The Chief Rabbinate must remain in Orthodox hands

Making the Rabbinate more user friendly cannot come at the expense of Halakha. It makes clear what kind of conversion is legitimate and what kind is not - in our day.

Rabbi Harry Maryles

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Rabbi Harry Maryles

Once again, the Chief Rabbinate has come under fire. This time it is over it’s issuance of a list of approved rabbinical courts and rabbis around the world whose converts are accepted as full fledged Jews by them. And thereby the State of Israel.

We now know who is accepted. That list includes rabbis and rabbinic organizations from the wide spectrum of Orthodoxy. Furthermore it notes that the list should not be seen as excluding all those not on it. If I understand correctly this list does not automatically reject other rabbis or rabbinic courts that may be fully qualified. They may petition the rabbinate for acceptance.

The criticism is over what or who is not on that list. Which is conversions performed by Reform, Conservative, and some liberal Orthodox rabbis.

While he did not spell it out, Rabbi Seth Farber has attacked the rabbinate over its ‘disdain for diversity’. By virtue of the fact that the list includes conversions by a such diverse group of Orthodox rabbis one can only conclude he is talking mostly about heterodox rabbis.

If one believes as I do, that heterodoxy is not a legitimate form of Judaism, then one should applaud those omissions. This has nothing to do with respecting the sincerity of their ‘converts’ or even the sincerity of those rabbis. It is simply a matter of Halakha. One that no legitimate Orthodox rabbi could ever dispute. To accept these ‘converts’ is to accept those who may sincerely want to convert, but haven’t done so according to Halakha.

The Reform movement will not dispute the fact that they are not a Halakhic denomination. They will argue that despite that, it does not make them illegitimate. And that in the spirit of inclusiveness they should be accepted. From their perspective being excluded is unfair. But from an Orthodox perspective it doesn’t matter whether it is fair or not. 

For the State of Israel to recognize Reform conversions would be beyond chaotic. I believe that even the Conservative movement that claims fealty to Halakha would have to agree. Which is why I am somewhat perplexed that they have joined the Reform Movement in trying to get recognition for both. That is a bit hypocritical if you ask me. But I guess their ends justify those means.  

Despite claims of being Halakhic, Orthodoxy does not consider Conservative Judaism legitimate either (for reasons beyond the scope of this essay). So their conversions cannot be relied upon at all. Even if they might in some cases seem to be following an Orthodox protocol.

Accepting their converts would also create chaos.

Some of the more liberal Orthodox rabbis of what used to be called Open Orthodoxy have also not been included on that list. This does not say they are disqualified. But that they have not been included is because of questionable moves that have put their very Orthodoxy into question. (The details of which are also beyond the scope of this essay.)

Their’s is a sticky situation about which I am uncertain. As I understand it, they too may petition for inclusion. Had Rabbi Farber specified that he was referring only to them, I might have been more understanding, albeit as noted - not sure I would agree.

If you don’t know if your wife is really Jewish or not, you won’t know that about your children either.
Keeping all this in mind, who is and isn’t a Jew would become almost impossible to know. Especially a couple of generations down the road. Such confusion might be the beginning of the end of the Jewish people. For example, if you don’t know if your wife is really Jewish or not, you won’t know that about your children either.  A Chief Rabbinate creating some sort of registry of who actually is a Jew would be a nightmare of epic proportion in my view. I can’t think of too many things more divisive than that.

Which brings me back to Rabbi Farber. I actually applaud his stated goals. He founded ITIM in order to make the Rabbinate more user friendly to secular Jews. That is a form of Kiruv that we should all support. And in some instances he has been successful. I have been told by his supporters about several cases of that. They have also told me that some of the things ITIM has done was with the approval of the Rabbinate.

But making the Rabbinate more user friendly cannot come at the expense of Halakha. Which makes clear what kind of conversion is legitimate and what kind is not - in our day. Older conversion paradigms have been universally rejected by all legitimate Orthodox Poskim. That he wishes to reinstate them is – even for the most altruistic of reasons - cannot fly if they are not accepted anymore. It perplexes me somewhat that he has criticized them by asking for more diversity.

I have a lot of respect for what Rabbi Farber is trying to do. But it cannot cross the hard lines that virtually all modern day Poskim  have agreed upon. No matter how much one personally feels about it.

Rabbi Farber’s good intentions is not a road that we should be going down. There has to be a bright line drawn between who is and isn’t a Jew. We can’t have Jews that are accepted by one movement and not another. In order for Judaism to survive and even flourish there has to be a standard that everyone accepts. That is the only for us to go forward as a people.