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      Op-Ed: Questioning the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's Boundaries

      Published: Sunday, January 05, 2014 9:12 AM
      Questions on the recent Israeli Chief Rabbinate decision on several American Orthodox rabbis.


      The Israeli Chief Rabbinate decided this week that up to ten American Orthodox Rabbis can no longer attest to the Jewish status of their congregation members who make aliya to Israel or would like to get married in the Jewish state. is bad for the Jewish people.

      As ,“six Rabbis who have been ordained by Yeshiva University and now serve as rabbis in Orthodox synagogues throughout the United States”, wrote in an open letter to the Chief Rabbinate: “We fear that your policy change is more reflective of rabbinic politics in America and the customs of individual communities and not at all reflective of halakhah and the Shulchan Arukh. You are placing politics above Torah and inserting politics into the lives of innocent people.”  The Rabbis signing this letter included Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom—The National Synagogue in Washington, DC & Rabbi Adam Starr of Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, Georgia.

      Is it too much to ask that those Rabbis deciding who is and isn’t Orthodox in America should also be Americans? And that there should be a transparent process whereby decisions which affect many concerned and involved Jews are made? While a lot of noise has been made about Rabbi Avi Weiss, the reality is that this decision is larger than he is.  Even if one disapproves of Avi Weiss, who are the others on the list? And who is deciding? What happens if “they” next decide, a Carlebach Rabbi isn’t able to affirm ones’ Jewishness? Or a Breslov Rabbi?  And what happens if next time around, say, the Chief Rabbinate chooses to ask the non-Zionist Agudah of America who is a Rabbi? Who ultimately decides?

      Further, American Jewry should be uncomfortable with the Chief Rabbinate's claim to have made this decision in collaboration with “sources” at the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), an association of Modern Orthodox American Rabbis.

      The RCA asserted in a statement posted to their website motzei Shabbat, “recent assertions that the Rabbinical Council of America advised the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to reject the testimony of RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss are categorically untrue. The RCA regrets that the discussion concerning the reliability of American rabbis for technical matters under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate has been used to promote broader issues relating to the contours of American Orthodoxy and its limits. The RCA believes that there are better places and ways to work through these issues. Recent assertions that the Rabbinical Council of America advised the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to reject the testimony of RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss are categorically untrue. “

      Rabbi Marc Angel, a past President of RCA said in discussing this issue, “They are bowing to political pressure, personal antagonisms. Although they may cloak their opposition as being leShem Shamayim (in God's Name), it is precisely the opposite: it is a Hillul Shem Shamayim (Desecration of God's Name).” 

      American Jews had better make sure their local Orthodox Rabbis are approved by the Israel Chief Rabbinate, or there may be many American knitted kippas on line at the Interior Ministry of Israel.

      Ronn Torossian does not see himself as an halakhic authority and writes this in a personal capacity and on behalf of no one but himself.