The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court has rejected the Jewish status of the son of an American woman who converted to Judaism several decades ago and whose conversion was approved by the Beth Din of America in 2018.
According to the written decision of the court, the ruling was made following an opinion submitted to it by Rabbi Asher Ehrentreu, a senior official in the Jewish Status Clarification Unit of the Rabbinical Courts Administration.
The latest decision comes despite new criteria published by the Chief Rabbinate in November 2018 for recognizing Diaspora rabbinical courts, as well as the publication of an explicit list of rabbinical courts that are currently recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, which includes the Beth Din of America.
Making the situation even more Kafkaesque is the fact that a sibling of the man in question got married through the Chief Rabbinate several years ago without questions raised about their Jewish status.
This individual and their children will likely face the revocation of their Jewish status, should the case not be otherwise resolved.
A request to appeal the decision by the ITIM religious services organization was rejected by the Supreme Rabbinical Court because it was filed 30 days after the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court decision.
ITIM has appealed to the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, Chief Rabbi David Lau, to intervene in this case and grant its request for appeal, but Lau has yet to respond to the request.
According to ITIM, there are at least two other cases in which Orthodox conversions, approved by US rabbinical courts that have formally been listed by the Chief Rabbinate as recognized for the purposes of conversion, have been rejected by the Rabbinical Courts Administration.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber accused the Chief Rabbinate of violating Jewish law and normative Orthodox Judaism.
The latest case involves Shimon, not his real name, the son of a woman who converted to Judaism in an Orthodox rabbinical court in the US in the 1970s.
The family made aliyah to Israel many years ago. Shimon recently got engaged and submitted a requested to be registered for marriage through the rabbinate in Tel Aviv in 2018.
Since his mother is a convert, the case got passed to the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court for a Jewish status investigation.
On January 3, 2019, Rabbi Shlomo Shtesman, head of the three-man panel in the Tel Aviv court that presided over the case, ruled that the rabbinical court that had converted Shimon’s mother was not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts Administration.
The mother’s Jewish status and that of her son were therefore rejected, and his request to register for marriage denied.
Shtesman wrote that the “updated and unambiguous opinion of Rabbi Asher Ehrentreu of the department for Jewish status clarification of the Rabbinical Courts Administration” determined that the court that had converted Shimon’s mother was not recognized, and that the court was therefore “forced to reject the request” for Jewish status approval.
All the rabbis who presided over Shimon’s mother’s conversion are now dead.
THE ISSUE of recognition of Orthodox rabbinical courts in the Diaspora for Jewish status issues has become an increasingly thorny problem.
Numerous cases have occurred in which conversions performed by prominent and respected Orthodox rabbis have been rejected by the Rabbinical Courts in Israel.
Before November 2018, the reasons for such rejections were unclear due to the undefined and opaque criteria for recognition of Diaspora rabbinical courts.
The publication of the criteria and the list of recognized courts was supposed to have resolved this problem, but it appears that the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts Administration are not adhering strictly to their published lists.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration admitted as much in its response to a request for comment from The Jerusalem Post.
“The lists [of recognized rabbinical courts] are recommendations only, and do not receive automatic validity without further inspection and testimony, as is required when dealing with personal status issues,” wrote the administration’s spokesman.
“The lists themselves change and are not permanent, in accordance with new and updated information about the trustworthiness of the converting rabbis,” he continued, adding: “The name of the converting rabbi in this case has not been on the lists for two years.”
As mentioned, the rabbi who converted Shimon’s mother has been dead for 28 years and is therefore unlikely to appear on a list of rabbis and rabbinical courts currently recognized for conversions.
The spokesman did not state why the validation of the conversion by the Beth Din of America had been rejected.
Additionally, the spokesman said that the question of Shimon’s sister’s Jewish status “is not something that has been brought for discussion at this stage.”
A spokesman for Chief Rabbi David Lau declined to comment.
The Beth Din of America said in response merely that it has “a longstanding policy of not commenting on cases.”
Farber said the current situation is unacceptable since the Chief Rabbinate is ignoring its own criteria and standards, and thereby harming converts and their children.
“For years, the Office of the Chief Rabbi refused to acknowledge which rabbinical courts it recognized. Now, it is ignoring the very list of recognized rabbinical courts it produced, confusing everyone involved,” said Farber.
“This is an intolerable situation in which the state rabbinate is discriminating against converts, disregarding its own standards, violating Jewish law and defying normative Orthodoxy. ITIM will continue to support converts and their families and to fight for their recognition as Jews in the Jewish state.”
Farber also lambasted Ehrentreu’s role in rejecting the validity of conversions, saying that “Rabbi Ehrentreu has become the arbiter of who is a Jew in Israel, without any oversight. The judges seem to trust him blindly, and he is outsourcing an agenda that is anti-halachic, isolationist and anti-Zionist.”
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