Only 50 rabbis abroad recognized

Chief rabbi Amar won't accept many rabbis' divorce decrees or conversions.

rabbi amar 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
rabbi amar 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel's chief rabbi for the Sephardic community has decided to recognize the divorce decrees and conversions to Judaism of just 50 Orthodox rabbis abroad, forcing the remainder to undergo tests in Israel before their documents will be accepted, a rabbinical official said Tuesday. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar's ruling has angered some rabbis abroad, but most have accepted it, said Rabbi Yigal Crystal, Amar's chief of staff. Amar made the ruling a year ago, and at least six rabbis from the United States have undergone the tests since then, he added. Israel's rabbinate only recognizes conversions and divorces conducted by Orthodox rabbis. The more liberal Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism are not accepted at all, long a source of friction between Israel's rabbinate and Jewish communities abroad. Amar is Israel's chief rabbi for the Sephardic community, Jews of Middle Eastern origin. A second chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, oversees the Ashkenazi community, Jews of European origin. "We want to approve as many rabbis as possible," Crystal said. Amar's predecessor gave the rabbi a list of 50 rabbis from abroad, most from the United States, who are authorized to oversee conversions and write divorce decrees, Crystal said. Over the years, younger rabbis entered the ranks and had been recognized by personal acquaintance, but Amar decided to change the practice. Instead, the newer rabbis have received questionnaires and must take a test in Jerusalem to be recognized, Crystal said. Because Jewish divorce decrees are deeply complex and written partly in the ancient Aramaic language, Israeli rabbis study for eight years before they are permitted to undertake such an endeavor and there have been flaws in documents written by some orthodox rabbis abroad, Crystal said. Just six months ago, the Israeli rabbinate had to hunt down a woman's ex-husband because the divorce papers were not properly written and she wanted to remarry, Crystal said. A rabbi in the United States found the ex and persuaded him to sign a new decree. "I think this decision resolves a lot of problems," Crystal said.