New controversy from Israel: ‘Blacklist’ – Intermountain Jewish News

Posted By on July 13, 2017

Rabbi David Lau, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, speaking in Berlin, Germany in 2013. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

NEW YORK Some 160 rabbis, including several American Orthodox leaders, appear on a list of rabbis whom Israels Chief Rabbinate does not trust to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants.

Rabbis from 24 countries, including the US and Canada, are on the list. In addition to Reform and Conservative rabbis, the list includes Orthodox leaders Avi Weiss, from the Riverdale section of New York, and Yehoshua Fass, the executive director of Nefesh BNefesh, a group that encourages and facilitates American immigration to Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate controls all Jewish marriage in Israel, and immigrants who wish to wed there must first prove they are Jewish according to Halachah whether they were born Jewish or converted.

This proof often comes via a letter from a community rabbi attesting to the immigrants Jewish identity. One person at the rabbinate, Rabbi Itamar Tubul, handles every claim.

The publication of the list comes on the heels of a clash between American Jewish leaders and the Chief Rabbinate over how to determine Jewish identity.

In June, Israels Cabinet advanced a bill that would give the Chief Rabbinate authority over all official Jewish conversions within Israel. Following an outcry from Jewish leaders in America, the bill was shelved for six months.

The Chief Rabbinates antipathy to Reform and Conservative rabbis is documented. Its distrust of some Orthodox rabbis abroad was seen last year when the rabbinate omitted some Orthodox figures from a list of rabbis it trusts to confirm the authenticity of Jewish conversions.

The rabbinates latest list comprises rabbis whose letters it rejected during 2016. In addition to Weiss and Fass, the list includes Joshua Blass, a New York congregational rabbi and student adviser at Yeshiva Universitys rabbinical seminary; Joseph Potasnik, executive director of the NY Board of Rabbis; Adam Scheier, a past president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis, and Daniel Kraus, director of education at Kehilath Jeshurun, on Manhattans Upper East Side.

The rabbinate sent the list to Itim, a nonprofit that guides Israelis through the countrys religious bureaucracy, and was obtained on July 6 by JTA.

In 2015, Itim filed a freedom-of-information request in a Jerusalem municipal court demanding a list of approved foreign rabbis, and received this list as part of that case.

Rabbi Seth Farber, Itims executive director, called it a blacklist because it shows which rabbis the rabbinate has not trusted in the past. He has called repeatedly for greater transparency in the rabbinates evaluation of rabbis, and said the way it is being handled is a stain on the state of Israel.

The Chief Rabbinates spokesman, Kobi Alter, said in a phone interview last week that there is no list of unrecognized rabbis and did not respond to a follow-up inquiry via email. Last year, the rabbinate promised to release criteria regarding which rabbis can be approved. Alter told JTA that the criteria are still being composed.

In an email to Itim obtained by JTA, Tubul, the rabbinate official, wrote that letters are approved based on a collection of data, not based on the name of the rabbi, and added that unequivocally, the attached names do not imply recognition or rejection of other rabbis not mentioned here.

Israels Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, said he didnt know about the list before it was sent out. In a public letter last week, Lau called the list damaging and sounded incredulous that it was composed without his approval.

The Chief Rabbi was shocked to discover this list. This was done without the rabbis knowledge or his agreement. How can a list like this be publicized without the rabbi being made aware of the list itself or of its publication? read the letter written by an aide on behalf of Lau and issued July 2.

The results of this are very serious.First of all, an employee in the Chief Rabbinate cannot decide on his own to publicize who the Rabbinate approves or not. Secondly, the damage this does to certain rabbis cannot be exaggerated including to the Chief Rabbinate.

According to a JTA tally of the 66 US rabbis on the list, at least one-fifth are Orthodox, including an alumnus of the Baltimores Orthodox Ner Yisroel. The other US rabbis on the list are Reform or Conservative.

In 2013, the rabbinate rejected a proof-of-Judaism letter from Weiss, then reversed course and accepted it following complaints from American Jewish leaders. Last year, the rabbinate rejected a similar letter from Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Kehilath Jeshuruns former rabbi and the rabbi who oversaw the conversion of Ivanka Trump.

It also rejected conversions overseen by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the chief presiding judge of the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of America, the main modern Orthodox rabbinical court in the US.

In some cases, Tubul made the rejection. But in Looksteins case, a district rabbinical court in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikvah rejected his imprimatur when a woman who converted under his auspices applied for a marriage license there and was denied.

These rejections have caused consternation among American Orthodox leaders. But following Weiss initial rejection in 2013, former rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor told JTA that examining the credentials of Orthodox rabbis is crucial to the integrity of the evaluation process.

The testimony needs to be according to Jewish law and the witness needs to have the fear of heaven, Maor told JTA. Regarding Weiss, he added, Were talking about someone on the fringes of Orthodoxy.

Scheier, the Montreal rabbi, said he was unfazed by his inclusion. He said he is working with Itim to encourage transparency and consistency in the evaluation of rabbis. I know Im in good company on the list, he told JTA last week.

There are wonderful, honest, unparalleled rabbis that have been blacklisted by the State of Israel. No one who knows me or knows my community or knows my rabbinate could question my capacity to attest to the Jewish identity of the members of my congregation.

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New controversy from Israel: 'Blacklist' - Intermountain Jewish News

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