Religious rights group Itim sues Israeli rabbinate


TEL AVIV (JTA) — A religious advocacy group has sued Israel’s Chief Rabbinate in an effort to obtain its list of approved foreign rabbis able to vouch for an immigrant’s Jewish status.

The rabbinate requires that immigrants wishing to marry in the country present a letter from a rabbi confirming their Jewish status. But the rabbinate only accepts letters from certain non-Israeli rabbis and provoked controversy last year by rejecting a proof-of-Judaism letter from American Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Itim, an organization that guides people with religious status issues through Israeli bureaucracy, is trying to force the rabbinate to release its list of approved rabbis. Itim is also demanding that the rabbinate publicize its standards for approving rabbis.

Beginning last year, Itim sent several letters to the rabbinate demanding the list and its corresponding standards, but the rabbinate did not respond. So last week, Itim sued the rabbinate in a Jerusalem court for not fulfilling its obligations under Israel’s freedom of information laws.

The rabbinate must respond to the suit within 45 days. If it still declines to release the information, the court will render a judgment within three to four months.

Rabbi Seth Farber, Itim’s founder, said publicizing the standards is crucial for holding the rabbinate accountable to the people it serves. Itim estimates that some 400 immigrants apply for a marriage license from the rabbinate each year.

The suit will “let them know that someone’s watching them,” Farber said. “They can’t get away with arbitrariness at a major point of entry into the Jewish people.”

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