The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has been attempting in the past week to downplay the growing rift with Orthodox rabbis in the United States, shedding light on the process of accepting documents from congregation rabbis abroad on issues of conversion and personal status.
On Wednesday, the Rabbinate presented a treaty regulating its relations with rabbis in the Diaspora.
"This treaty thoroughly contradicts the claims about an alleged rift created between the Rabbinate and the US Jewry," a Chief Rabbinate official said, after Ynet revealed serious claims by American Orthodox rabbis against the Rabbinate for refusing to accept letters attesting to the personal status of their congregation members.
Rabbinate: Triple examination
The treaty was signed by Israel's chief rabbis and representatives of rabbis from Europe and the United States. It states, among other things, that the Rabbinate will work in cooperation with European and US rabbis on issues of Judaism related to their communities.
Rabbinate officials strongly denied allegations that there were "black lists" of rabbis whose documents were disqualified, saying that every paper arriving from a rabbi abroad is checked individually in a triple and uniform examination: Does the rabbi have a recognized Orthodox ordination, do he and his institutions act according to Halacha, and does he possess the knowledge and tools to verify the content of the document.
The Rabbinate's move follows Rabbi Avi Weiss' call to end the Rabbinate's monopoly, after he was amazed to discover that the State of Israel does not recognize him as an Orthodox rabbi, and therefore does not trust his halachic judgment in regards to his congregation members. "This is an intolerable situation," he said.
A series of organizations have joined Rabbi Weiss' struggle against the Rabbinate's policy, including religious-Zionist movement Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the ITIM Institute.
Prominent Jewish American lawyer Alan Dershowitz turned to President Shimon Peres last week and clarified that he would represent the US rabbis if they decide to launch legal proceedings.
'Right hand doesn’t know what left is doing'
Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah officials said last week that they planned to represent Rabbi Avi Weiss in the legal proceedings expected to take place in Israel, together with attorney Assaf Benmelech.
"Reality contradicts the response of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which is trying to play dumb," a movement official said. "For years, the Chief Rabbinate relied on the testimonies of Rabbi Avi Weiss, who meets all the criteria mentioned by the Rabbinate – and suddenly it decided that it does not recognize him, along with many other rabbis from the United States.
"Just today we gathered together for the emergency meeting of the Knesset's Lobby of Religion and State and heard about the difficult situation of the Diaspora rabbis from senior officials at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) and many other organizations."
The official added that "if it's true that the Rabbinate does not hold 'black lists,' as it claims, then its right hand does not know what its left hand is doing. This issue, along with many others, proves more than anything that religious services in Israel must undergo a thorough and fundamental change – in the spirit of the communal model promoted by the movement in recent years.
"Taking the authorities from the hands of the rabbis and handing them over to the communities is the only thing that will be able to fundamentally solve the profound problems in religious services in Israel and with the Diaspora Jewry."