Prominent Orthodox Rabbis From U.S. Among Those on Israeli Chief Rabbinate's Blacklist

The rabbis, whose rulings on 'who is a Jew' the Rabbinate doesn't recognize, include Nefesh b'Nefesh's director ■ Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi 'shocked' that list was published without his approval

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Members of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
Members of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.Credit: Nir Kafri
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has published a blacklist of 160 rabbis from around the world, including many Orthodox rabbis, whose rulings on the question of "who is a Jew?" it does not recognize.

Among the prominent names in the new blacklist are Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Open Orthodox rabbi and the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh b’Nefesh, the organization that handles all immigration to Israel from North America.

Hours after it was published, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau expressed shock and outrage that such a list had been published without his knowledge or authorization. “This was done without the consent or approval of the rabbi,” Lau’s chief assistant wrote on Sunday in a letter addressed to the director-general of the Chief Rabbinate’s office. “How can it be that such a list is published without updating the rabbi that it exists and that it is to be made public?”

The list was prepared by the official in the Chief Rabbinate’s office responsible for determining whether individuals born abroad, registering to marry in the country, qualify as Jewish according to religious law. “Firstly, it is inconceivable that an official in the Chief Rabbinate’s office will decide on his own initiative which rabbis are approved and which aren’t,” the letter said. “Secondly, it goes with saying that this has terrible implications and causes grave damage to certain rabbis, and especially to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel."

In order to marry in Israel, individuals born outside the country must provide the Chief Rabbinate, which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox establishment, with letters from their hometown rabbis certifying that they are Jewish. The blacklist, obtained by ITIM, an organization that assists immigrants challenged by Israel’s religious bureaucracy, includes all those rabbis whose letters of certification have been rejected over the past year.

The Chief Rabbinate has sole jurisdiction over marriage between Jews in Israel and will only marry individuals whom it has determined are Jewish according to religious law, or halakha. To qualify as Jewish according to halakha, these individuals must either have been born to a Jewish mother or have been converted by an Orthodox rabbi recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate does not recognize the conversions of all Orthodox rabbis, but those rabbis whose conversions are not recognized appear on a separate blacklist.

The list also includes the following names:

■ Rabbi Josef Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis;

■ Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, one of the largest congregations in North America. He is known for his close ties to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau;

■ Rabbi Joseph Radinsky (since deceased), of Houston’s United Orthodox Synagogues;

■ Rabbi Barry Dollinger of Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, Rhode Island;

■ Rabbi Baruch Goodman, director of the Chabad house at Rutgers University;

■ Rabbi Daniel Kraus, the director of community education at Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan. The rabbi of this congregation, Haskel Lookstein, converted Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, before she married Jared Kushner;

■ Rabbi Eli Kogan, director of the Jewish-Russian Learning Center in Staten Island;

■ Rabbi Joshua Blass of Kehillas Beis Yehudah in Rockland County, New York;

The list also includes the names of 28 rabbis from Argentina, five from the U.K., three from Australia and one from South Africa.

Members of Reform and Conservative congregations in the Diaspora applying to marry in Israel must find an Orthodox rabbi to vouch for them, since the Chief Rabbinate does not accept letters of certification from non-Orthodox rabbis. Still, the blacklist includes many names of Conservative and Reform rabbis.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder and executive director of ITIM, said he had already approached several of the rabbis on the list and offered to represent them in a petition to the Chief Rabbinate demanding that it make public its list of criteria for recognizing rabbis from abroad.

“And if it doesn’t we will go to court,” he warned.

The fact that such a blacklist exists, he said, “creates a stain on Zionism, on Judaism and on the future of the Jewish people.”

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said in response that the names on the list were those of rabbis who letters had been rejected for marriage registration purposes. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Chief Rabbinate will reach the same conclusion when it comes to other documents issued by these rabbis,” the spokesman, Kobi Alter, said.

Alter added that the list was provided to ITIM after the organization submitted a Freedom of Information Act and that it “does not constitute a working document whatsoever.”

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