After two years of legal maneuvering, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate finally delivered a list of Diaspora rabbis it deems acceptable for purposes of establishing a claimant’s Jewish identity. Unsurprisingly, there are no female rabbis listed, nor any from Liberal Judaism or even Open Orthodoxy.
With 19 countries represented, the list includes some 150 Orthodox rabbis, the majority of whom belong to ultra-Orthodox rabbinical unions (60 percent) or the largest union of Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America.
The Hebrew-language document was provided to court petitioner Itim, a group that aims to help Israelis navigate the rabbinate’s bureaucratic maze when registering for life cycle events such as marriage (there is no civil marriage in Israel). Itim gave the material to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which published it Tuesday.
Although there are some 2,500 questions of Jewish identity filed annually at the Chief Rabbinate’s registrar office, manned by mid-level bureaucrat Rabbi Itamar Tubul, in earlier hearings on the case in the Jerusalem District Court Itim found that only in September 2015 did the rabbinate begin computerizing its data.
The list published Tuesday is a result of that computerization and represents the names of rabbis who were recently deemed “acceptable.”
Among the Modern and ultra-Orthodox rabbis who are included on the list, however, are a few standout names — but not for their prowess in Jewish law.
In 2005, Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, grandson of the esteemed Orthodox luminary Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was expelled by the RCA for what was described in a detailed open letter on its website as “conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi.”
According to a 2005 article in The Forward, “Tendler was accused of propositioning women while serving in his role as either rabbinic counselor or religious arbiter.”
Another problematic listing is Rabbi Matityahu Broyde, who is more commonly known as Rabbi Michael Broyde — but not only. In a 2013 scandal, it was discovered that Broyde had used several pseudonyms to promote his academic and religious leadership careers. Widely denounced, the Emory Law professor was quickly dropped from the RCA’s influential Beth Din of America. Although he eventually resigned from the RCA in 2014, he is still an active congregational rabbi in Atlanta.
Why those two rabbis’ names were included in a preliminary list provided by the Israeli chief rabbinate and not, for example, any of the rabbis in Open Orthodoxy founder Rabbi Avi Weiss’s rival union, the International Rabbinical Fellowship, is a window into the increasingly stringent requirements of observance demanded by the state arbiter of Jewish identity.
Why two deceased rabbis’ names were included is an altogether different question.
The rabbinate’s lawyer, Orit Meshmush, wrote in a letter to Itim that the list was not meant to be an authoritative compilation of which rabbis are recognized by the State of Israel. Rather, it is a list of rabbis whose testimony has been accepted in the recent past in cases requiring proof of Jewish status, such as marriage and divorce.
“It is possible that there will be future cases in which a document that is signed by a rabbi whose name appears on the list will not be accepted for various reasons,” she said, adding that there is as yet no set of criteria for acceptable rabbis.
Itim founder Rabbi Seth Farber told The Times of Israel Tuesday that he was glad the list was out.
“Itim will continue to insist on greater transparency and inclusiveness,” said Farber. “The rabbinate needs to understand the needs of the world Jewish community and work toward greater dialogue and trust.”