Tensions persist between RCA and Chief Rabbinate

Chief Rabbinate says US rabbi's stance on certain issues in Jewish law was not in accordance with Orthodox Judaism.

January 5, 2014 20:59
3 minute read.
Rabbi Avi Weiss leads protesters outside the World Trade Center in Baltimore June 13, 1994.

Rabbi Avi Weiss leads protesters outside the World Trade Center in Baltimore June 13, 1994.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Rabbinical Council of America said on Friday that comments made by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel regarding an ongoing spat over rabbinic credentials were “categorically untrue.”

A deal being worked out between the two bodies on the issue appears to be threatened by the limited extent to which the rabbinate is willing to cede authority over such matters.

In recent months, national- religious groups in Israel have reported an increase in the number of rejections by the Chief Rabbinate of the authority of Orthodox North American rabbis to testify as to the Jewish and marital status of their congregants who wish to register for marriage in Israel.

The rejection of the credentials of prominent US Rabbi Avi Weiss in October 2013, in particular, generated significant controversy on the matter.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, the Chief Rabbinate said in a letter last week that it received reports from rabbis in the US, including rabbis from the RCA, that Weiss’s stance on certain issues in Jewish law was not in accordance with Orthodox Judaism.

“The Chief Rabbinate received different reports from rabbis known to the rabbinate, some of them holding positions within the RCA, with claims that the positions in Jewish law of Rabbi Weiss, as they have been expressed in different incidents and circumstances, cast a doubt as to the level of his commitment to accustomed and accepted Jewish law ,” the Chief Rabbinate wrote.

But the RCA issued a strongly worded statement on Friday afternoon saying, “Recent assertions that the Rabbinical Council of America advised the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to reject the testimony of RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss are categorically untrue.”

Speaking to the Post on Sunday, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate insisted, however, that its letter had not said that the RCA as an organization had approached the rabbinate, but that the rabbinate had approached individual rabbis within the RCA about Weiss in order to establish whether or not to accept his documentation.

Weiss is widely respected but also somewhat controversial, due to his establishment of Yeshivat Maharat, a seminary for ordaining women as arbiters of Jewish law, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, as an alternative rabbinic association to the RCA.

Because of these ongoing difficulties, the chief rabbinate and the RCA have been working on an agreement to create a smoother process for the approval of documentation and testimony provided by North American rabbis for former congregants who have immigrated to Israel and wish to register for marriage.

In its statement on Friday, the RCA said that it was working with the rabbinate to create a “new protocol” to enable Jewish status letters to be written by its member rabbis and be endorsed in the United States, “where the RCA is better informed and positioned to resolve matters in ways that will avoid the problems and embarrassments of these past weeks.”

The Jerusalem Post understands that a agreement along these lines is currently being worked on between the two sides although it is still unclear how comprehensive the deal will be.

An RCA official said he believed that a workable deal would shortly be agreed, however, and that legal complexities would not hinder the endorsement in the US of Jewish status letters written by RCA member rabbis.

The Tzohar rabbinical association in Israel, which says its has experienced an increasing number of couples seeking assistance in getting their Jewish status validated, was critical of both the Chief Rabbinate and the RCA.

Tzohar executive vice president Nachman Rosenberg accused the rabbinate of having “no practical respect for the halachic authority of local rabbinic organizations,” while saying that these groups, such as the RCA, “need to rise above their inferiority complex and put an end to this scandalous abuse.”

“The Chief Rabbinate is one of Israel’s primary interfaces with the global Jewish community. Its condescending behavior is corrosive to Israel- Diaspora relations and to halachic Jewish marriage. Tzohar intends to continue to pursue this matter until it is resolved,” added Rosenberg.

An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed comments regarding the RCA to a chief rabbinate spokesman. This was published in error. 

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