US conversion courts established

Courts will adhere to rules approved by the Israeli Rabbinate; move resolves 2 years of tension.

jerusalem rabbinical court  248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
jerusalem rabbinical court 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Rabbinical Council of America announced Tuesday the establishment of a network of conversion courts that will all adhere to a uniform set of rules approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. As result, all conversion performed by the RCA's courts will be automatically recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. The new development, which was first reported by The Jerusalem Post on Friday, resolves nearly two years of tensions between the RCA and the Israeli Rabbinate. In April 2006, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is responsible for conversions in Israel, called on the Rabbinical Council to tighten supervision of the conversion process in the US. Amar even suspended automatic recognition of conversions performed by some RCA rabbis. Amar was motivated by pressure from haredi rabbis from Israel and the US who felt that some RCA rabbis were performing conversions in an unprofessional, overly lenient way. Amar originally demanded that all rabbis in the US who wished to conduct conversions first come to Jerusalem to be tested and approved by the Chief Rabbinate. The RCA perceived Amar's demand as patronizing and an infringement of its autonomy and jurisdiction. In the end the sides reached a comprise according to which two RCA rabbis and one representative from the Chief Rabbinate will authorize new conversion judges in the US. Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, speaking from New York, said Wednesday that the vast majority of RCA members supported the agreement. "I've gotten very positive feedback from our members," Herring said. The uniform set of directives adopted by the RCA are designed, in part, to reduce the chances that non-halachic considerations would make their way into the conversion process, he said. For instance, the directives state that the rabbi who prepares the prospective convert cannot be one of the three judges who make the final decision on whether to approve the conversion. This is a major change from the way many conversions were conducted in the past. "A judge who sits on a conversion case and examines the qualifications of the candidate must be neutral and objective," Herring said. "If the judge has been intimately involved in preparing the candidate he cannot help but be emotionally involved. At the end of the long process of preparation it might difficult for that judge to say no." Herring said that while there were rabbis who had been excluded from the list of authorized conversion judges, they would have the opportunity to return to their conversion activities after proving that they adhered to the RCA conversion protocol.