'Great Challenges' remain in Diaspora-rabbinate relations, says RCA

Tzohar executive VP says Diaspora rabbis have been treated as second class Jews, hopes Chief Rabbinate can resolve issue.

November 12, 2013 23:17
3 minute read.
Conference of Europea rabbis.

Conference of Europea rabbis 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Thomas Peter )


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The Chief Rabbinate announced on Tuesday that it had signed a joint cooperation statement with the Rabbinical Council of America and the Conference of European Rabbis.

The two Diaspora rabbinical organizations wrote in the agreement that they viewed the Chief Rabbinate as the “pillar of fire at the front of the global Orthodox Jewish camp illuminating and guiding the way.”

But the declaration came amid an increase in tensions between North American rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate following what some have called the increasingly restrictive policy that the state rabbinical institution has adopted toward the authority of rabbis in the US and Canada.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday night, RCA president Rabbi Leonard Matanky said that while the joint statement “reaffirms the RCA’s relationship with the Chief Rabbinate,” there were nevertheless problems that needed resolving.

“There are great challenges that the Chief Rabbinate faces, and we are hopeful that it will work together with us in a much closer fashion within existing structures to resolve questions,” said Matanky.

“The challenges we sometimes confront can be solved and resolved with cooperation, understanding and respect,” he continued, referring to problems stemming from the lack of a unified, centralized Orthodox body in the US. “The RCA wants to work with the Chief Rabbinate to resolve these great challenges and to do that in a way that is respectful of the Orthodox rabbinate in America.”

Israeli chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, RCA executive vice president Mark Dratch and Conference of European Rabbis president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt signed the cooperation agreement at a summit in Berlin this week.

“With this agreement we declare our joint decision to deepen and strengthen the cooperation between us,” read the document, going on to say that the respective organizations would coordinate their activities to “increase Torah, disseminate Judaism, and strengthen observance of Jewish law and Jewish education.”

The agreement also noted that the rabbinic organizations were “proud of their relationship with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”

The declaration comes just as two prominent Orthodox organizations in Israel have publicly criticized the Chief Rabbinate’s approach to Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, and especially in North America.

The Tzohar rabbinical association says that over the last few years, it has noted a significant increase in the number of Jewish couples from North America who have turned to Tzohar for assistance in the Israeli marriage registration process, due to restrictions that determine which Diaspora rabbis have the Chief Rabbinate’s authorization to testify about individuals’ Jewish and marital status.

Similar criticism has come from ITIM, a lobbying and religious- services advice organization.

Its director, Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber, has accused the rabbinate of acting arbitrarily and without transparent guidelines on this issue.

In announcing the joint declaration on Tuesday, the rabbinate alluded to these recent claims, saying that the agreement was “even more significant due to the accusations from various parties that the Chief Rabbinate has created this alleged rift with Jewish communities around the world.”

In response to the announcement of the agreement, Farber said that it was “inappropriate that while the right hand of the rabbinate signs an agreement with the RCA affirming their respect and partnership with the North American rabbinical leadership, the left hand of the rabbinate stabs them in the back by rejecting the authority of their rabbis.”

Nachman Rosenberg, executive vice president of Tzohar, said his organization “also hopes that the Chief Rabbinate finally resolves this issue. However, talk is cheap, and actions speak for themselves. The fact is that for the past decade, Diaspora rabbis have been treated as second-class Jews. This behavior destroys the unity of the Jewish People.”

He asserted that “the rabbinate has a legal, moral and halachic obligation to clarify its method of vetting rabbinic authority across the world. Tzohar will not let up until this is resolved.”

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