Monday, July 10, 2017

Moving Backwards

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau
As if the Israeli Chief Rabbinate needed yet another blow to its credibility, yesterday the Jerusalem Post published what it said was a list of 160 Diaspora rabbis blacklisted by them. Meaning that their testimony with respect to the marital or Jewish status of any Jew will be rejected. The list even included some Chabad and other Orthodox rabbis.

Fortunately, the reaction from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi was immediate: 
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, however, strongly denounced the blacklist, stating that he had no knowledge of it until Sunday, and that it was the work of the clerk in charge of the Marriage and Conversion Department, who created it without proper authorization.
In a letter to Chief Rabbinate director-general Moshe Dagan, Lau said he was “astonished to discover this list,” that it was “unthinkable” a clerk would create such a document of his own accord, and demanded that the clerk be reprimanded. 
I don’t know how much damage control he accomplished. But I’m glad he had this reaction. I don’t, however, think he has gone far enough. A reprimand?! That ‘clerk’ should be fired post haste! Nor do I even agree that a list like this should even exist. Which is another troubling aspect of Rabbi Lau’s statement. He implied that such a list may be appropriate but that the clerk who compiled it did so without authorization.

This is not to say that the Chief Rabbinate cannot have standards. Of course they should. Judaism is not a free for all where anyone can say they are Jewish even if they were not born of a Jewish mother, had no conversion at all and just decided one day to claim it, or converted improperly. What is and isn’t a proper conversion is the Chief Rabbinate’s right to decide.

This is why I supported the creation of standards and the agreement with the RCA whereby the Chief Rabbinate accepts any conversion done that follows their newly established conversion (GPS) protocols. As I've said many times, stetting up clear standards was necessary in order to counter the many sham conversions done even by some Orthodox rabbis in the past. That is now far less likely to happen now. 

Whether these new standards can be tweaked to make them more compassionate and fairer – or how to view legitimate conversions of the past is beyond the scope of this post. Although I do believe there needs to be some revisions – the point is that the conversion process needed tightening up. That was done.

Lists like this serve no good purpose. They only end up antagonizing – not only the black-listed rabbis, but their constituencies as well. And it feeds the perception by their many critics that the Chief Rabbinate has only one purpose: the pursuit of power at any cost. Even a cost of destroying lives. 

Which would be the result of such a blacklist. Because it would mean that a lot of legitimate conversions that have been done in the past would come under question. People who firmly believed they were Jewish via an Orthodox conversion would wonder if they really are. As would their friends and neighbors. 

Marriage prospects for their children would be severely crippled. Even many generations later the children and grandchildren of a woman who had a legitimate conversion under a black-listed rabbi will wonder if they will be accepted as Jews. No matter how religious they are. Even they are sitting in Kollel! 

It could ruin marriages if a Kohen was involved (If for example a Kohen finds out his wife’s mother did not covert properly, his wife is not Jewish and conversion won’t help. A Kohen may not marry a convert.  If he does – they must divorce. I can’t imagine the grief that would cause to him, his wife and his children.)

It’s bad enough that these kinds of problems come up anyway even under the best of circumstances. But a list like this could easily exacerbate the problem and increase it exponentially over generations.

As of now, the Chief Rabbinate is probably at its lowest point of popularity. Which is probably an understatement. It seems that nobody respects it anymore. Some people are calling for it to be abolished. Although I can’t say that I really blame them, I am not one of those. 

As I have stated in the past - a Jewish state needs a rabbinate to define and guide its Jewishness. Only the most knowledgeable rabbis should be involved in that process. Its ways should be the pleasant way of the Torah. Not the heavy-handed judgmental ways in which they behave now. That is the only way they will ever regain the respect of so many people who have lost respect for them.

The current rabbinate has a long way to go to fulfill its important role that way. Only it seems to be moving backwards. My hope is that this event will make them re-think how they operate – and become more user-friendly and compassionate. The time has come to stop being reactionary. The time has come to stop alienating people. 

The Chief Rabbinate must change its ways and rid itself of anyone in its infrastructure –  like this clerk – whose has shown no human compassion for fellow Jews and whose tactics have done nothing but further alienate their Chief Rabbinate’s critics. Only then will they have even the slightest chance of regaining the respect that a body like a Chief Rabbinate should have.