The Knesset People, Religion and State Caucus will hold an “emergency session”
on Wednesday to discuss the Chief Rabbinate’s approach to Orthodox rabbis in the
Diaspora, following a recent high-profile questioning of the reliability of a
highly respected rabbi from New York.
It was discovered last month that
the Chief Rabbinate would not approve documentation from Rabbi Avi Weiss of
Riverdale, New York, regarding the Jewish or marital status of his former
Jewish immigrants to Israel frequently need a rabbi from
their community abroad to testify that they are Jewish and require confirmation
from their former communal rabbis regarding their marital status.
organizations have claimed of late that the rejection of Weiss’s authority
represents part of a larger problem in which the Chief Rabbinate increasingly
restricts the number of rabbis in the Diaspora whom it recognizes as authorized
to provide such documentation.
Additionally, such groups have demanded
the publication of the criteria the Chief Rabbinate uses to determine which
rabbis are acceptable and which are not.
The stated purpose of
Wednesday’s Knesset caucus session is to “repair the divide that has opened up
between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry because of the Chief Rabbinate’s
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services
advisory organization, told The Jerusalem Post that the issue has serious
consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora and the nature of
the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.
“The rabbinate is a public
authority and as such has a legal responsibility to act with transparent
policies and criteria, and to make public what these criteria are,” said
On Monday, the Post revealed that the Tzohar rabbinical
association had, under the terms of the freedom of information law, demanded to
see the criteria and any approved list of rabbis the rabbinate might use for
evaluating the reliability of Diaspora rabbis, and in particular those from
Although the Chief Rabbinate has yet to formally respond
to Tzohar, a rabbinate spokesman denied that there was any list of approved
rabbis, and told the Post that rabbis are examined according to three criteria:
if the rabbi who signed the documentation was ordained by a recognized Orthodox
Jewish institute; if the rabbi and his community live in accordance with Jewish
law; and if the rabbi in question has the requisite information, skills and
knowledge to sign such a document.
Farber said that this statement proved
the rabbinate was acting arbitrarily in this matter.
“The rabbinate is
admitting it is acting on an ad hoc basis,” said Farber. “In fact, I’m aware
that there used to be a concrete list and that the rabbinate’s legal adviser
said they had to stop using this list because of legal complications this
Although the rabbinate denied there was an increasingly
restrictive policy regarding the authorization of documentation provided by
Diaspora rabbis, Farber insisted that his organization was indeed dealing with
more and more couples originally from North America who have experienced
difficulties having their Jewish and marital status authorized.
that there was a “growing trend of suspicion” toward North America by the Chief
Rabbinate over the last few years and said that the problem had gotten worse
since the new chief rabbis took office, possibly due to their lack of
familiarity with the issue and a failure to impose their oversight powers on the
Chief Rabbinate bureaucracy.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin a member of the
executive of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and Rabbi Marc Dratch, the
executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, are both planning
to attend the Knesset Religion and State caucus hearing, which is chaired by
Hatnua MK Elazar Stern.