Report Rafael Denies He Approved Permitting Conservative Rabbis to Perform Marriages in Israel

Two major Orthodox organizations, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Religious Zionists of America. (RZA), stated today that they have received letters from Yitzhak Rafael, who was Israel’s Minister of Religion until Premier Yitzhak Rabin dismissed the National Religious Party ministers from his Cabinet, denying that he ever gave his approval to Conservative rabbis to perform marriages in Israel.

A report earlier this month in one Israeli newspaper stated that Rafael had told the Independent Liberal Party that he would not oppose marriages by Conservative rabbis but asked that his feelings be kept secret so as not to antagonize Orthodox circles. The report also stated that the government announced on Dec. 1 that Conservative rabbis will be allowed to perform marriages in Israel.

David Zucker, president of the World Council of Synagogues, the international organization of Conservative congregations, said on his return from the Council’s biennial convention in Jerusalem last month that he welcomed “this positive step toward our objective of full and equal rights for our rabbis in Israel.”

Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger, president of the RCA, had written to Rafael to confirm the report. In response to the inquiry, Rafael, in a letter to Wurzhurger, stated that this matter never came up, that at no time did he discuss this issue with the ILP nor had be at any time made a statement indicating approval of Conservative marriages. Rafael added that permission to perform marriages is not granted by the Minister of Religious Affairs but by the local rabbinate and the Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Louis Bernstein, president of RZA, declared. “The entire story of the Conservative rabbinate being recognized in Israel is a total hoax.” He said the letter from Rafael to his Inquiry about the same report confirmed what the RZA knew earlier “because recognition to rabbis who do not reside in Israel to perform marriage is granted on an individual basis. Even an Orthodox rabbi must receive permission from the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinical authorities.”

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