Rabbi of world's biggest Orthodox community accuses Chief Rabbinate of Chillul Hashem
Adam Scheier, Leonard Cohen's rabbi and close friend of Canadian PM Trudeau, arrives to Israel to appear before Knesset committee hearing on alleged Chief Rabbinate 'black lists' of overseas rabbis; Scheier protests rabbinate disqualified him without so much as phoning him; Chief Rabbinate's director: 'There are no black lists, apologies to anyone offended.'
Rabbi Adam Scheier, leader of the world's largest Orthodox community—Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montréal, Canada—appeared in a hearing of the Knesset's Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, and accused the Chief Rabbinate of causing Chillul Hashem.
Rabbi Scheier, known to be close to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the personal rabbi of late crooner Leonard Cohen, came to Israel especially to attend the committee's hearing.
His community, founded in 1846, is markedly Orthodox and comprises some 1,400 families. In 2016, one of its members arrived to Israel with confirmation that he was both Jewish and single in order to marry through the country's rabbinate—but was turned away.
Rabbi Scheier's name and number appeared on the documents, but it appeared no one in Israel bothered to contact him to inquire as to the man's status.
Yael Aloni was also not recognized as being Jewish, despite testimony from her rabbi in Michigan's Chabad house, and the fact that her sister married as a Jewish woman. Aloni wanted to assist her own daughter in marrying in Israel, but was afraid to do so in case the Chief Rabbinate questioned her own status, which would endanger her ability to receive a Jewish burial in the future.
Both Aloni and Rabbi Scheier appeared before the committee and shared their stories. The committee convened at the behest of MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), following the rabbinate's failure to push forward with its plan to put together clear criteria for recognizing rabbis abroad.
A special team of experts was put together 18 months ago by the Chief Rabbinate to do just that, but to date it has convened only once.
'Israeli Chief Rabbinate causes Chillul Hashem'
Rabbi Scheier spoke of his deep ties to Israel on the one hand and his disappointment with the country on the other. He said, "We conclude the closing Yom Kippur prayer by singing HaTikva. When members of our congregation wish to marry in Israel, I tell them there's no better place in the world to do so.
"But when I'm asked to marry someone in Israel, I warn I may not be able to do so since I don't have the rabbinate's authorization. It pains me to say this, but the Israeli Chief Rabbinate causes Chillul Hashem."
On his own personal wounds, the rabbi said, "No one ever told me why I was rejected, they only sent me a letter saying I may not be approved… Anyone can find my email or social media accounts in a second with Google, and anyone who wishes to find me can easily do so.
"I'm a true rabbi and my certification is legitimate. I was personally offended by the rabbinate's rejection of me and my certification. It harms my ability to serve the Jewish people."
The Canadian rabbi added the existing situation engendered mistrust between him, as the leader of a large community, and members of his congregation—who were afraid to make Aliyah and get married in Israel out of the fear they will not be recognized as Jews.
This hurt his standing and reputation to such a degree, he said, that other rabbis recommended to couples to ask him to hold their wedding ceremony.
Scheier then directly addressed the Chief Rabbinate's Director Moshe Dagan, who was present in the hearing, and exclaimed, "Next time before you rule me out, I invite you to visit my synagogue. It will certainly be an educational experience."
'I felt humiliated'
Yael Aloni said that her daughter and her fiancé contacted the Jerusalem Rabbinate several months ago in order to open a marriage file, and were told their Judaism needed to be ascertained.
Since both the bride's mother and grandmother did not marry in a Jewish ceremony, the couple presented a letter from a Chabad rabbi in Michigan that attested to the mother's Judaism, but were told that "it could have been created using Photoshop." The couple's claim that the mother's sister married in a Jewish ceremony was to no avail either.
"My daughter ended up getting married, Thank God," Yael said. "But the process was long and exhausting. I felt humiliated. I thought I'd have to go to Poland, where my grandmother's entire family perished in the Holocaust, to get the papers to prove my Judaism. I was afraid to even approach it, (because I feared) they would rule I myself wasn't Jewish and prevent me from being buried in a Jewish cemetery."
Chief Rabbinate Director Dagan rejected the claims that the rabbinate held a "black list" of overseas rabbis who were personally targeted, and claimed, "This demagogy that a black list was allegedly created is a lie."
He further claimed that both the rabbinate and Jewish courts approved Rabbi Scheier, but were obliged to ascertain the authenticity of the documents presented on his behalf.
Addressing the claim that the Montréal rabbi was never contacted, he explained that the rabbinate was overworked, and said, "The Matrimony and Proselytization Department receives 3,000 approvals a year, and only one employee and two students handle all of the requests."
Dagan added that despite the fact that no such black list existed, he regretted the fact that the rabbis felt slighted. He also noted that the draft list of criteria for overseas rabbis was already put together, and sent out to rabbi organizations worldwide. After they send back their comments, he assured, they will be discussed by the Chief Rabbinate Council and then approved.
'Ivanka's rabbi was also disqualified'
Head of the "ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life" organization Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, who has been spearheading the public and legal battle on the issue, divulged during the hearing that according to the rabbinate's own information, nearly a quarter of all requests to approve personal status in 2016 were rejected—627 of a total of 2,823.
"Not all of them belonged to overseas residents," Farber stressed. "Most of them made Aliyah and then their Judaism was questioned. This is a split. It isn't just a Diaspora problem, but an Israeli problem as well."
Efrat Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who also attended the hearing, said, "I want the Chief Rabbinate to be respected abroad, for Israel to be respected broad, for Halakha to be respected abroad—and everything is being done here to prevent that from happening. Even the rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism was disqualified."
Rabbi Riskin then went on to note prominent modern Orthodox rabbis were disqualified by the rabbinate and quipped, "I felt bad for not appearing on the black list."
On a more serious note, he said, "I would like to see the Chief Rabbinate's criteria. I'm not sure I could meet them."