Israel's Chief Rabbinate Rejects Conversions Authorized by Top U.S. Orthodox Rabbi

In four cases, Rabbinate failed to explain rejected conversions approved by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the head of the Beth Din of America and chief presiding rabbinical judge of the National Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.
A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.Credit: Haaretz
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate recently refused to recognize conversions that were authorized by the chief judge of the largest Orthodox rabbinical court in the United States.

In four cases, the Rabbinate did not explain why it rejected the conversions approved by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the head of the Beth Din of America and the chief presiding rabbinical judge, or dayan, of the National Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of America.

The Rabbinate has often put up barriers to foreign rabbis who are outside of the ultra-Orthodox world, often refusing to accept conversions that they have performed or authorized.

In response to a suit in Jerusalem District court by ITIM, an advocacy organization that helps people navigate Israel’s rabbinical bureaucracy, in April the Chief Rabbinate issued a list of foreign rabbis whose conversions and authority on manners of personal status it recognizes. This week, after a public uproar, the Rabbinate agreed to recognize the Orthodox conversion performed by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, after previously refusing to do so. Lookstein is famously the New York rabbi who helped Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka in her conversion to Judaism.

The latest cases are of conversions performed over the past 30 years that Schwartz recently approved but did not perform.

In 2006, the New York publication The Jewish Week reported that the Rabbinate had refused to accept conversions authorized by Schwartz, but more recently it has reversed that position.

Documents obtained by Haaretz indicate that Itamar Tubul, the head of the Chief Rabbinate’s conversion and family law department refused to approve recent conversion documents on three occasions. In a fourth case he approved a conversion but was overruled by the Rabbinate. In none of the cases was a substantive reason for the refusal given. In one case Tubul wrote that further examination was needed of the approval by a third party who was not part of the conversion process and the convert’s integration into the community’s Jewish life. The result is that four converts are not recognized as Jews in Israel even though they went through an Orthodox conversion and are considered to be Jews in religious circles in the United States. It should be noted that Tubul approved the conversion recognition of the mother of one of the converts, who was converted by the same rabbi on the same day, again with no explanation.

ITIM, which is representing the four converts, has asked the Chief Rabbinate to intervene. “This reality, in which converts are rejected without reason, even while holding approval letters from one of the most important religious legal experts in the Diaspora, who obviously did not dispense them lightly, is contrary to religious law and to common sense and is unacceptable,” said ITIM head Rabbi Seth Farber. He is demanding that the Rabbinate change its policies and publish its protocols for recognizing overseas conversions together with its list of approved rabbis for conducting or confirming conversions.”

In a response, the Rabbinate said it judges each case on its merits. “There are no sweeping approvals or rejections of conversions performed by any rabbi.”

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