The Chief Rabbinate Proves Judaism Would Be Better Off without It

Ye of little faith: There is a job for you in the rabbinic bureaucracy

Gershom Gorenberg

My new post is up at the Daily Beast:

The legitimacy index of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has just taken another plunge. That is, the state rabbinate has reduced the number of rabbis from outside its own bureaucracy whom it considers legitimate, and the number of people whom it trusts as being legitimately Jewish.

And, in the process, the Chief Rabbinate has shown yet again that there is no legitimate reason for its own existence.

The latest development: As reported in the New York Jewish Week, the Chief Rabbinate rejected a letter from prominent American Orthodox rabbi Avi Weiss affirming that two U.S. Jews wanting to marry in Israel are indeed Jewish and single. In the past, the rabbinate accepted Weiss’s letters. No longer. Speaking to the Jewish Week’s Michele Chabin, Weiss said the rabbinate’s reduced-trust policy affected “many rabbis”—by which he surely meant Orthodox rabbis, since the Chief Rabbinate already treated letters from non-Orthodox clergy as paper rendered worthless by the ink on it.

Weiss also speculated that he’d personally been blackballed because of “politics,” meaning his role in pushing for a more religiously liberal form of Orthodoxy. (Among other things, Weiss had the beautiful chutzpah to ordain Orthodox women.) It’s also possible that Weiss just doesn’t appear on a Chief Rabbinate whitelist of rabbis deemed sufficiently terrified of accidentally certifying a non-Jew as Jewish.

The Chief Rabbinate wields a monopoly on legally recognized marriage of Jews in Israel, and has long required proof that the bride and groom are Jewish and unattached. But its standard of proof has steadily gotten stricter for anyone whose own parents weren’t married through the state rabbinate. Jews born abroad, or in Israel to immigrant parents, can find themselves in a mad genealogical chase for evidence that rabbinic courts will accept. (I once described the process in The New York Times.) An American-born Orthodox rabbi, son and grandson of rabbis, told me of his shock when a rabbinate registrar told him he had insufficient proof he was Jewish. A letter from the dean of the Israeli yeshivah where he’d studied eventually satisfied the rabbinate registrar. An American Jew whose only proof is her own testimony that her mother’s mother was born in a shtetl and spoke Yiddish will have a harder time.

Read the rest here.

1 thought on “The Chief Rabbinate Proves Judaism Would Be Better Off without It”

  1. I’ve said for years that this whole thing is absurd. My mother’s ketuba? Long gone, I’m sure. And supposing she wasn’t married? What then?

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