Rabbinical Council of America, Chief Rabbinate quibble over conversion judges

A press conference scheduled as part of the annual RCA convention was canceled because of the misunderstanding between the two Jewish groups.

rabbis 88 (photo credit: )
rabbis 88
(photo credit: )
The Rabbinical Council of America postponed the scheduled announcement of an agreement with Israel's Chief Rabbinate on recognizing each other's Orthodox conversions Monday, after a misunderstanding became evident following an article in The Jerusalem Post. Officials in the Chief Rabbinate had denied claims that a major breakthrough had been reached, the Post reported Monday. A press conference scheduled as part of the annual RCA convention was canceled because of the misunderstanding between the two groups, RCA executive vice president Rabbi Basil Herring said. The Chief Rabbinate has refused to recognize conversions performed by US Orthodox conversion court judges unless they first came to Jerusalem for a test and an interview. The RCA sent a document on mutual recognition of Orthodox conversions to the Chief Rabbinate three weeks ago, and the Rabbinate "conveyed to us that everything is agreeable to them, and that this is a document that will serve as a model for future Jewish communities around the world," Herring said. But according to a statement addressed to Herring and released by the Chief Rabbinate following Monday's misunderstanding, the Chief Rabbinate is sticking to its policy of requiring individual testing of US conversion court judges in Jerusalem before it recognizes conversions performed by them. "New judges and rabbis who want to deal with conversions or divorces will be required to fulfill criteria that we set for the entire world and also will be required to pass a test written by the Chief Rabbinate's testing department," the statement said. A list of rabbis and rabbinic courts to be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate is still under discussion, the statement added. The RCA had not received any such statement from the Chief Rabbinate, Herring said Tuesday, and as far as they were concerned, the agreement remained as it was written out in a document dated April 30, 2007, on "Geirus [Conversion] Policies and Standards that will Govern the Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion" under the auspices of the RCA, the Beit Din of America (BDA) and the Chief Rabbinate. The RCA document specifies that the RCA/BDA will have the authority to approve conversion judges, not the Chief Rabbinate. Section 3d of the document, specifying who may serve as a religious court judge for conversion on a regional Beit Din, states: "Prior to his serving as a dayan for conversion, the RCA/BDA will need to approve him based upon his knowledge of, and experience with, the laws of geirut [conversion]." The document does not mention any requirement specifying that conversion judges will have to take a test in Jerusalem and appear before a tribunal. "This document has been a year in the making, in consultation with the Chief Rabbinate, and translated into Hebrew," Herring told the Post Tuesday. "If they have issues and questions about the implementation of the agreement, about specific courts and judges, we will be happy to discuss it," he said. "But we view them as details rather than the agreement in principle, which we believe still stands." Herring said the RCA believed it should have the authority to determine who was fit to serve as a conversion judge in the US. "We would be opposed to needing judges to come to Jerusalem, and think we should be able to make that determination," he said. "We believe it belongs here. I don't think that to become a judge in Ohio, he should have to take a test in Israel. Certification should be through RCA." Herring said the issues surrounding conversion policies were very sensitive. "On the one hand we want to help converts, but on the other hand there is a deep reticence and we don't want to be seen as evangelical," he said. "We are making sure there is tremendous sincerity and commitment to both the Jewish faith and the people, which is very difficult."