Rabbinate's List of 'Kosher' Rabbis Aims to Marginalize Modern Orthodox Too

A newly released list of foreign rabbis approved by the Chief Rabbinate to perform conversions omits even Orthodox leaders who have dared to be flexible with converts.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man attends the funeral of Rabbi Yochanan Sofer, the spiritual leader of the Erlau dynasty in Jerusalem, February 22, 2016.

The list of 150 rabbis around the world, recognized and approved by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to perform giyurim (conversions to Judaism), which was disclosed in Haaretz, confirms what has widely been suspected for years now. The ultra-Orthodox-controlled rabbinate is no longer content with keeping out the progressive Reform and Conservative streams, they have also resolved to marginalize their Orthodox colleagues who have dared to try and be flexible with converts within the margins of halacha.

Essentially, this means that they are not only narrowing the definition of Jewishness and leaving only a small crack in the doorway to the Jewish people, but also effectively extending their jurisdiction beyond the borders of Israel.

A conversion to Judaism that is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate is by necessity a second-class conversion, as it will not allow the new Jew to become an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return. All the rabbis on the list are either Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or the more traditional Orthodox rabbis who are committed to performing conversions according to the Rabbinate’s requirements.

The roster amounts to a blacklisting of the modern Orthodox rabbis who insist that halacha allows a more convert-friendly approach. Conversion courts around the world will take note and even if they tended to be more lenient, will now judge prospective converts according to the standards of Jerusalem religious courts.

There is no precedent to a situation like this in Jewish history. Conversion was always a local affair, under the purview of the community’s rabbis, who had a certain amount of leeway to adapt their rulings to local circumstances and sensitivities.

The rabbinate’s list will force all Orthodox rabbis to admit to prospective converts that they can only help them become Jewish within their own communities, but not Jewish enough for the Jewish state. This approach could force rabbis around the world to fall into line. But it could also backfire.

Modern Orthodoxy is a much smaller stream than the Reform or Conservative movements; it isn’t even an official movement in its own right. But it has one advantage that makes it a greater threat to the Rabbinate: The followers of the modern Orthodox rabbis are part of the traditional constituency that used to respect and largely abide by the rabbinate’s rulings.