According to an official response given last week by the Chief Rabbinate to ITIM, the committee created to establish criteria of recognition from rabbis from abroad has met exactly one time since its establishment. It has been more than two years since the Rabbinate committed in court that criteria regarding the recognition of rabbis overseas were forthcoming.
According to Tami Mizrahi, the Chief Rabbinate’s Officer for Freedom of Information, the committee convened on February 16, 2017 when an in-depth discussion was held to determine the criteria for recognizing rabbinical courts and rabbis abroad.
Despite the controversy surrounding the non-certification of the conversion of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein in the summer of 2016, and despite the publication of the rabbinate’s “blacklist” of more than 160 rabbis whose letters of Jewishness were rejected in 2016, there was hope that the rabbinate would soon establish criteria for recognizing rabbis from overseas.
“When we turned to the rabbinate for a progress report on the criteria committee, we certainly didn’t think that they hadn’t done anything at all,” said Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber, director of ITIM. “The fact that they have only met once is an embarrassment. Rabbis around the world should be the rabbinate’s partners, not their enemies.”
According to Mizrachi’s letter, the meeting included representatives of the Rabbinical Court: Rabbi Yitzhak Elmaliach, Rabbi Aharon Katz, and Rabbi Shlomo Shapira; Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel: Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag and Rabbi Yehuda Deri; Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, Head of the Conversion Administration; Attorney Harel Goldberg, the Rabbinical Advocate General; Rabbi Itamar Tubul, Director of the Rabbinical Affairs Department; and Rabbi Asher Erentrau of the Rabbinical Courts Administration. It should be noted that committee member Rabbi Yitzhak Elmaliach was a member of the committee which disqualified the conversion of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun rabbi who is one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in the United States.
In addition to revealing the full list of members in the committee and the fact that they have only met on one occasion, the Chief Rabbinate has refused to provide the minutes of the committee’s deliberations, “until the completion of the procedure.”
In October 2015, ITIM petitioned the Jerusalem District Court, sitting as the Administrative Court, to demand that the Chief Rabbinate disclose the list of rabbis and the criteria for certifying Jewishness from abroad. “The respondent (the Chief Rabbinate) is currently working on formulating criteria for recognizing rabbis for marriage, and after their formulation, a list of rabbis who meet these criteria will be published,” the response said.
With the outbreak of the public storm in the U.S. Jewish community, due to the failure to recognize the conversions of Rabbi Lookstein, who was involved in the conversion of Ivanka Trump during 2016, the chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau announced in December 2016 the formation of a committee that was meant to discuss the issue and present the criteria for recognizing rabbis abroad. Though this committee met in February, little progress has been made in formulating criteria.
In the summer of 2017, ITIM received a list from the rabbinate of more than 160 rabbis whose letters were rejected in 2016. Despite the rabbinate’s claim at the time that many of the rabbis were subsequently certified, Mizrachi’s letter to ITIM from this week notes that only 24 of those rabbis were ultimately certified.
Rabbi Adam Scheier, senior rabbi, Congregation Shaare Shamoyim in Montreal: “I am deeply disappointed that the Chief Rabbinate continues to ignore the problem. After the publication of the ‘blacklist,’ we immediately called upon the rabbinate to work with complete transparency and to improve communication and relations with diaspora Jewry. Unfortunately, the lack of action on the part of the rabbinate leads me to the conclusion that the Chief Rabbinate does not have enough political power to deal with this serious problem or that they simply do not find it important to deal with significant problems connected to diaspora Jewry. In any case, it is clear to us today that the distress that was caused to me and my community by the publication of the ‘blacklist’ did not spur the Chief Rabbinate (which represents the State of Israel) to act quickly and efficiently to bridge the abyss they created with their own hands. This course of action does not contribute to the future of Israel’s relations with diaspora Jewry.”
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM organization, which has led the struggle for recognizing rabbis abroad, said, “This foot-dragging is a sign of disrespect. The Rabbinate’s contempt and arrogance towards rabbis and Jewish communities abroad has been going on for several years, causing a deepening of the already deep rift between Israeli and World Jewry. This contradicts the principles of the Torah, as the Rabbinate is playing with the destiny of human beings and Jews around the world. The rabbinate’s behavior is a blight on the Zionist dream and the government of Israel. ITIM will continue to fight until the Rabbinate puts an end to this saga and publishes respectable criteria that recognize all the legitimate rabbis of diaspora Jewry.”