Israel’s Chief Rabbis Allegedly Refuse To Recognize Modern Orthodox Conversion
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Approximately 20 years ago, an infant girl from a Modern Orthodox family in the US was converted to Judaism. According to The Jewish Week, the converting rabbis are all well-known Orthodox rabbis in the US; one is now reportedly considered to be a senior Orthodox rabbinic leader.
The girl and her family reportedly lead Orthodox lives, and the girl is accepted as a Jew everywhere in the world – except for Israel, where the country’s haredi-controlled Ministry of the Interior has refused to accept her as Jewish.
In violation of an agreement with Israel’s High Court of Justice, the ministry consulted Israel’s haredi chief rabbis, who have apparently ruled that the girl’s conversion is suspect because her conversion court was a synagogue beit din and not a special conversion beit din.
America rarely had conversion beit dins, and historically most conversions here were done in the synagogue context.
In 2008, the Rabbinical Council of America signed an agreement with Israel’s haredi chief rabbis. In it, the chief rabbis promised to accept all conversions done by RCA members before the agreement’s signing. In return, the RCA promised to set up special conversion courts staffed by “expert” rabbis who would meticulously test prospective converts on minutia of Jewish law and related subjects, even though there is no halakhic requirement to do so. The agreement also gave Israel’s chief rabbis a say in the composition of these new American conversion courts.
The agreement was seen by many close observers at the time as capitulation by the RCA, and some – including FailedMessiah.com – argued that converts would suffer because of it.
Right wing RCA leaders, however – including Rabbi Hershal Schachter – allegedly saw the agreement as a way to marginalize rabbis to their left and rushed to sign it despite its deficiencies and despite the unprecedented control the agreement gave Israel’s chief rabbis over US conversions. They also criticized and belittled opposition to the agreement.
But this new case and other cases like it prove Schachter and his followers wrong.
“[This new case] makes it clear that the [Chief] Rabbinate plans to review almost every Orthodox conversion ever performed in the U.S.…[American Orthodox rabbis] ought to be up in arms over this latest development and formulating a strategy for how to address this latest round of disenfranchisement,” Rabbi Seth Farber, the head of the ITIM organization that helps people deal with israel’s rabbinic bureaucracy and who is helping this particular convert, told The Jewish Week. “[The Interior Ministry] committed to the courts and to the Knesset that the Rabbinate wouldn’t be involved [except in the extremely rare circumstances], and now they’ve backed out of their agreement.”
Israel’s Chief Rabbis promised when the agreement was signed that they would contact the RCA or its Beth Din of America if they had questions about the validity of a particular conversion. However, the Chief Rabbis falied to do so in this case and, allegedly, in many others.
The head of the RCA Rabbi Shmuel Goldin told the Jewish Week that the rabbis who converted the girl “are certainly rabbis who I trust implicitly and whose conversions I would not question.”
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who is now the chief rabbi of Efrat and who was the founding rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, also vouched for those converting rabbis and for the girl’s family.
“It defies the imagination that this conversion should be questioned,” he reportedly said.