Knesset to debate the Chief Rabbinate’s policy on Diaspora rabbis

Several organizations claim the Chief Rabbinate increasingly restricts number of rabbis in Diaspora whom it recognizes as authorized.

November 11, 2013 21:59
3 minute read.
Rabbi Seth Farber.

seth farber 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The Knesset People, Religion and State Caucus will hold an “emergency session” on Wednesday to discuss the Chief Rabbinate’s approach to Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, following a recent high-profile questioning of the reliability of a highly respected rabbi from New York.

It was discovered last month that the Chief Rabbinate would not approve documentation from Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, New York, regarding the Jewish or marital status of his former congregants.

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Jewish immigrants to Israel frequently need a rabbi from their community abroad to testify that they are Jewish and require confirmation from their former communal rabbis regarding their marital status.

Several organizations have claimed of late that the rejection of Weiss’s authority represents part of a larger problem in which the Chief Rabbinate increasingly restricts the number of rabbis in the Diaspora whom it recognizes as authorized to provide such documentation.

Additionally, such groups have demanded the publication of the criteria the Chief Rabbinate uses to determine which rabbis are acceptable and which are not.

The stated purpose of Wednesday’s Knesset caucus session is to “repair the divide that has opened up between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry because of the Chief Rabbinate’s policies.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory organization, told The Jerusalem Post that the issue has serious consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora and the nature of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.

“The rabbinate is a public authority and as such has a legal responsibility to act with transparent policies and criteria, and to make public what these criteria are,” said Farber.

On Monday, the Post revealed that the Tzohar rabbinical association had, under the terms of the freedom of information law, demanded to see the criteria and any approved list of rabbis the rabbinate might use for evaluating the reliability of Diaspora rabbis, and in particular those from North America.

Although the Chief Rabbinate has yet to formally respond to Tzohar, a rabbinate spokesman denied that there was any list of approved rabbis, and told the Post that rabbis are examined according to three criteria: if the rabbi who signed the documentation was ordained by a recognized Orthodox Jewish institute; if the rabbi and his community live in accordance with Jewish law; and if the rabbi in question has the requisite information, skills and knowledge to sign such a document.

Farber said that this statement proved the rabbinate was acting arbitrarily in this matter.

“The rabbinate is admitting it is acting on an ad hoc basis,” said Farber. “In fact, I’m aware that there used to be a concrete list and that the rabbinate’s legal adviser said they had to stop using this list because of legal complications this creates.”

Although the rabbinate denied there was an increasingly restrictive policy regarding the authorization of documentation provided by Diaspora rabbis, Farber insisted that his organization was indeed dealing with more and more couples originally from North America who have experienced difficulties having their Jewish and marital status authorized.

He said that there was a “growing trend of suspicion” toward North America by the Chief Rabbinate over the last few years and said that the problem had gotten worse since the new chief rabbis took office, possibly due to their lack of familiarity with the issue and a failure to impose their oversight powers on the Chief Rabbinate bureaucracy.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin a member of the executive of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and Rabbi Marc Dratch, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, are both planning to attend the Knesset Religion and State caucus hearing, which is chaired by Hatnua MK Elazar Stern.

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