The Chief Rabbinate of Israel recently rejected four conversions approved by a leading rabbinic authority in the United States, drawing heavy criticism from an umbrella organization representing Orthodox religious courts across the US.
The Chief Rabbinate issued no explanations as to why the conversions of Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz were rejected, sparking vehement protests by the Rabbinical Council of America last Friday.
Rabbi Schwartz, who heads the RCA’s national rabbinic court, is a prominent figure in the Modern Orthodox community.
According to documents obtained by Haaretz, the Chief Rabbinate’s conversion department chief, Itamar Tubul, recently rejected three conversions performed by Rabbi Schwartz. A fourth, which was initially accepted by Tubul, was later rejected by the Rabbinate.
In the wake of the revelations, RCA president Rabbi Shalom Baum blasted the Rabbinate’s behavior, calling the rejection of Rabbi Schwartz’s conversions “a disgrace.”
“We have already begun an investigation into this latest disgrace and we demand a thorough report of how this could happen.”
While the Rabbinate declined to explain the basis for the rejections, it should be noted that in one case, the convert’s mother, who also converted at the same rabbinic court on the same day, was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.
On Friday the RCA issued a statement criticizing the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decision.
“The Rabbinical Council of America strongly objects to the latest decisions of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s office rejecting the endorsement of leading rabbinic figures in North America of the status of at least two converts. While we have worked assiduously with the Rabbinate in the past to assure the integrity of converts, recent missteps by its office have led to these latest decisions; we are working to reverse them.”
The RCA added that in the cases in question, the rejection of the converts also constituted a “challenge” to the decisions of one of the organization’s most respected rabbis.
“This decision by the Chief Rabbinate is especially egregious because it challenges the rulings of one of the preeminent [halakhic] authorities, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz and because it disregards the great efforts that we have made over the years, for the benefit of converts, to work with the Chief Rabbinate.”
In July, the Israeli Rabbinate’s Supreme Rabbinical Court moved to uphold a ruling by the Petah Tikva District Rabbinic Court which had rejected a conversion performed by another prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. However, in that case, Rabbi Lookstein had not vetted the woman's conversion with the RCA's special conversion committee.
The RCA has an agreement with the Israeli Rabbinate that all conversions performed by the RCA's Geirut (conversion) Policies and Standards program (GPS) are accepted by the Israeli Rabbinate.
GPS is comprised of a select group of rabbinical courts in the US and Canada, personally approved by the Israeli Rabbinate and the RCA's poskim (halakhic decisors), Rav Schachter, Rav Willig and, ironically, Rav Schwartz. GPS does not include Rabbi Lookstein, as it does not include most RCA members, as they are not dayanim (rabbinic court judges) and have not been vetted for conversion standards.
The decision, however, drew attention even beyond the American Orthodox community, as Rabbi Lookstein had overseen the conversion of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. In that case, the rabbi made sure to have the conversion authorized by the GPS.