A second Orthodox rabbi from the US has publicly stated that his rabbinic
credentials for testifying as to a person’s Jewish status were rejected by the
Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Scot Berman, a longtime Jewish educator
from the US and residing in Toronto, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night
that he was recently made aware that in October 2013 the Chief Rabbinate refused
to allow him to provide testimony as to the Jewish status of a couple seeking to
register for marriage in Israel whom he knew personally.
October, it was revealed that the Chief Rabbinate similarly rejected the
credentials of Rabbi Avi Weiss, a prominent and well-respected Orthodox rabbi
from New York, and several organizations have alleged that this pattern of
rejection is an increasing trend.
The controversy has strained relations
between the religious establishments in Israel and the Diaspora amid concerns
that the Israeli body does not fully trust Orthodox rabbis and institutions
outside the country.
Berman told the Post Wednesday night that he had a
long standing acquaintance with one of the spouses, while he was familiar with
the other spouse and had met their parents as well.
Jewish immigrants to
Israel frequently need a rabbi from their community abroad to testify that they
are in fact Jewish, and require confirmation from their former communal rabbis
as to their marital status before they can marry here.
A number of
Israel-based organizations have alleged in recent months that the Chief
Rabbinate has cast doubt over the rabbinic credentials of increasing numbers of
foreign rabbis, particularly in North America, and has refused to allow them to
provide this kind of testimony.
The couple in question, who got married
several days ago, submitted the names of four rabbis they were familiar with to
provide the testimony regarding their Jewish status, including that of Rabbi
Three of the four were deemed acceptable by the Chief Rabbinate,
but Berman was not.
Berman has worked as a Jewish educator for over 30
years and, among other positions, has served as principal of the David L. Silver
Yeshiva Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, founding principal of Rae Kushner
Yeshiva High School in Livingston, New Jersey, and headmaster of the two Bnei
Akiva Schools in Toronto.
He received his rabbinic ordination from the
Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, otherwise known as Skokie
In explaining why Berman’s credentials were rejected, the
rabbinate said that because he had worked in the field of education and was not
a communal rabbi he was not qualified to give testimony about Jewish status
Berman told the Post that the rejection of his credentials
illustrated “a lack of understanding by the Chief Rabbinate for how the North
American Jewish community is constituted and how it operates,” and said that the
rejection was an arbitrary position by the Israeli body.
also reflects the basic mistrust of the Chief Rabbinate towards the RCA and for
Orthodox Jewry in North America,” Berman continued. “The Chief Rabbinate has no
idea that I’ve been a Jewish educational leader for 30 years, that I’m a member
of the Rabbinical Council of America in good standing, and this decision
demonstrates a dismissive attitude to the Chief Rabbinate’s North American
counterparts and North American Jewry more broadly.”
The Chief Rabbinate
is in discussions with the RCA, an Orthodox association of rabbis, to resolve
Berman said he hoped common ground between the two
institutions could be found to “advance love and appreciation of Torah and
Judaism,” but he was concerned that the gaps are becoming greater.
on what I have seen in last several years, I’m concerned that the rabbinate has
the openness and willingness to find that common ground,” he
He added that the Chief Rabbinate needed to learn about
Diaspora communities and not to take a default position that “everything that
happens outside of Israel is untrustworthy and suspect.”
“They must work
from a position of trust not mistrust, of cooperation and not of
dismissiveness,” he said.
On Wednesday, an editorial that appeared on the
website of the US publication The Jewish Week, in which Berman first made known
the rejection of his credentials, was critical of both the Chief Rabbinate and
the RCA, the primary Orthodox US organization that has been involved in the
It called RCA’s response to the Chief Rabbinate’s policies
And Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services
advisory body, spoke out against the Chief Rabbinate and its attitude to North
American Jewry.ITIM has worked with couples who have faced difficulties with the
Chief Rabbinate and has made proposals to the institution to create a more
understanding and effective policy towards Diaspora rabbis.
treatment of Rabbi Berman, a rabbi from the mainstream of Orthodoxy by any
account, indicates the deep distrust that the Israeli rabbinate has for [the]
American Orthodox rabbinate,” Farber told the Post.
credentials are beyond question. The arbitrary dismissal of Orthodox
rabbis who chose the path of Jewish education rather than the pulpit,
demonstrates how little the rabbinate understands the landscape of American
Jewish Orthodoxy,” he added.