The Rabbinical Council of America said Thursday night it had come to an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate in Israel that would put an end to the recent crisis surrounding the credentials of North American rabbis.
In a statement to the press, the RCA, the largest Orthodox rabbinical association in North America, said the agreement “mandates the automatic acceptance of letters bearing the endorsement of the RCA.”
However the deal has not yet been signed and the Chief Rabbinate would not comment on the RCA’s announcement.
Jewish immigrants to Israel frequently need a rabbi from their community abroad to testify they are Jewish, and cannot marry in Israel without a rabbi’s confirmation of their marital status. But in recent months the Chief Rabbinate has been rejecting the credentials of increasing numbers of Orthodox rabbis, particularly from the US but also in Europe, although only two have spoken publicly about it.
Both rabbis who spoke out, Avi Weiss and Scot Berman, were members of the RCA.
The controversy strained relations between the Israeli religious establishment and Diaspora Jewry, and numerous public figures and organizations expressed their concern with the rabbinate’s lack of transparency on the matter.
According to the new deal, RCA rabbis who wish to send a letter affirming Jewish status will send them first to the RCA along with details of their conclusions about the status of the individual in question. Once approved by the RCA, the letters would then be passed to the Chief Rabbinate which, according to the proposed deal, will automatically approve them.
As in the past, Orthodox rabbis who are not members of the RCA will be able to approach the Beth Din of America regarding a person for whom they wish to provide Jewish status testimony, which once approved, will be accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.
“This agreement attests to the unique relationship between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the RCA,” the association declared.
“The RCA is proud that this agreement recognizes the vitality of the North American rabbinate and its privilege, capacity and responsibility to serve its communities.”
But Nachman Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Tzohar rabbinical association in Israel, which has helped behind the scenes with the agreement, expressed concern regarding the fact that the deal still seemed to be tentative.
“Tzohar has been intimately involved in formulating this particular agreement since we raised this issue with the Chief Rabbinate back in September,” he said. “We hope and pray the rabbinate will indeed honor its verbal agreement with the RCA. Nonetheless, true success can only be measured by the halachic and legal details of an actual written agreement and its practical enforcement. Anything short of this is worthless and disrespectful.”
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.
“While I am pleased the Chief Rabbinate has recognized that it should not adjudicate issues of local Diaspora communities, a more systemic solution needs to be advanced that doesn’t replace one monopoly with another,” said Farber. “The RCA has its own policies, and these do not reflect the entire gamut of Orthodox or Jewish communities across America. I believe the Chief Rabbinate has to embrace and recognize rabbis from across North America, not just members from one particular organization.”
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