NGO petitions for info from rabbinate about Jewish-status-decision criteria

ITIM director hopes to make system "more user friendly."

The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
The ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying organization has submitted a freedom of information petition to the Jerusalem Administrative Court for access to information used by the Chief Rabbinate to approve or deny Jewish status documentation from the Diaspora.
In particular, the organization has requested access to a purported list of rabbis the Chief Rabbinate has drawn up whose documentation it accepts to testify to Jewish status, as well as the criteria by which such rabbis are approved.
Immigrants in Israel are generally required to provide proof of their Jewish status when register for marriage, such as a letter from a community rabbi. Converts must provide their certificate of conversion and divorcées must show a certificate of divorce.
But ITIM says that the Chief Rabbinate’s matrimony and conversion department for Jewish and marital status has acted in an opaque and seemingly arbitrary way when approving and rejecting such documentations as proof of Jewish and marital status.
In one instance, the organization sent a letter to the department on behalf of a female convert from the United States living in Israel, who wished to have her Jewish conversion, which was performed by the Beth Din of America, recognized so that she could get married in Israel.
The letter was sent in January 2014, but it took the matrimony and conversion department a year and a half, until June 2015, to answer the request. In the response, the department said the Chief Rabbinate did not recognize the conversion and provided no explanation as to why he rejected the request.
In another case, the Chief Rabbinate rejected the conversion of a woman who converted in 2013 under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi from the US, while another convert who converted with the same rabbi successfully gained recognition of her conversion by the matrimony and conversion department.
In another example, a woman submitted a letter from her community rabbi attesting to her Jewish status in order to get married.
Her request was approved and she subsequently got married, but three months later she received another letter rejecting the validity of her rabbi’s letter.
In light of these problems, ITIM requested the information about the Chief Rabbinate’s policy for approving or rejecting Jewish status and conversions in February 2014. The rabbinate rejected the request, saying that it entailed too much work, and several requests since then went unanswered.
In its petition to the Jerusalem Administrative Court, ITIM demanded that it be given access to the different lists of rabbis used by the Chief Rabbinate for Jewish status and conversion approval, as well as the criteria by which these lists were drawn up. ITIM also demanded the criteria for approving divorce certificates.
“This suit is both intended to guarantee transparency within the existing system, and once the data has been made public, to seek systemic change that will make the system much more user friendly,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“Unfortunately, ITIM has come to the conclusion that the present administration is ineffective and insensitive to the task at hand, and while legal measures are always a last resort, the intransigence of the religious establishment has left us little alternative.
“It is our hope that the Chief Rabbinate will seize the opportunity to both clarify its criteria and reach out to the world Jewish community in an effort to enable people to be married here without unnecessary obstacles.”