Canadian Orthodox rabbi rips into Chief Rabbinate for ‘blacklisting’ him

Canadian Orthodox rabbi rips into Chief Rabbinate for ‘blacklisting’ him

Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim — the late Leonard Cohen’s shul — bemoans ‘desecration of God’s name’

From left: Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal, Israeli lawmaker Elazar Stern and Rabbi Seth Farber of the ITIM organization at the Knesset, February 19, 2018. (Aviad Weizmann via JTA)
From left: Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal, Israeli lawmaker Elazar Stern and Rabbi Seth Farber of the ITIM organization at the Knesset, February 19, 2018. (Aviad Weizmann via JTA)

The Canadian rabbi of the largest Orthodox synagogue in the world, whose congregants have included the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and whose speakers have included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told the director general of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate that his inclusion on a so-called blacklist of rabbis from the Diaspora is a “desecration of God’s name” and has “eroded” his community’s trust in him.

Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal — Canada’s oldest synagogue with roughly 1,400 member families — traveled to Israel for one day to take part in a special Knesset committee meeting called by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) Monday to discuss the delay of the publication by the Chief Rabbinate of the criteria for recognizing Diaspora rabbis.

Scheier’s name was included last year on a list of rabbis from 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, whom Israel’s ultra-Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate does not trust to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants. Immigrant couples need a rabbi’s confirmation to be married in Israel.

In addition to Reform and Conservative rabbis, the list includes several prominent Orthodox leaders. ITIM — a nonprofit that guides Israelis through the country’s religious bureaucracy — obtained the list in July and called it a “blacklist.” It said the rabbinate’s criteria for assessing overseas rabbis were indiscriminate.

“It was only a few weeks ago that a local rabbi in my city told a member of my community that they should not invite me to officiate at their children’s wedding. His reason? Because I am not accepted by the State of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate,” Scheier said in his address to the committee. “The Rabbinate has eroded my own community’s trust in my reliability. This must end. The bureaucracy and exclusionary practices do not meet basic standards of decency and professionalism.

Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and Adam Cohen (first row, second and third from left) in Montreal recording studio with Shaar Hashomayim choir, working on new Leonard Cohen album, ‘You Like It Darker.’ (Courtesy)

“The recent actions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate are causing ‘Chilul HaShem,‘ a desecration of God’s name, he added.

“I am a real rabbi. My congregation is a legitimate congregation. The Rabbinate has impeded my ability to serve the Jewish people.”

The Rabbinate’s criteria, he went on, were “the great secret.Their standards are not disclosed.

He added, “If I am not to be trusted, then please share, once and for all, why not.”

Scheier said he had received one letter of apology from the Chief Rabbinate explaining that the reason for the rejection of a letter he had written confirming someone’s Jewishness was that “maybe my letter was rejected because of a fear of forgery. But that doesn’t make sense because they never called me to verify.”

He concluded, “Our love for Israel should never be compromised by the unprofessional and irresponsible actions of the Chief Rabbinate.”

The rabbi was joined at the meeting by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the rabbi of the West Bank town of Efrat, and Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM. Several Knesset members were also present.

Director of the Chief Rabbinate Moshe Dagan seen at a ceremony of selling hametz before the upcoming Passover holiday on April 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Chief Rabbinate’s director-general, Moshe Dagan, asserted at the meeting, as he has previously, that the list is not a blacklist, but rather a list of rabbis whose letters vouching for immigrants’ Jewishness were rejected for various reasons.

“The rabbinate’s actions have widened the gulf between Israel and Diaspora communities,” Farber said at the meeting. “Rabbis in the Diaspora are on the front lines supporting Israel and providing Jewish services. Instead of supporting these rabbis, the rabbinate chooses to delegitimize them.”

More than two years ago, the Chief Rabbinate promised to publish a full list of criteria for recognizing rabbis from overseas. Dagan asserted on Monday that the list was in its “final stages.”

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