Religious Zionist rabbis, Chief Rabbinate in showdown over Jewish marriage

Tzohar association demands list of Rabbinate-approved rabbis from abroad.

Rabbi David Stav speaking at Knesset 370 (photo credit: Avi Friedman)
Rabbi David Stav speaking at Knesset 370
(photo credit: Avi Friedman)
The Tzohar rabbinic association has demanded to see the list of Diaspora-based rabbis approved by the Chief Rabbinate to give testimony on a person’s Jewish and marital status.
Jewish immigrants to Israel frequently need a rabbi from their community abroad to testify that they are Jewish, as well as requiring confirmation from their former communal rabbis that they are single or have converted to Judaism under their auspices. Most often such testimony is required for the purposes of marriage registration in Israel.
But in recent years, the Chief Rabbinate has restricted the number of rabbis in the Diaspora who it recognizes as authorized to provide such testimony, creating significant problems for Jewish immigrants wishing to get married in Israel according to Tzohar and others.
The Jerusalem Post has exclusively obtained a letter sent by the Tzohar rabbinical association to the Chief Rabbinate asking the institution for its list of Orthodox rabbis whose testimony it accepts, as well as the criteria which are used to define how these rabbis are approved.
Tzohar confirmed to the Post that it had indeed sent such a request to the Chief Rabbinate.
The request was made on September 12 under the freedom of information law which requires the material to be made available within 30 days.
The Chief Rabbinate has not yet replied to Tzohar. However, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate told the Post in response that “no list exists either hidden or public” and said that each and every request made for clarification of Jewish and marital status is examined individually and thoroughly.
Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav also confirmed to the Post that he recently met with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau in person to discuss this matter.
“We understand that Rabbi Lau did not create this crisis, which he inherited, but we feel that it is nonetheless the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate to resolve this crisis urgently,” Stav said.
Tzohar says that over the last few years it has experienced a significant increase in the numbers of Jewish couples originally from North America who have turned to them for assistance in the marriage registration process because of the restrictions regarding which communal rabbis in the Diaspora are authorized to testify about someone’s Jewish and marital status.
Many Israeli marriage registrars in rabbinate branches around the country are unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewry and communal institutions abroad and so will check with the Chief Rabbinate to see if the rabbi whose testimony has been received by the couple in question is on the approved list.
Increasingly, the authority of the rabbi whose testimony has been sought and received by the person in question has been rejected by the Chief Rabbinate.
To avoid these kind of bureaucratic problems, many people in recent years have used Tzohar’s services to interface with the rabbinate in order to register for marriage.
Tzohar has official status to register couples in Israel and is also helpful in ascertaining the halachic requirements of the Chief Rabbinate. Tzohar says that over the last few years it has assisted many community rabbis, as well as hundreds of Jewish couples from North and South America who desperately seek assistance in registering for Jewish marriage in Israel.
A source in the Tzohar organization said that its suspicion is that the list and criteria were arbitrary and not based on concrete requirements.
“The Chief Rabbinate’s current approval process for Diaspora rabbis is largely based upon personal relationships and political affiliations, not on objective halachic criterion,” said the source.
“There are thousands of Diaspora rabbis who are unable to validate Jewish status or perform halachic Jewish marriages for their own constituents in the State of Israel. This behavior has become a plague that is driving millions of Jews away from Israel and Judaism. The Jewish People cannot afford to lose a single Jewish family.”
According to the Chief Rabbinate spokesman, each rabbi is examined on three criteria. The chief rabbinate determines if the rabbi who signed the documentation was ordained by a recognized Orthodox Jewish institute; if the rabbi and his community live in accordance with Jewish law; and if the rabbi in question has the requisite information, skills and knowledge to sign such a document.
The spokesman also denied that there was any such phenomenon of an increase in the numbers of rabbis being rejected by the chief rabbinate or in individuals or couples facing these kind of problems.
He said the number of rabbis and documents rejected was consistent with the number of applications made in recent years and that there had been no significant increase or decrease.
Tzohar said in response: “the rabbinate clearly admits that it maintains records of who is approved and who is not. First it is their legal obligation to publish these facts. It is also their legal, moral and halachic obligation to explain what methods the Chief Rabbinate uses to judge the halachic lifestyles of 1,000 North American rabbis and their communities.”