to argue rabbi by rabbi. Now they are dismissing the practices of the major orthodox centers out of pure ignorance. We have put before the rabbinate a proposal that would change the modus operandi in which they look at Orthodox communities abroad and we hope that the rabbinate will recognize their error not just int his one case, but in the way they address this issue in general.”
Farber added that the rabbinate should also “examine the personnel inside the institution involved in determining the personal status of people from abroad,” calling the current situation “untenable.”
Earlier this year, the Chief Rabbinate became embroiled in a controversy with the US Orthodox rabbinical association, the Rabbinical Council of America, when it emerged that the rabbinate rejected the credentials of prominent US Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss for the purposes of stipulating the Jewish status of former congregants.
The Chief Rabbinate did not respond to repeated requests for comment.