New Rabbinate regulations to ease immigrant Jewish status verification

Publication of new regulations the result of more than half-a-decade of work to standardize Chief Rabbinate policy

French olim arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 10, 2017 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
French olim arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 10, 2017
Following half a decade of legal wrangling, the Chief Rabbinate has issued new regulations that will streamline the process of Jewish status verification for immigrants, for the purposes of marriage registration in Israel.
The new regulations will help in particular converts from outside of Israel and divorcées, who for many years have had problems getting their conversions and divorce documentation recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
In recent years there have been numerous cases in which Orthodox converts from abroad were rejected by the Chief Rabbinate, while an apparent blacklist of Diaspora rabbis was drawn up whose testimony to the Jewish status of their former congregants was rejected.
There were in particular several high-profile incidents in which conversions performed abroad by prominent and respected Orthodox rabbis have been rejected by the rabbinical courts in Israel in accordance with its undefined and opaque criteria.
This led to a concerted campaign by the ITIM religious services organization demanding that clear criteria be published as to which rabbinical courts in the Diaspora are recognized and that a list of such rabbinical courts be publicly available.
The new regulations published by the Chief Rabbinate now give express permission to marriage registrars to use the list of rabbinical courts recognized by the Chief Rabbinate for approving applications for marriage registration by converts and divorcées.
This means registrars will not have to approach the Chief Rabbinate’s centralized office for marriage and conversion, or the rabbinical courts.
This complicated process led in the past to the non-recognition of converts who converted abroad due to a lack of clear criteria for recognition of conversions and the unclear decision making hierarchy in the Chief Rabbinate.
“There is no need to turn to the Department of Marriage and Conversion or to the local rabbinical court on individual cases in order to get approval for documentation regarding conversion and divorce from a rabbinical court from abroad, which is included in the list of rabbinical courts recognized by the Chief Rabbinate,” the new regulations state.
Other forms of documentation, such as a letter affirming Jewish status, do have to be approved by the Department of Marriage and Conversion or the local rabbinical court.
Jewish status affirmation letters are required by the Chief Rabbinate from rabbis abroad to confirm that an immigrant is known to be Jewish before registering for marriage.
In recent years, there have been numerous cases in which the Chief Rabbinate rejected the letters of Diaspora Orthodox rabbis in good standing, leading to delays, frustration and heartache from marrying couples, and indignation from Diaspora rabbis and organizations whose letters were rejected.
Although this kind of documentation will still need centralized approval, the new regulations state that if a letter from a specific rabbi was previously approved by a rabbinical court of the Chief Rabbinate’s Department of Marriage and Conversion then approval of further such documents for different marrying couples need not be sought.
“We applaud the Rabbinate’s efforts to improve service and streamline bureaucracy,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber. “However, there remain many instances in which the Rabbinate disqualifies rabbis from communities outside of Israel from vouching for their congregants’ Jewish identities without justification. The Rabbinate must develop a fair set of criteria for recognizing non-Israeli rabbis, and transparently apply the criteria to improve the relationship between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world.”
Farber added that there is also still a problem with the application process of hitherto unrecognized Diaspora rabbinical courts to gain recognition by the Chief Rabbinate,
He also noted that such courts are required to follow the Chief Rabbinate’s regulations regarding conversion, reducing the independence of Orthodox Diaspora rabbinical courts to determine their own conversion policies.