Times of Israel bloggers and American Israeli activists have been assailing the Israeli Chief Rabbinate because of a report that the Chief Rabbinate rejected a letter of attestation, written by a liberal American Orthodox rabbi, affirming the Jewish and single status of an American woman who sought to marry an Israeli Jewish man. The stated reason for the rejection was the rabbinical school attended by the rabbi, whose Orthodox credentials are not accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.
The bloggers and activists proceeded to disparage the Chief Rabbinate, alleging that it acted capriciously and with bias. The bloggers and activists further claimed that the Chief Rabbinate maintains a blacklist of rabbis, and that the liberal Orthodox rabbi in this case is featured in that blacklist.
To quote the attorney representing this rabbi, regarding the Chief Rabbinate:
This is a position that reflects ignorance and abandonment. It also refutes the attempts of the Chief Rabbinate to ignore the fact that it is a coincidence that rabbis affiliated with the moderate Orthodox circles in the United States are rejected by it over and over again…
Let’s however take a closer look, which yields a starkly different picture.
The liberal Orthodox rabbi whose letter of attestation was rejected graduated from a rabbinical school which has been the subject of immense controversy; the school’s graduates are not accepted for admission into the Rabbinical Council of America (the RCA — North America’s largest Orthodox rabbinical organization), and its graduates’ ordination and their movement/denomination are not recognized by Agudath Israel of America and the Council of European Rabbis, as well as by other major rabbinical and synagogue organizations. In fact, most Modern Orthodox synagogues in America are very wary of hiring graduates of this rabbinical school. The movement/denomination associated with the rabbinical school has taken extremely controversial positions about a host of hot-button issues, and mainstream Orthodoxy, from Modern to Haredi, has rejected this movement/denomination as outside of the Orthodox pale. (Please see here, here, here and here.)
The liberal Orthodox rabbi whose letter of attestation was rejected led a congregation in Maine, where he was involved with some pretty unOrthodox public endeavors, such as supporting same-sex marriage (comparing its legalization to the miracle of Hanukkah), as well as inviting a female Reform rabbi to lead Friday night services at his synagogue — something that violates halachic norms.
Thus, whereas the attorney representing this rabbi alleged that the Chief Rabbinate’s rejection of the rabbi’s letter was based on “ignorance and abandonment,” the incontrovertible truth is that the rejection was based on overwhelming evidence that the rabbi’s affiliation and actions have been inconsistent with normative Orthodoxy. Being that the Chief Rabbinate is a mainstream Orthodox agency, staffed by and accepting rabbis from throughout the normative Orthodox spectrum, from Modern Orthodox to Haredi, the Chief Rabbinate most justifiably was unable to accept the credentials of a rabbi whose affiliation and actions are at odds with accepted Orthodox standards. It has nothing to do with politics or “ignorance and abandonment” and everything do to with proper quality control and accountability for established standards.
The existence of a Chief Rabbinate blacklist has already been demonstrated to be a hoax. Nonetheless, Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM organization, continues to imply that rabbis are blacklisted:
The Chief Rabbinate has repeatedly claimed that there are no blacklists. However, the testimony of an Orthodox rabbi was rejected only because he belonged to an institution that the Rabbinate does not like. The rabbis’ behavior in this case is, first and foremost, dishonest. They make all kinds of statements in order to eliminate harsh criticism, but, ultimately, under the sway of the more extremist elements among them, they do not rule in line with their statements.
The truth is that there is no blacklist of rabbis; there is, rather, an innocuous list of letters that were rejected by the Chief Rabbinate for various reasons — as journalist David Benkof wrote last year:
In one case I know of (in a previous year), the rabbinate rejected a proof-of-Judaism letter because it was signed by a rabbi whose name was not on the stationery. In another case, a supposedly blacklisted rabbi had one of his letters rejected but others accepted. Sure, the rabbinate may have also rejected some letters because of antagonism toward the rabbi who wrote them. But it hasn’t said so, and that as-yet-unproven possibility does not justify scandalous headlines.
I hesitate to use a 2017 cliché like “fake news,” but this is an entirely manufactured controversy, and we know who manufactured it: Rabbi Farber.
And as I wrote last year:
Now, in a freshly-released Jerusalem Post interview with Rabbi Farber, it has become even more clear that there is no blacklist and that the entire matter is a fabrication. During the interview, Rabbi Farber is seen holding the “blacklist” issued by the Chief Rabbinate to ITIM. The list is entitled “Reshimat te’udot she’lo ushru” — “List of certification letters that were not authenticated/accepted“. It is not a list of rabbis deemed to be invalid.
To assert that it is a list of rabbis deemed to be invalid is to totally misrepresent the document. But that is exactly how Rabbi Farber proceeds to label the document in the course of the interview, after which he declares that the documents of these rabbis — which he never even saw or investigated – “were just rejected out of hand”. Rabbi Farber then turns to a document issued by the Chief Rabbinate two years prior regarding rabbinic qualifications and conflates it with the list of rejected documents, arguing that the Chief Rabbinate has unfairly rejected the documents in the list due to the qualifications of their signatories. This is totally unsubstantiated conjecture, presented by Rabbi Farber like a prosecuting attorney waving a smoking gun covered with the fingerprints of the accused. Rabbi Farber jumps past the interviewer’s targeted questions and twists the facts into a pretzel to conform to his agenda. Please tune in to the interview and see for yourselves.
During the interview, Rabbi Farber was asked about rabbis whose standards for Jewish identity do not conform with Halacha. Rabbi Farber maintained that letters of Jewish personal status should be accepted from these rabbis as well.
Whereas the blacklist allegation is without basis, the specifics of the case before us unquestionably point to a rabbi who graduated from a controversial rabbinical school whose Orthodox bona fides are rejected by the mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinate, and who affiliates with a movement/denomination that has parted ways with normative Orthodoxy across the spectrum. The rabbi has also engaged in public activities that violate the core beliefs and practices of Orthodoxy. Yet bloggers and activists condemn the Chief Rabbinate for not being able to accept the halachic/rabbinic testomony of this rabbi as meeting Orthodox standards. These bloggers and activists, who continue to malign and assault the Chief Rabbinate despite its actions being more than justified and necessary, seek for the Chief Rabbinate to abandon its standards and commit rabbinic malpractice.
The Chief Rabbinate is faced with a very uncomfortable task, but it is doing exactly that which any Orthodox rabbinate would be expected to do. Quality control is not fun, and it wins one no friends. But the alternative is to lower standards to an unacceptable level, beneath that of all other mainstream Orthodox rabbinic bodies, from Modern Orthodox to Haredi.
Let’s cut the rhetoric and accept the facts on the ground.