THE JERUSALEM conversion office of the Chief Rabbinate.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Chief Rabbinate’s Committee for the Recognition of Rabbis from Abroad has met only once since its establishment two years ago, the ITIM organization revealed on Tuesday.
In a letter sent by to ITIM last week in response to a request for a progress update, Tami Mizrachi, the Chief Rabbinate’s Officer for Freedom of Information, said the committee convened once on February 16, 2017, when an in-depth discussion was held to determine the criteria for recognizing rabbinical courts and rabbis abroad.
ITIM fights for religious openness in Israel on a number of issues, usually in opposition to the Chief Rabbinate.
“When we turned to the rabbinate for a progress report on the criteria committee, we certainly didn’t think that they hadn’t done anything at all,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“The fact that they have only met once is an embarrassment. Rabbis around the world should be the Rabbinate’s partners, not their enemies.”
It has been more than two years since the Rabbinate committed in court that criteria regarding the recognition of rabbis overseas were forthcoming.
In December 2016, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical judges of the Supreme Rabbinical Court established a joint committee to draft criteria for recognizing weddings, divorces and conversions of rabbis in the Diaspora. But since its formation, the committee has only met once.
The idea of the committee was raised after years of scandals in which Orthodox Jews who immigrated to Israel and faced severe difficulties in having their conversions and personal status recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. In numerous cases, Orthodox converts have been rejected outright, as have the credentials of Orthodox rabbis, particularly from the US.
In October 2015, ITIM petitioned the Jerusalem District Court, sitting as the Administrative Court, to demand that the Chief Rabbinate disclose the list of rabbis and the criteria for certifying Jewishness from abroad. “The respondent (the Chief Rabbinate) is currently working on formulating criteria for recognizing rabbis for marriage, and after their formulation, a list of rabbis who meet these criteria will be published,” the response said.
The issue made waves in the US Jewish community when the Rabbinate rejected the conversions of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who was involved in the conversion of Ivanka Trump in the summer of 2016.
In July 2017, it was revealed that the Chief Rabbinate had compiled a blacklist of some 160 rabbis from around the world whose authority to approve Jewish and marital status it rejects. A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate denied that the names were a blacklist, saying, instead, that it was a list affirming Jewish-status letters that had recently been rejected by the Marriage and Conversion Department of the Chief Rabbinate.
Despite the rabbinate claim at the time that many of the rabbis were subsequently certified, Mizrachi’s letter to ITIM from this week notes that only 24 of those rabbis were ultimately certified.
One of the blacklisted rabbis, Rabbi Adam Scheier, Senior Rabbi Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Chief Rabbinate continues to ignore the problem. After the publication of the ‘blacklist,’ we immediately called upon the rabbinate to work with complete transparency and to improve communication and relations with Diaspora Jewry.”
“Unfortunately, the lack of action on the part of the rabbinate leads me to the conclusion that the Chief Rabbinate does not have enough political power to deal with this serious problem or that they simply do not find it important to deal with significant problems connected to Diaspora Jewry,” he added. “In any case, it is clear to us today that the distress that was caused to me and my community by the publication of the ‘blacklist’ did not spur the Chief Rabbinate (which represents the State of Israel) to act quickly and efficiently to bridge the abyss they created with their own hands. This course of action does not contribute to the future of Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry.”