What to make of this latest brouhaha

The Chief Rabbinate's recently divulged "blacklist"

If the Israeli government's recent suspension of the Kotel compromise and push for a restrictive conversion bill were not enough, Israel and the Jewish world woke up this week to yet a newly leaked "blacklist" created by Israel's Chief Rabbinate.


For years, there has been public discussion in Israel about another "blacklist" maintained by the Rabbinate – a list of individuals who may not legally marry in Israel, either because they are labeled mamzerim (illegitimate) or a divorce decree labels them as a "prohibited marriage". This “blacklist,” on the other hand, is of rabbis around the world, whom the Chief Rabbinate does not deem reliable enough to certify the Jewish status of their congregants. Numerous articles, news broadcasts, and social media postings have lambasted this list.

For example:
1) The Washington Post, 2) The Jerusalem Post, 3) Haaretz

The ironic follow-up is that many of the rabbis on the list took great pride at being included, and others have expressed frustration at being left out. The common thread was the growing disdain that people - both in Israel and overseas - feel toward the Chief Rabbinate. It is of little surprise that a number of accounts refer to Chief Rabbi David Lau as going through the roof upon hearing that the list was released, severely reprimanding the Chief Rabbinate official who disclosed it.

There is a lot of confusion, resulting from the little and often inaccurate information that people have, as to the conduct and authority of the Chief Rabbinate. This is not the Rabbinate's ultimate "blacklist" of world rabbis. The Rabbinate is not sufficiently organized or knowledgeable to create such a list. Still, as we reported before, its plans to launch, with state funds, a global "database of Jewish lineage" is indeed a threatening and disturbing development.

The Chief Rabbinate, which most Israelis think very lowly of, fancies itself not only the highest religious authority within Israel, but the highest religious authority for all of world Jewry. Recent events may be a good opportunity to disabuse the Rabbinate of this misguided notion.

To the contrary, Hiddush's polling revealed the public's levels of support for four of Israel's major public institutions: The Knesset, The Government, The Rabbinate, and The Supreme Court. 59% of the Jewish public said they most trusted the Supreme Court, which was 3.5x times the public confidence enjoyed by the Chief Rabbinate! In this same vein, the 2014 Israel Democracy Index placed the rabbinate near the bottom of the list of public institutions that the Jewish population trusts — at 29.1% — the lowest trust level since the IDI began polling in 2003.

In the absence of civil marriage and the refusal to allow non-Orthodox rabbis to legally officiate weddings in Israel, every Jew who wishes to legally get married in Israel is limited to Orthodox ritual and must prove to the Rabbinate that (s)he is Jewish.

This list of rabbis is a coincidental list, naming rabbis whose confirmations of Jewish status have been rejected by the Chief Rabbinate when those individuals sought to marry other Jews in Israel. As Hiddush has repeatedly pointed out, in the absence of civil marriage and the refusal to allow Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal rabbis to legally officiate weddings in Israel, every Jew who wishes to legally get married in Israel, is limited to Orthodox ritual and must prove to the Rabbinate that (s)he is Jewish. When dealing with new immigrants, the confirmation of an overseas rabbi is usually the method by which Jewish status is proven. It should come as no surprise that non-Orthodox rabbis' verifications are rejected off-hand, but the source of new agitation caused by this "blacklist" is the significant number of leading Orthodox rabbis whose documents have also been rejected by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

The list includes the Orthodox executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis - Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the revered Houston rabbinic authority who built up the vibrant Houston Orthodox Jewish community - the late Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, and the Orthodox co-founder of the Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrant aid group - Rabbi Yehoshua Fass

Once again, this brouhaha proves what we have been saying for a long time:

  1. The debate over religious freedom and equality in Israel is not between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, but rather between those who believe that Israel ought to be a Jewish and democratic state - an inclusive, tolerant, Jewish sovereignty - and those who profess a rigid, fundamentalist, exclusionary, anti-Zionist interpretation of Judaism. The latter reject democracy and aspire for a "Torah state" - they not only exclude the overwhelming majority of non-Orthodox Jewish communities around the world, but also Modern Orthodoxy.
  2. What's at stake is not merely fine theological points, and not even the plights of those individuals who are denied the ability to marry in their own country. What's at stake is the future of Jewish unity, the future of the State of Israel, and the future of Israel's ability to maintain its solidarity and alliance with world Jewry.

The recent sabotage of the Kotel compromise, initiated by the Chief Rabbinate and collaborating Haredi politicians... its attempt to change Israeli law so as close the gates of conversion for the many Russian olim whose halakhic status is "not Jewish" because their mothers are not Jewish... the Rabbinate's assault on secular Israeli Jews by preventing public transportation on Shabbat and pressuring the government coalition to prevent the opening of convenience stores in Tel Aviv - even though the majority of the public and Tel Aviv's municipal ordinances sanction it... and now the disclosure of this latest "blacklist", which underscores the extent to which to the Chief Rabbinate's rejection extends even to leading Orthodox authorities throughout the Jewish diaspora...

All of these together paint a dark, terrifying picture of the grave threat posed by the Chief Rabbinate to the Jewish people and the Jewish, democratic state.

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