The New York Times Magazine has feature on the conversion crisis in Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America's participation in that crisis. How did the RCA participate? By caving in to Israeli haredi demands, as we noted last week.
Here are few money quotes:
80% of Federation leaders would not be able to prove their Jewishness sufficiently enough to be married in Israel:
Seth Farber is an American-born Orthodox rabbi whose organization — Itim, the Jewish Life Information Center — helps Israelis navigate the rabbinic bureaucracy. He explained to me recently that the rabbinate’s standards of proof are now stricter than ever, and stricter than most American Jews realize. Referring to the Jewish federations, the central communal and philanthropic organizations of American Jewry, he said, “Eighty percent of federation leaders probably wouldn’t be able to reach the bar.”
What the haredim really think:
[Professor Menachem] Friedman, the reigning academic expert on ultra-Orthodox society in Israel, suggests that the deeper reasons for doubt are difficult for the rabbis to articulate. In contrast to Orthodox Jews like Farber, the ultra-Orthodox have little sense of risk that by raising doubts they might exclude a person who is really Jewish. “If you don’t keep the Torah and the commandments, O.K., so I excluded you. In any case you weren’t a complete Jew,” is how Friedman explains the attitude.…
Strikingly, the rabbinate’s doubts extend even to Orthodox rabbis in America. “They’re not familiar with them,” Friedman told me. “They say: ‘The rabbis in the United States, in England, aren’t the kind we know. Someone can define himself as an Orthodox rabbi, but really he’s Reform.’ ” A marriage registrar given a letter from an Orthodox rabbi abroad certifying that a person is Jewish is now expected to check with the office of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, which maintains a list of diaspora clergy whose letters are to be trusted. The list is not publicly available. If the rabbi who wrote the letter is not on the list, the applicant is asked for other proof or referred to the rabbinic courts.
Converts, even the children of converts, potentially face greater difficulties, because the rabbinate has also become more skeptical about Orthodox conversions performed abroad. What’s more, under pressure from Chief Rabbi Amar, the main association of Orthodox clergy in the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, is establishing its own regional rabbinic courts for conversion. A recent council position paper warns that the group makes no commitment to stand behind conversions performed by other rabbis. The paper also stresses that converts are expected to accept Orthodox religious law, or Halakhah.
The Reform Movement:
“There is quite an irony in this,” Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told me. In the past, “Orthodox authorities in America have basically defended the system, and they’ve embraced this religious monopoly as being important and necessary, thinking all the while that it was directed primarily against us, us meaning the non-Orthodox community.” Now their own bona fides are in doubt.
Arnold Eisen, the head of the Conservative Movement, had this to say:
“All the data shows a growing rift between American Jews and Israeli Jews, and the younger you are as an American Jew, the less that you care about the state of Israel. This is just terrible. And one of the reasons for it — not the only reason, but one of the reasons for it — is this kind of insulting treatment of the majority of American Jews by the Israeli rabbinate.”
But a Chicago-born Jew forced to jump through hoops by the Israeli rabbinate in order to get married says it all:
Mark Rashkow came to Israel from Chicago in 2003… A year later, just days before their wedding, the local rabbinate informed him that he had yet to show he was Jewish. A rabbinate official in the town of Afula, near Hazorea, dismissed a letter from his Conservative rabbi in America, saying, according to Rashkow: “It doesn’t interest me. He’s a goy.”
Growing up in Chicago, Rashkow said, “I thought my first name was ‘kike’ until I was 12.”
Read it all here.