A deal between the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America to streamline the approval of letters of Jewish status from US rabbis, is nearing finalization.
The deal, which a senior RCA official told The Jerusalem Post was to be signed on Monday, could ease tensions that have been building around the Chief Rabbinate’s recent trend of questioning and rejecting the credentials of Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora. The issue is significant because the Chief Rabbinate requires rabbinical testimony regarding various aspects of Jewish and personal status for Jews from abroad who have emigrated to Israel, particularly when they apply for marriage registration.
The RCA official told the Post on Thursday night that under the agreement, the Chief Rabbinate would automatically accept any RCA administration-approved letters from RCA rabbis regarding the Jewish status of Americans seeking to register for marriage in Israel.
However, the Chief Rabbinate would not comment directly on the details of the deal, but said instead that “all details of the agreement between the Chief Rabbinate and the RCA are already agreed,” and that it would be officially signed “in the coming days.”Different types of documentation, such as clarification of Jewish status or marital status, and certificates of marriage and divorce, are to require different types of authorization by the Chief Rabbinate through the RCA, but precise details were not yet made available.
It emerged in October that the rabbinate rejected the credentials of prominent Orthodox US rabbi Avi Weiss, while several other Orthodox rabbis have had their credentials rejected as well.
The issue generated significant friction between the religious establishment in Israel and Diaspora Jewry, as well as between the rabbinate and organizations in Israel dealing with religious bureaucracy.
US Congressman Eliot L. Engel spoke out against the Chief Rabbinate on the issue, as did Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and leaders of several other Jewish organizations.
The RCA announced on January 17 that an agreement had been made with the Chief Rabbinate mandating “the automatic acceptance of letters bearing the endorsement of the RCA,” but the document was not at that stage formally signed, and the rabbinate refused to respond to the announcement.
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory group, which has worked extensively on this issue, welcomed the agreement but expressed concern for Orthodox rabbis not affiliated with the RCA.
“Without transparent criteria we’re putting all our eggs in one basket,” said Farber. “RCA membership represents less than 50 percent of Orthodox rabbis in the US, and I’m concerned that while this is a great deal for the RCA and its membership, it doesn’t absolve the chief rabbinate as a public institution of their legal responsibilities to issue fair and transparent criteria for approving the credentials of Diaspora rabbis.”
The rabbi added that ITIM plans to continue pursuing this issue.