Maybe There’s a Reason the Rabbi Did Not Make the Rabbinate’s List

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate just issued a list of 69 rabbinical courts throughout the world that it recognizes for conversion to Judaism. This follows a lengthy review process, vetting the rabbinical courts for compliance with the immensely weighty halachic standards that pertain to conversion.

Although the list contains some obsolete entries and must be updated, its overall issuance should be welcomed, as the Chief Rabbinate forges ahead in fulfilling its charge to safeguard the area of halachic personal status for those who reside in the State of Israel and identify therein as Jews. The Chief Rabbinate has a quality control mandate, and publication of this list goes a long way in that respect.

A very vocal minority of rabbis disagrees with this. In their view, anyone who performs a conversion should be accepted as valid, regardless of qualifications or standards. Imagine if such a concept would be applied to any other area of life – it would be pure chaos and worse. But for some reason, in the extremely delicate and specialized area of conversion, there are no rules and everyone is qualified, according to this vocal minority. And should one assert that there are indeed rules and that not everyone is necessarily qualified to handle this highly-specialized endeavor, and that only specific parties are assuredly qualified, he should be defamed, subjected to the greatest of insults and labeled a dismissive isolationist, this vocal minority apparently believes. I know that this sounds blunt and quite harsh, but there is no other, more refined way to describe the situation.

Rabbi Seth Farber has in large measure made a career of battling the Chief Rabbinate, through his ITIM organization. Last month, I again demonstrated the incorrectness and folly (to use overly mild terms!) of Rabbi Farber’s nonstop attacks on the Chief Rabbinate. Please read my article, check the sources and judge for yourself. Readers must take note that Rabbi Farber and ITIM are presenting a very distorted, agenda-based picture, which does not at all match the facts on the ground.

As could be predicted, Rabbi Farber has now weighed in on the Chief Rabbinate’s publication of its list of recognized rabbinical courts for conversion. But this time, Rabbi Farber has outdone himself. Let’s take a look.

In a new blog post critiquing the Chief Rabbinate’s list, Rabbi Farber writes:

(T)he Chief Rabbinate’s attempt at increased transparency (by publishing the list) reveals its desire for monopolization, and reflects its disdain for Jewish diversity.

Rabbi Farber: How do you know that the Chief Rabbinate seeks monopolization? Did you read its mind? Does not the new list show that the Chief Rabbinate accepts and endorses the conversions of 69 rabbinical courts throughout the globe – rabbinical courts that are Modern Orthodox, “black hat”, Chassidic, non-Chassidic, Zionist, non-Zionist, Sephardic and Ashkenazic? Does such broad acceptance demonstrate a monopoly or disdain? I am not sure where you get these ideas. (In fact, many of us were surprised to see some pretty liberal rabbis featured in the list, including rabbis who share some of your own left-leaning affiliations; if anything, the list should be described as extremely open, broad-minded and accepting.)

Furthermore, did you personally review the Chief Rabbinate’s system for approving the rabbinical courts featured in the list? Did you investigate exactly how the Chief Rabbinate vetted the various candidates and what the criteria were? Were you given inside information about the correspondence between the Chief Rabbinate and the overseas rabbinical courts, and you thereupon determined that the project was unsatisfactory and reflected a scheme of monopolization and a sense of disdain? I didn’t think so. How can you make such sweeping allegations of malfeasance, basically depicting the Chief Rabbinate as involved in a self-serving conspiracy?

Rabbi Farber writes:

In producing this whitelist, the Rabbinate has demonstrated its dismissive, exclusionary, and isolationist approach, made a travesty of halachic [Jewish legal] thinking, and violated Jewish tradition, which teaches us to embrace those who choose to join the Jewish people.

Rabbi Farber: How is this broad-based list dismissive, exclusionary and isolationist? Since you feel that every rabbi, regardless of his standards, adherence to Halacha and even belief, should be accepted, as demonstrated in particular in my above-linked article, I guess that anyone who insists on standards is “ dismissive, exclusionary, and isolationist”. Enough already!

You allege that the Chief Rabbinate has “made a travesty of halachic [Jewish legal] thinking, and violated the Jewish tradition” by not automatically accepting the Jewish status of all who choose to join the tribe. The Shulchan Aruch and other halachic codes spell out quite clearly the specific requirements for conversion, i.e. for joining the Jewish People. Why do you portray the Chief Rabbinate’s insistence on these halachic requirements as making a travesty of halachic thinking and violating the Jewish tradition? Perhaps it is not the Chief Rabbinate, but someone else here, who aptly fits the descriptions you cavalierly bandy about?

Rabbi Farber continues:

It (the Chief Rabbinate) has also driven yet another wedge between Jews in Israel and around the world. The Rabbinate’s deliberate politicization of conversion highlights its attempt to extend its monopoly on Jewish life — oppressive enough within Israel’s borders — to the rest of the Jewish world, where, overwhelmingly, it is not wanted, and, in all likelihood, not needed.

Rabbi Farber: You know very well that the Chief Rabbinate’s list is for the purposes of converts who wish to make aliyah, so that they can be assured that they are going to a rabbinical court whose conversion will be recognized in the State of Israel as regards their halachic personal status (for marriage and divorce). The list does not impose anything whatsoever on people living abroad, as you know – but you nonetheless exclaim that “(t)he Rabbinate’s deliberate politicization of conversion highlights its attempt to extend its monopoly on Jewish life… to the rest of the Jewish world.” Why do you so grossly misrepresent the facts? (And why do you repeat the baseless and nasty allegations that this list reflects a deliberate politically-charged coup? We are happy to read any documents you wish to post that prove this exciting conspiracy theory.)

It is not the Chief Rabbinate that is “driv(ing) a wedge between Jews in Israel and around the world”. By maliciously maligning the Chief Rabbinate via the dissemination of false information and conspiracy theories, attempting to dispense with halachic standards, and cleverly inciting fellow Jews against those who adhere to these standards, has it ever been considered that perhaps it is someone else who is driving the wedge and causing hatred and untold damage?

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
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