Rabbinate No Longer Recognizes Overseas Conversions

Fears of a historic rift between the Chief Rabbinate and Orthodox rabbis overseas have been sparked by the Chief Rabbinate's recent decision not to recognize conversions and divorce decrees (gets) by most Orthodox rabbis abroad.

The Rabbinate confirmed that rabbinic courts in Israel have been instructed not to recognize conversions and gets authorized by overseas rabbis until those rabbis pass Rabbinate exams in Israel.

This means that Jews who underwent an Orthodox conversion abroad will have to convert again in Israel in order to be recognized as Jews by rabbinic courts. Jewish women who received a get overseas and wish to remarry in Israel will have to ask their ex-husbands for another get if the first one was approved by Orthodox rabbis not recognized by the Rabbinate.

Under the new policy, Diaspora rabbis must be examined by a special rabbinic court panel appointed by the Chief Rabbinate Council for their conversions and gets to be recognized. Rabbis seeking recognition for their gets are required, in addition to the exam, to attend a brief training program in which they join the deliberations at rabbinic courts and learn how to register gets.

The Rabbinate will still continue to recognize conversions and gets by a group of some 50 senior Orthodox rabbis around the world. These rabbis, whose names appear on a list prepared several years ago by previous chief rabbis, will not be required to take the exams.

Until now, rabbinic courts approved conversions and gets by most Orthodox rabbis abroad, largely based on personal acquaintance. Conversions and gets by non-Orthodox rabbis were not recognized.

The new policy, which was approved by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, is already generating tension with the Rabbinical Council of America. An official of the RCA, which has a membership of 1,200 Orthodox rabbis, told Haaretz, "The impression created is that Rabbi Amar is trying to become a sort of Jewish pope."

The Jewish Week, published in New York, reported earlier this month that the Rabbinate is refusing to recognize conversions authorized by Gedaliah Dov Schwartz, chairman of the Beth Din of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinic court in the United States. Rabbi Schwartz appears on the exemptions list, but the Rabbinate announced that only conversions personally performed by him would be recognized in Israel. The rabbinate "can't just bypass the rabbis who are its biggest supporters," Rabbi Schwartz told The Jewish Week. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive director of the RCA's parent organization, the Orthodox Union, expressed surprise at the Rabbinate's policy.

Rabbi Seth Farber of ITIM, an Israeli group that helps navigate Rabbinate procedures, says that non-recognition of past conversions could cause great suffering to legally converted Jews. He added that lack of cooperation between the Rabbinate and the rabbinic establishment in the U.S. is causing unnecessary tension between them.

Rabbi Amar's bureau chief, Rabbi Yigal Krispel, defended the new policy, and told Haaretz it is designed to protect Israeli citizens and prevent them from turning to unqualified rabbis.

"There is a hierarchy, and not every rabbi can perform a conversion or register a get," he said.

Krispel said the Rabbinate will still recognize marriages and verifications of Jewishness by rabbis overseas.