Chief Rabbinate rejects credentials of second US rabbi

Diaspora religious establishment concerned Israeli body does not fully trust Orthodox rabbis, institutions outside the country.

Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A second Orthodox rabbi from the US has publicly stated that his rabbinic credentials for testifying as to a person’s Jewish status were rejected by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Scot Berman, a longtime Jewish educator from the US and residing in Toronto, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night that he was recently made aware that in October 2013 the Chief Rabbinate refused to allow him to provide testimony as to the Jewish status of a couple seeking to register for marriage in Israel whom he knew personally.
Additionally in October, it was revealed that the Chief Rabbinate similarly rejected the credentials of Rabbi Avi Weiss, a prominent and well-respected Orthodox rabbi from New York, and several organizations have alleged that this pattern of rejection is an increasing trend.
The controversy has strained relations between the religious establishments in Israel and the Diaspora amid concerns that the Israeli body does not fully trust Orthodox rabbis and institutions outside the country.
Berman told the Post Wednesday night that he had a long standing acquaintance with one of the spouses, while he was familiar with the other spouse and had met their parents as well.
Jewish immigrants to Israel frequently need a rabbi from their community abroad to testify that they are in fact Jewish, and require confirmation from their former communal rabbis as to their marital status before they can marry here.
A number of Israel-based organizations have alleged in recent months that the Chief Rabbinate has cast doubt over the rabbinic credentials of increasing numbers of foreign rabbis, particularly in North America, and has refused to allow them to provide this kind of testimony.
The couple in question, who got married several days ago, submitted the names of four rabbis they were familiar with to provide the testimony regarding their Jewish status, including that of Rabbi Berman.
Three of the four were deemed acceptable by the Chief Rabbinate, but Berman was not.
Berman has worked as a Jewish educator for over 30 years and, among other positions, has served as principal of the David L. Silver Yeshiva Academy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, founding principal of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, New Jersey, and headmaster of the two Bnei Akiva Schools in Toronto.
He received his rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, otherwise known as Skokie Yeshiva.
In explaining why Berman’s credentials were rejected, the rabbinate said that because he had worked in the field of education and was not a communal rabbi he was not qualified to give testimony about Jewish status issues.
Berman told the Post that the rejection of his credentials illustrated “a lack of understanding by the Chief Rabbinate for how the North American Jewish community is constituted and how it operates,” and said that the rejection was an arbitrary position by the Israeli body.
“This stance also reflects the basic mistrust of the Chief Rabbinate towards the RCA and for Orthodox Jewry in North America,” Berman continued. “The Chief Rabbinate has no idea that I’ve been a Jewish educational leader for 30 years, that I’m a member of the Rabbinical Council of America in good standing, and this decision demonstrates a dismissive attitude to the Chief Rabbinate’s North American counterparts and North American Jewry more broadly.”
The Chief Rabbinate is in discussions with the RCA, an Orthodox association of rabbis, to resolve this crisis.
Berman said he hoped common ground between the two institutions could be found to “advance love and appreciation of Torah and Judaism,” but he was concerned that the gaps are becoming greater.
“Based on what I have seen in last several years, I’m concerned that the rabbinate has the openness and willingness to find that common ground,” he commented.
He added that the Chief Rabbinate needed to learn about Diaspora communities and not to take a default position that “everything that happens outside of Israel is untrustworthy and suspect.”
“They must work from a position of trust not mistrust, of cooperation and not of dismissiveness,” he said.
On Wednesday, an editorial that appeared on the website of the US publication The Jewish Week, in which Berman first made known the rejection of his credentials, was critical of both the Chief Rabbinate and the RCA, the primary Orthodox US organization that has been involved in the controversy.
It called RCA’s response to the Chief Rabbinate’s policies “passive.”
And Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory body, spoke out against the Chief Rabbinate and its attitude to North American Jewry.ITIM has worked with couples who have faced difficulties with the Chief Rabbinate and has made proposals to the institution to create a more understanding and effective policy towards Diaspora rabbis.
“The treatment of Rabbi Berman, a rabbi from the mainstream of Orthodoxy by any account, indicates the deep distrust that the Israeli rabbinate has for [the] American Orthodox rabbinate,” Farber told the Post.
“Rabbi Berman’s credentials are beyond question. The arbitrary dismissal of Orthodox rabbis who chose the path of Jewish education rather than the pulpit, demonstrates how little the rabbinate understands the landscape of American Jewish Orthodoxy,” he added.