Rabbi David Stav, Director of the Tzohar organization for religious rights in Israel, has asked the Rabbinate Monday to release a list of state-approved Diaspora rabbis which can legally determine a person's Jewish status.
In a meeting with Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau, Rabbi Stav asked the Rabbinate to reveal a list of the rabbis which are approved in the Diaspora to legally declare someone Jewish under Israeli law. The list is an important one; the move could enable Jews living abroad to make Aliyah more smoothly, and for more marriages to be approved by the Rabbinate without having to undergo an unnecessary bureaucratic process.
Tzohar notes that while there are hundreds of rabbis across Europe and North America, the rules regarding who is qualified to declare an immigrant's status as Jewish and who is not remain patently unclear. "The lack of clear definitions," says Tzohar, "can lead to a chasm in the Jewish people, to make two peoples: Jews in Israel, and Jews abroad."
"We understand that Rabbi Lau did not create this crisis - he merely inherited it," the organization stated, "but the responsibility still lies with the Chief Rabbinate."
Tzohar notes that the ambiguities have lead to ongoing problems for immigrants from the US, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere who wish to marry in Israel. Couples "often have to bring proof from their community rabbis of their Jewishness. However, in recent years the Chief Rabbinate has greatly reduced the number of rabbis qualified to declare a person's Jewish status for marriage certification."
The Chief Rabbinate has overseen marriages, divorces, conversions, and other issues within the framework of Jewish Law. Tzohar insists that while "many rabbis can address these issues abroad, several times the Chief Rabbinate prevents them from proceeding here" in Israel.
"Insofar as Tzohar rabbis know, the list of approved rabbis from the Diaspora has never been published," the statement continued. Tzohar also declared that it would be grateful if the Rabbinate could at least release a list to them of approved Diaspora rabbis, and the criterion which determines the status of those rabbis, in order to help immigrants and potential immigrants manage the Rabbinate system easily and smoothly.
"Due to the importance of the issues, we would appreciate if the Rabbinate would release the list in a timely matter. In any case, the list is probably in front of you on a daily basis," the statement concluded. While the statement was sent over two months ago to the Chief Rabbinate, no response has been issued yet.
Tzohar has been involved in a range of sweeping changes to the current marriage and conversion laws which have been proposed this month to the Knesset. One of them, the 'Tzohar bill', proposes that the responsibility for marriage licenses be transferred to municipal Rabbinical Courts.