Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of the Crossroads Center for Jewish Law and Technology, has proposed a fast and easy solution to the current debates raging about the legitimacy of privately officiated Orthodox conversions.
The debate was triggered when the Chief Rabbinate of Israel refused to accept the Jewish status of a woman seeking a marriage license who had converted through Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, an American Orthodox Rabbi who privately officiates his conversions.
In a letter to Rabbi Lookstein, excerpts of which are printed below, Rabbi Rosen proposed a solution in accordance with Jewish law that seeks to satisfy all parties involved:
"To Rabbi Ezekiel Lookstein,
"I am writing to you as a 'brother in arms,' since I have faced a situation similar to yours.
"For 15 years, I served as a judge in the conversion courts of the Rabbinate; after I retired, I established a private court that oversaw private conversions. [Everything flowed smoothly, until] suddenly, converts who had come from our auspices were no longer recognized by the Rabbinate! We hadn't changed any of our criteria or rulings, but all off a sudden we get the yellow card that our converts are "not recognized!"
"But here's a surprise: I agree with the Rabbinate!
"I publicly declare that the State of Israel cannot automatically accept conversions from private rabbinical courts, because the Reform, who you know well, are waiting at the door of the Supreme Court to be legally recognized in a similar fashion, that's the whole story! (I will add off the record that liberal Orthodox rabbis are also waiting). Even the private Haredi court of Rabbi Karelitz in Bnei Brak, recognized throughout the world, is not recognized for marriages for the same reason - and it's good that it's that way.
So what's the solution?
"My solution (which I have submitted to Rabbinate) is that private conversions be approved by a representative of the Rabbinate; an individual Rabbinate judge will meet with the convert and obtain information about the Rabbi overseeing the conversion (like you and me). That's it!
"And my suggestion is that the Rabbinate representative be nationally recognized (and thus not prone to personal or sectoral agendas), and have a positive commitment to the norms of the Rabbinical conversion courts.
"Thanks for your time, and I hope that I helped 'bridge the gap.'"