Chief rabbi apologizes to ‘blacklisted’ head of Nefesh B’Nefesh

Chief rabbi apologizes to ‘blacklisted’ head of Nefesh B’Nefesh

David Lau says he regrets that Rabbi Yehoshua Fass's reputation was called into question, says he was unaware of existence of list

Chief Rabbi David Lau (r) meets co-founder of Nefesh B'Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass on July 11, 2017. (Nefesh B'Nefesh)
Chief Rabbi David Lau (r) meets co-founder of Nefesh B'Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass on July 11, 2017. (Nefesh B'Nefesh)

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau met on Tuesday with the co-founder of the Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrant aid group to apologize for the inclusion of his name on an unauthorized list of “blacklisted” rabbis published by the Chief Rabbinate earlier this week.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass was one of some 160 rabbis from 24 countries whose letters of confirmation of Jewish identity of immigrants were rejected by the Chief Rabbinate.

Lau apologized to Fass, explaining that he was not aware of the existence of this list nor of its publication, and that it was released without his consent.

“I regret that this incident may have called your reputation into question,” Lau said. “The Chief Rabbinate recognizes and appreciates you as a Rabbi and all that you have done for the Jewish people.”

The chief rabbi has ordered a thorough investigation into the matter.

On Tuesday, Moshe Dagan, the director-general of the rabbinate, said in a letter to the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America that the proof-of-Judaism letters were rejected for a range of reasons, and that the list questioned the documentation, not the individual rabbis. Dagan added that these rejections were sometimes temporary.

“The list that was publicized is not a ‘list of unrecognized/unauthorized rabbis,’” Dagan wrote, in Hebrew. Rather, he wrote, it is a list of rabbis whose letters regarding marriage were not recognized by the personal status and conversion division of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel “for whatever reason.”

Even though the list contained only the names of rabbis, Dagan wrote in bold type that “it is the documents that were presented which are unrecognized, not the rabbis.”

He added that “I am pained by the anguish caused to the respected rabbis who appear on the list, and will do everything I can to minimize the damage as much as possible and to take care that errors of this kind will not be repeated.”

A letter from Lau’s senior adviser, Rabbi Rephael Frank, stated that many of the letters were rejected not because of the rabbis who signed them, but because of irregularities or suspected forgery.

“In explaining this document we were told that the intent was not to reject these Rabbis, God forbid, but rather that certain documents that reached him had questions surrounding them and uncertainties regarding them. Some were suspected of being forged, and others due to other elements found in them,” the letter stated.

This past week has been professionally and personally disturbingly surreal. Waking up to read in the news that I was…

Posted by Yehoshua Fass on Tuesday, 11 July 2017

In a Facebook post, Fass said that after publication of the list, he contacted the Chief Rabbinate and “immediately received a sincere apology and a written clarification from the Chief Rabbi’s office explaining that my Rabbinic status is not in question, nor ever was.”

However, despite the apologies, Fass remained concerned about the reputation of other rabbis on the list, and “more importantly, why such a list even exists.”

Fass wrote that, “I hope and pray that this matter will be resolved immediately, and that a healing process will begin to develop between the Chief Rabbinate and Rabbinic leaders across the world.”

The list included rabbis from the United States and Canada, and Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. It was released over the weekend by Itim, a nonprofit that guides Israelis through the country’s religious bureaucracy, after it received the list as part of a freedom-of-information request made in 2015 in a Jerusalem municipal court demanding a list of approved foreign rabbis and received this list as part of that case.

Itim founder, Seth Farber, characterized the roster as a “blacklist.”

Rabbi Shaul (Seth) Farber, head of Itim organization in undated photo. (Itim)
Rabbi Shaul (Seth) Farber, head of Itim organization in undated photo. (Itim)

The Chief Rabbinate controls all Jewish marriage in Israel, and immigrants who wish to wed there must first prove they are Jewish according to Orthodox law. This proof often comes via a letter from a community rabbi attesting to the immigrant’s Jewish identity. One mid-level bureaucrat at the rabbinate, Rabbi Itamar Tubul, handles every claim.

In a letter released on Sunday, Lau ordered Chief Rabbinate Director-General Moshe Dagan to call in Tubul, who kept and released the list, for questioning and a reprimand.

In December, rabbis at the Chief Rabbinate set up a controversial committee to vet conversions, but it is not clear whether the committee approved the published list.

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