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Yeah, I’ve been blacklisted!

He's on the Rabbinate's list of unacceptable rabbis. The reason? It's probably about the cheese

Facebook Messenger informed me that I had a group message waiting for me this past Sunday morning: “kol hakavod, (best wishes), Dan—you are (in)famous!” a good friend had just written to me. Her note came with a link to a JTA article about the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s new list of 160 rabbis who it “does not trust to confirm the [Jewish] identities of immigrants.” I looked and there was my name:

I, a (not-too) humble upstate, country-doctor sort of a rabbi, was on what was quickly being billed as the Rabbinate’s Blacklist.

(To be fair, I am aware and appreciative of Rabbi Lau’s shocked disclaimer that he knew nothing about this as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi.)

As the morning wore on, more faux-gratulations started to trickle in via email, text and Facebook.

“What did you do to piss off the Israeli rabbinate? People were pleading to be on that list who didn’t make it!” one friend texted.

“Congrats on making THE list!” another wrote.

“You were too young to get on Nixon’s Enemies list, but you, or some other Conservative rabbi named Dan Ornstein, has been placed on the Israeli Rabbinate’s “treif” (non-kosher) list,” yet another friend remarked.

In the words of Katie Perry (who definitely has more name recog. than I do)….Damn!

This is the kind of notoriety I’ve been lusting for, over many years, and it was so serendipitously easy to achieve. After all that high-profile blogging and self-publishing, all I had to do was, well, just be me. It was not too long ago on this blog for the Times of Israel (March 29, 2013) that I had, clerical attention whore that I am, complained bitterly about once again not making the OTHER important rabbis’ list, the Jewish Forward’s Fifty Top Rabbis, or the OTHER OTHER important rabbis’ list done by Newsweek:

What am I doing wrong, or more to the point, what are my celebrity colleagues doing right? How can I, an attention starved, ego-driven, middle aged clergyperson, get the Hollywood-style celeb status I crave while simultaneously projecting an enduring image of the self-effacing humility I lack? Do I need to lose weight, get a perm, or wear funkier clothing?

All that sturm-und-drangy, angsty, weltschmerzy hand wringing, and in the end, I merely had to be…or do…what?

Honestly, to what do I owe my friends and colleagues at the Chief Rabbinate this honor?

After all, as I tell anyone receiving an affirmation letter from me before Aliyah (not that anyone has really cared), my affirmation is fine for citizenship under the Law of Return, but don’t expect it to help you once you’re a citizen. I’m a Conservative rabbi, so I’m already treif. This raised some serious questions for me about the Rabbinate’s criteria, and more basically, about its rationality as the religious leadership of the world-wide Jewish people, a feature of this august body which I have always emulated. Specifically:

Why me? (Definitely not an existential cri de coeur about human suffering and theodicy). Why me and why not plenty of other treif rabbis?

Am I to infer that, circumstances being different, there was a time when I WOULD have been trusted by the rabbinate to confirm the Jewish identities of new immigrants?

None of my female colleagues were on the list. Are we to infer from this – no it can’t be – that the rabbinate DOES trust them to affirm new immigrants’ Jewish identities?

These last 24 hours have been torture for me. I have got to know why they chose me among the 160 “blacklisted” rabbis.

So, I have made my own little list, (a short one mind you, so as not to bore you too much) as to why I made the Rabbinate’s list now, at this auspicious time in my rabbinic career. I will apply the old philosophical principle of Occam’s Razor to figure this out: whenever you have to find an explanation for something, always choose the simplest one.

In the words of Lady Gaga, heeeeerrrrrre we go!

  1. I am a Conservative rabbi. Yet as I already said, this is a weak explanation.
  2. I do same-sex marriages. But this one doesn’t work either, because you see, I only do them for two Jews. I may have caved into the LGBTQA lobby, but at least I’m still not doing intermarriages. That has got to raise my numbers on the Rabbinate’s halakhometer, right?
  3. I eat a brand of cheese which is under a kosher certification that is not acceptable to the kashrut industry in America. The decisions of this cheese maker’s rabbonim are unacceptable to the “milchig mafia.”

Know what, dear reader? I think #3 explains best why I made the “No Trust” list.

In the words of Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, “Moe, Larry, the cheese!” It’s always the cheese that’s to blame.

Because I chose that cheese, it can be inferred that I wouldn’t be choosy about who is truly part of the Chosen People.

Having established this fact, I am now feeling a lot better. In all truth, I actually respect the work of kashrut supervision in the US, and I rely upon it all the time. But I am NOT going to stop eating that brand of cheese. (The halakhic reasons are arcane, and I will not deal with them here.) This means, of course, that I can feel a whole lot better about my placement on the Rabbinate’s list: I will never come off of it, so I might as well enjoy the free publicity. And in the process, I am making a bold ethical statement:

Don’t make me choose between my Cheddar and my reputation, fellas, because the Cheddar will always win!

Now, we all know what this means, right? No longer anxious about gaining the Chief Rabbinate’s trust, I am free to:

  1. Create a new, strictly kosher line of whiskeys. You’ve heard of Black Label? Ornstein is now distilling… say it guys…Blacklist! Perfect for your Kiddush club after Shabbat morning minyan, that is, until your rabbi finds out that I’m on the Rabbinate’s list!
  2. Given the abysmal financial state of my beloved Conservative movement (we were too busy leading people from behind in the 1950’s to get on board the kashrut supervision train), I am going to auction off my place on the Blacklist to the highest bidder. In the words of Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune, “C’mon…BIG money!”
  3. Remind people that a bunch of state-funded politi-hacks who out-authoritarian the authoritarians, embarrass their fellow religious Jews, corrode unity among an already fractured Jewish people, and use undeserved power to shove their narrow reading of Judaism down our throats while alienating more and more people from Torah, really don’t need to be wasting time making “Index of Banned Books” style lists of rabbis whom they don’t trust.

Good going, chief rabbinate. Just in time for the three weeks before Tisha B’Av, when we recall the intra-Jewish hate-fest that destroyed Jerusalem during the time of the Romans. That’ll sure leave the Jewish people a little more… listless.

About the Author
Dan Ornstein is rabbi at Congregation Ohav Shalom and a writer living in Albany, NY. He is the author of Cain v. Abel: A Jewish Courtroom Drama (The Jewish Publication Society, 2020. https://jps.org/books/cain-vs-abel/)
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