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Liberal Orthodox Rabbis 'Blacklisted' in Israel for Conversion

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An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy points at a Torah scroll during the mourning ritual of Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem's old city, Sunday, July 26, 2015.Credit: AP

The Chief Rabbinate has for the first time released a list of foreign rabbis whose conversions it recognizes and whose signatures it accepts on documents attesting to various aspects of personal status.

The rabbinate was pressured to release the list of “kosher” rabbis, which had been a closely guarded secret, after the ITIM organization, which helps people navigate the rabbinical bureaucracy, filed suit in Jerusalem District Court demanding that the list be produced.

While the district court in the end rejected the lawsuit’s demand for full transparency by the rabbinate’s department of personal status and conversions, the rabbinate agreed to submit a list of recognized Diaspora rabbis to ITIM. The rabbinate said, however, that the list was neither final nor binding; a final list would be produced only after unified standards were set for determining which rabbis’ word could be accepted on these issues.

The list includes some 150 Orthodox rabbis from 19 countries. Seventy-seven of them are from the United States, but none are affiliated with liberal Orthodox congregations. ITIM said that 60 percent of them are affiliated with ultra-Orthodox rabbinical organizations, while 40 percent are members of the Rabbinical Council of America, which is identified with the central and conservative streams of Modern Orthodoxy. No members of the International Rabbinical Fellowship, the rabbinical body identified with the more liberal “Open Orthodoxy,” appear on the list.

Among those included is Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, who wasexpelled in 2005 from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America following allegations that he had engaged in sexual affairs with several women, among them women who had come to him for rabbinic counseling. Also included is Rabbi Michael Broyde, who resigned from the RCA in 2014 after The Jewish Channel found that he had written favorable comments about his own works online for years under the pseudonym “Rabbi Herschel Goldwasser.”

According to the report, Broyde also used the pseudonym to gain access to the members-only online communications of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an alternative Orthodox rabbinic organization founded by Weiss.

Absent from the list, for example, is Rabbi Avi Weiss, a widely known New York rabbi, cofounder of the IRF and founder of an Open Orthodox rabbinical seminary called Yeshiva Chovevei Torah. In late 2013, it emerged that the Israeli rabbinate was refusing to accept documents he had signed relating to conversion and personal status. After heavy public pressure and sharp protests in the United States, the Chief Rabbinate said it would accept his documents, yet he does not appear on the list.

The case of Weiss and other rabbis invalidated by the Chief Rabbinate generated Knesset debates and court cases relating to Rabbi Itamar Tubul, the official who heads the rabbinate’s personal status and conversions department, and who is ostensibly meant to be an expert on Diaspora Jewish communities so he can determine whether a rabbi is acceptable or not.

Attorney Orit Mashmush of the rabbinate’s legal department stressed in her letter to ITIM that the list was “not exhaustive.”

“This list is not a list of ‘recognized rabbis’ but a list of rabbis whose certificates issued (relating to marriage, divorce, conversion, etc.) have been recognized by the personal status and conversions department of the Chief Rabbinate,” she wrote.

JTA contributed to this report

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