Gedalyah Reback

The Chief Rabbis Undermine their own Authority

When I converted in 2007, I didn’t expect that seven years later I would still be commenting on the topic regularly, with so much of my attention on policy coming dangerously close to breaching the Torah’s 46 safeguards for converts mentioned throughout its black text. But here we are, and after nearly a decade of the Israeli Rabbanut turning up the pressure on teachers and students alike, strict policies are now cultivating a culture of foreboding toward Rabbinic authority in general.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.  (photo credit: Flash90)
Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef are pushing even Orthodox Jews to the brink.

Four conversion courts for a country with so many candidates for conversion is simply unfathomable. The nuance of this tells the public they cannot trust their local Rabbis; that they aren’t equipped to handle conversion and that they can’t be trained to if they lack certain skills or understandings of the process. Saying anyone who goes through anyone other than 33 men in the entire country is telling people who are already members of the tribe that they are permitted to vocally deny the validity of a convert’s commitment to Judaism – a clear איסור דאורייתא – that is being abetted by an unnecessarily strict policy with one theme: mistrust. Don’t trust the convert. Don’t trust the Rabbi. Don’t trust anyone. Insinuating they won’t personally recognize those conversions themselves enhances that distrust even more. 

The Mikveh in Besalu, Spain (image CC BY SA 3.0 by אריה דרזי, ARIE DARZI via Wikimedia Commons)

This attitude needs to end. Pass the law. If they won’t recognize the conversions, then they aren’t helping their own cause as the spiritual guides of the country. If they can’t guarantee other Rabbis will accept conversions from equally qualified, certified, ordained Rabbis, then these men perhaps are not in a position to actually be the Chief Rabbis of the country. They can’t talk over the people who oppose them.

In a country of 6 million Jews and 400,000 mixed Jewish citizens, 4 courts aren’t going to be able to have the intimate relationship with conversion students necessary to adequately judge them. This system is far more precarious and shaky than anything before it. It’s the Rabbinate’s rules that have pushed the RCA to the brink in the United States and driven even the most Orthodox of Jews in Israel toward a position where they don’t support a Rabbinate with power – the complete inverse of a daily prayer for the restitution of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

Opposition to this law is ridiculous. It opposes giving the best scholars in the country the right to oversee local conversion, in their own constituencies.

This law needs to pass. People need to know they can trust their Rabbis to lead people down the spiritual path of the righteous. They need to know that you need not suspect converts’ motives at every turn and that their journeys are a blessing on Israel as a people. Pass this law, then pass another and another. End the culture of mutual suspicious and distrust. Restore a culture of trust, where our fears of Rabbinical corruption are further from our minds than they are today.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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