Following a six-year battle, Israel's Chief Rabbinate has finally made public the lists of overseas rabbis it recognizes for the purposes of conversion and divorce.
The lists only contain the names of Orthodox rabbis, because the religious institution does not recognize other Jewish movements.
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The conversion and divorce lists were published (in Hebrew) on the Rabbinate’s official state website in recent days. A third list of rabbis recognized for the purpose of marriage has yet to be published.
Individuals from abroad who register to marry in Israel must provide proof that they are Jewish if their parents were not married under the auspices of the Rabbinate. Typically, such certification is provided by their congregational rabbis back home. Overseas congregational rabbis also provide letters of certification for converts and divorce.
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For such individuals, therefore, knowing which rabbis appear on the approved lists is critical. Until now, though, these lists have been kept under wraps.
Spearheading the campaign to force the Rabbinate to publish them has been ITIM – an Israeli organization that helps individuals challenged by Israel’s religious bureaucracy. ITIM has demanded on numerous occasions over the past six years that the Rabbinate hand over the lists, going so far as to threaten it with legal action if it did not comply.
Two years ago, ITIM represented an American woman whose conversion by a prominent New York rabbi, Haskel Lookstein, was rejected by the Rabbinate. Lookstein had also converted Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump.
The new list of rabbis recognized for conversions does include Lookstein. It does not, however, include the Vaad Harabanim of Flatbush – a rabbinical court that has converted thousands of individuals over the years.
Most of the rabbis on the two lists reside in the United States. The lists also include rabbis who are not members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the main organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the country.
Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder and executive director of ITIM, called the publication of the lists “a victory for transparency.”
At the same time, he said, they were “far from perfect.” For example, he said, the lists do not make clear whether individuals converted by rabbis who do not appear on the lists will be stripped of their Jewish status. Neither is it clear whether rabbis or rabbinical courts that do not appear on the list can appeal.
The lists contain the names of rabbinical courts around the word that are recognized by the Rabbinate, as well as the names of the individual rabbis in each rabbinical court.