Is­raeli Chief Rabbi Had ‘No Knowl­edge’ of ‘Black­list’ of 160 Di­as­pora Rab­bis

The Jewish Voice - - ISRAEL - By: Andrew Fried­man

Aspokesman for Ashke­nazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said Mon­day that the chief rabbi was “stunned” at the ex­is­tence of a black­list of 160 rab­bis, in­clud­ing sev­eral prom­i­nent Amer­i­can Or­tho­dox lead­ers, who ap­pear to have been banned by the Chief Rab­binate from per­form­ing con­ver­sions or con­firm­ing the per­sonal sta­tus of im­mi­grants.

The un­named spokesman said the chief rabbi sum­moned Moshe Da­gan, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the chief rab­binate, to ex­plain the ex­is­tence of black­list, and said the doc­u­ment was com­posed and pub­lished with­out Rabbi Lau’s knowl­edge or ap­proval. The doc­u­ment dis­qual­i­fies 160 Di­as­pora rab­bis from tes­ti­fy­ing that im­mi­grants to Is­rael are Jew­ish.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­li­gious Zion­ist Kipa news site, an ad­vi­sor to Lau said the chief rabbi was “stunned to dis­cover the ex­is­tence of this list.”

“The re­sults of this ac­tion are very se­ri­ous,” the un­named ad­vi­sor wrote. “First of all, it is in­con­ceiv­able for a mid-level cleric at the chief rab­binate to de­cide on his own vo­li­tion which rab­bis the Rab­binate ac­cepts and who it doesn’t. Sec­ond, there is no need to spell out the very se­ri­ous con­se­quences and the harm to cer­tain rab­bis, and es­pe­cially to the Chief Rab­binate of Is­rael.”

Sun­day, Rabbi Seth Far­ber, founder of ITIM: The Right to Live Jew­ish, said the group has de­manded clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the rab­binate’s cri­te­ria for ac­cept­ing a rabbi’s com­pe­tency to cer­tify con­ver­sions and per­sonal sta­tus. Far­ber’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, a non-profit group founded in 2002 to help guide Is­raelis through Rab­binate-led bu­reau­cracy dur­ing sig­nif­i­cant life-cy­cle events: birth, mar­riage, di­vorce, burial, and con­ver­sion, also told TPS that the group would pe­ti­tion the High Court of Jus­tice if the Rab­binate re­fuses to spell out the cri­te­ria.

The black­list is only the lat­est in a long string of scan­dals sur­round­ing Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with Di­as­pora Jewry, and es­pe­cially with non-haredi streams of Ju­daism. Last month, Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu in­fu­ri­ated Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers by freez­ing an agree­ment to ex­pand an egal­i­tar­ian prayer space at the Western Wall, and in 2015 tried to re­move Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a prom­i­nent mod­ern Or­tho­dox au­thor­ity and founder of the West Bank town of Efrat, from his po­si­tion as chief rabbi of that city.

The re­peated fights with the chief rab­binate are too nu­mer­ous to list, and have led many sec­u­lar groups, and even some Or­tho­dox ones, to call for the huge gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy to be dis­man­tled. Oth­ers, how­ever, say the or­ga­ni­za­tion has a crit­i­cal role to play in Is­raeli so­ci­ety, but also say it needs deep re­form.

“Is­raeli so­ci­ety is in the midst of an on­go­ing dis­cus­sion about fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of iden­tity,” says Rabbi Yu­val Cher­low, a prom­i­nent mod­ern Or­tho­dox ha­lachic au­thor­ity and head of the Hes­der Yeshiva Amit Orot Shaul in Kfar Batya. “And when you are talk­ing about ques­tions of iden­tity it is nat­u­ral for there to be a new scan­dal ev­ery other day, be­cause you are not talk­ing about pro­ce­dural ques­tions.

Speak­ing to TPS by phone, Cher­low said there is an un­writ­ten agree­ment be­tween haredi politi­cians and the big sec­u­lar par­ties grant­ing haredim con­trol of Ju­daism in Is­rael, in ex­change for their sup­port for po­lit­i­cal poli­cies on na­tional and diplo­matic is­sues. In ef­fect, that cre­ated a sta­tus quo that de­fines Ju­daism in Is­rael in ha­lachic terms – a pos­i­tive out­come, in Cher­low’s view, but he cau­tions that defin­ing the “of­fi­cial” re­li­gion of Is­rael as Ortho­doxy also car­ries with it crit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“I cer­tainly can ap­pre­ci­ate that an Or­tho­dox rab­binate must de­fine for it­self who is con­sid­ered ac­cept­able to make de­ci­sions, and who isn’t. It makes sense that the Or­tho­dox rab­binate must out­line clear def­i­ni­tions [es­pe­cially when you’re deal­ing with Jew­ish groups that do not consider them­selves to be bound by the tenets of Jew­ish law].

“At the same time, how­ever, if the Rab­binate is not as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble – that is to say, if the Rab­binate doesn’t go as far as ha­lachi­cally pos­si­ble in or­der to be in­clu­sive, it has be­trayed its man­date to be a Rab­binate for all Jews, or at least for those Jews who consider them­selves to be bound by the dic­tates of Jew­ish law.

“So the state must find a bal­ance: If the state de­mands the

ex­is­tence of a Rab­binate that is faith­ful to Jew­ish law, it should also de­mand that that Rab­binate go as far as pos­si­ble. Of course, there are lim­its that can­not be breached – we can­not de­clare ba­bies born to a Jew­ish father and non-Jew­ish mother to be Jew­ish when the ha­lacha on that mat­ter is clear.

“But the State can care about that per­son, the State can in­clude that per­son in the Law of Re­turn, the State can of­fer a con­ver­sion pos­si­bil­ity that is as user-friendly and in­clu­sive as ha­lachi­cally pos­si­ble,” Cher­low said.

A spokesman for Ashke­nazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said Mon­day that the chief rabbi was “stunned” at the ex­is­tence of a black­list of 160 rab­bis, in­clud­ing sev­eral prom­i­nent Amer­i­can Or­tho­dox lead­ers, who ap­pear to have been banned by the Chief Rab­binate from per­form­ing con­ver­sions or con­firm­ing the per­sonal sta­tus of im­mi­grants.

Also on the list of ar­bi­trar­ily cho­sen rab­bis slated to be black­listed are Rabbi Yeshoshua Fass, the head of the Ne­fesh B’Ne­fesh or­ga­ni­za­tion. Rabbi Fass de­votes all of this time, en­ergy and re­sources to­wards bring­ing Jews of all back­grounds to set­tle in Is­rael

Rabbi Seth Far­ber, founder of ITIM: The Right to Live Jew­ish, said the group has de­manded clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the rab­binate’s cri­te­ria for ac­cept­ing a rabbi’s com­pe­tency to cer­tify con­ver­sions and per­sonal sta­tus.

One of the di­as­pora rab­bis on the black­list of 160 was Rabbi Avi Weiss, of the He­brew In­sti­tute of Riverdale. Rabbi Weiss has been a long­time vo­cal ac­tivist for a panoply of Jew­ish causes.

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