Canadian Orthodox synagogue protests Chief Rabbinate ‘blacklist' to Quebec Consul General

Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Montreal also demands apology from Chief Rabbi Lau to communal rabbi.

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July 11, 2017 02:54
Canadian Orthodox synagogue protests Chief Rabbinate ‘blacklist' to Quebec Consul General

SETH FARBER. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The venerable and prestigious Orthodox synagogue of Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, Canada, has called on Chief Rabbi David Lau to issue an apology to its communal leader Rabbi Adam Scheier after having rejected his affirmation of the Jewish status of a former congregant.

In addition, the community sent an official letter of protest to the Israeli consul-general for Quebec strongly objecting to the rejection by the Chief Rabbinate of Scheiers affirmation, and those of another 159 Diaspora rabbis.

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The letter of protest is yet another low point for Israel-Diaspora relations, and reflects the deep dissatisfaction of many communities in North America, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, with the attitude of the religious establishment towards Jews in the Diaspora.

On Sunday, a list was disclosed of 160 Diaspora rabbis whose letters affirming Jewish status for former congregants were rejected by the Chief Rabbinate in 2016, which included Scheier as well as other Orthodox rabbis, and numerous Reform and Conservative rabbis as well.

Concerns about the Chief Rabbinate’s rejection of such affirmations from Orthodox rabbis in good standing with their communities and communal organizations, as well as of clergy from the progressive Jewish denominations, have been an ongoing cause of friction for several years now.

Critics of the Chief Rabbinate believe that this lack of recognition of legitimate communal leaders stems from its distrust of non-haredi leaders and an agenda of empowering more conservative approaches to Jewish life in general.

Founded in 1846, Shaar Hashomayim is the largest Orthodox synagogue in terms of membership in North America, with some 1,300 families, representing close to 5,000 individuals.



“Congregation Shaar Hashomayim calls upon Chief Rabbi David Lau to issue an apology to
Rabbi Scheier and the other 159 rabbis on this list for publicly discrediting their rabbinic standing,” reads the letter sent by the synagogue leadership to the Consul General of Israel for
Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, Ziv Nevo-Kulman.

The letter also demanded an apology to the Shaar Hashomayim community from the Chief Rabbinate “for its actions that impact our members and our spiritual leadership,” and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to take the necessary steps to ensure that Diaspora Jewry no longer encounters systemic rejection from the Chief Rabbi’s office.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Scheier described the Chief Rabbinate’s “posturing and policies” on Jewish status issues as having “brought shame to Israel,” but said that its “rejectionist stance” towards much of the Diaspora rabbinate has been common knowledge for some time.

Scheier said that he was “dismayed” that the list of 160 rabbis exists at all, but added that he preferred to be associated with those on it than to be on the list of Chief Rabbinate approved rabbis.

“I am neither upset or disappointed to be on this list. I would prefer to be on a blacklist with colleagues and friends who are extraordinary and trustworthy rabbis who I respect than an approved list of the Chief Rabbinate.”

He said his challenge now was to ensure that his community”maintains its love and support for Israel while at the same time confronting this injustice and speaking up in opposition to the Chief Rabbis’ stance.”

On Sunday, Chief Rabbi David Lau issued a statement saying he was unaware that the disclosed list existed, although a source in the Chief Rabbinate acknowledged that Lau was aware that dozens of letters affirming Jewish status by different Diaspora rabbis are rejected every year.

In response to the letter from the Shaar Hashomayim community to the Quebec Consul-General, the Chief Rabbinate repeated its insistence that the list pertains to specific cases and not to the rabbis themselves, and said that the synagogue had "fallen into the trap of media manipulation... planted by people with an agenda."

Director of the ITIM organization which first obtained the list Rabbi Seth Farber argued however that the real agenda behind the rejections was that of the Chief Rabbinate in bolstering a conservative approach to Jewish life, coupled with its ineffective management of the issue.

“The agenda of the Chief Rabbinate is to consolidate the power of right-wing Orthodoxy, but it’s also down to incompetence because there are also right-wing Orthodox rabbis on this list,” Farber told the Post.

ITIM obtained the list after filing a freedom of information request to the Chief Rabbinate for the criteria it uses to determine which rabbis it accepts and which it rejects for the purposes of Jewish status affirmation.

The Chief Rabbinate has insisted however that it has no such criteria, and provided ITIM with a list of rejected rabbis instead.

Lau’s statement on Sunday took issue with one of the Chief Rabbinate clerks, Rabbi Itamar Tubul, who runs the institution’s Department of Matrimony and Conversion, and said that he was unauthorized to compile such a list.

According to a source in the Chief Rabbinate, Tubul consults contacts of his in different US states to investigate the legitimacy of a rabbi issuing Jewish status affirmations, and also consults with Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on such issues.

But ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber rejected Lau’s response, saying that Tubul was the result, not the cause, of the Chief Rabbinate’s chaotic approach to the issue, and accused both chief rabbis of failing to take responsibility for this sensitive problem.

“The question of ‘Who is a Jew’ is being determined by Tubul’s friends, and this isn’t the way to run a country. The blame lies not at Tubul’s feet but squarely at the feet of the chief rabbis, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Farber insisted.

The Post has learned that Shaar Hashomayim is not the only community which is protesting the policies of the Chief Rabbinate.

The United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, with a membership of 350 families, will also be taking up their concerns with their regional Consul General, since their late leader Rabbi Joseph Radinsky was another of the Orthodox rabbis whose credentials were rejected.

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