European, American Orthodox rabbis stand up for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Amid calls for reform of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, leading Orthodox U.S. and European rabbinical organizations stressed its “essential role.”

Representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis and the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America signed a convention endorsing the Chief Rabbinate at a gathering of the European group in Berlin. Israeli Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan also signed.

“The rabbinical organizations are proud of their connection to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and emphasize its importance and essential role for the entire Jewish Diaspora,” the convention read. “The Conference of European Rabbis and the RCA see the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as the guiding light of worldwide Orthodox Judaism, lighting and leading the way.”

The document likewise noted the importance of the RCA and the Conference of European Rabbis as the leading Orthodox organizations in the United States and Europe. The organizations pledged to “coordinate and decide on joint actions in order to promote and glorify Torah, to spread Judaism and strengthen observance of Jewish law and education everywhere.”

The signing of the convention comes amid increased tensions between the Chief Rabbinate and the more liberal elements of the Israeli and American Jewish communities. Following the rabbinate’s rejection of a letter by liberal Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York vouching for a couple’s Judaism, Israeli lawmaker Elazar Stern held a hearing on the rabbinate and relations with Diaspora Jewry.

According to sources present at the meeting, RCA Executive Vice President Marc Dratch praised the Chief Rabbinate’s role, while Israeli religious pluralism activists and Knesset members, along with American Jewish leaders, called for its reform.

The rabbinate is “sold on centralization, and American Judaism’s strength is that it’s decentralized,” said Seth Farber, founder of ITIM, an organization that helps Israelis navigate the rabbinate’s bureaucracy. “This is not the way Judaism ought to be. If we can mobilize Jewish communities to pressure the prime minister, this will move to the top of the agenda.”

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