Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rabbinical Certification of Disaspora Jewry

My knee-jerk reaction to the entire conversion issue, in which the Israel Chief Rabbinate changed their longstanding process of automatic acceptance from the RCA (and other) rabbinical groups in chutz la'aretz, was that of disdain. It seemed so obviously a petty power-struggle that I chalked it up to one more of the annoyances of the Rabbinate here in general.

With the integration of religion and state here, it's bound to happen that state bureaucracy will trickle down into the religious services... Everyone hates bureaucracy, so when it's part of "organized" religion, it has the potential to create lots of tension.

Getting married here as on oleh, the unfriendliness of a particular "clerk" caused me to remark at the time that if I hadn't been religious, the entire process would have made me anti-Judaism. (That was a while ago, but I think (and hope!) that the process has improved a bit since then.)

However, after reviewing the issue last night with JoeSettler, I've realized that I was wrong and I think (for change) the new process will help streamline matters of conversion here in Israel.

It may be slightly annoying to RCA rabbis, but I don't think the process is out take away from their prestige.

JoeSettler writes:

If you were a potential Ger who wanted to come to Israel. Would you rather go to an authorized/certified Rabbi so that when you make Aliyah the process has its bumps minimized, or would you rather come to Israel and spend a year or two trying to prove that you are Jewish because no one ever heard of this Rabbi from Kalamazoo?

And if you were a Rabbi, wouldn't you want to be certified, knowing that if you give a Get to someone, if they decided to make Aliya (to Israel, the country with the largest Jewish population) they could quickly get on with their life there without a hassle?

Eretz Yisrael is being revitalized in its role as part of the nucleus of Judaism, and Rav Amar is trying to smooth out a lot of the more serious problems that have up to now existed in the bureaucratic process. He's doing this the same way Microsoft, Sun and John Bryce do it: Standardization, Authorization, and Certification (respectively).

Israeli Recognition of Rabbinical ordination from anywhere in the world is serious business.

If you were running a country, and people were showing up with Academic degrees from all over the world, wouldn't you want a standard? A BA degree in English Literature from Yale is different than a degree in Underwater Basekt Weaving from Latvia University...and that's why Israel's Ministry of Education refuses to accept them.

JoeSettler compares the issue to driver's licenses.
These days (actually for around the past decade) if an Oleh wants an Israeli driver’s license and already has a foreign one he is now required to take a driving test - but it didn’t used to be that way. After a noteworthy number of Olim came over from a particular region, the DMV finally realized that a rather significant number of them were showing the DMV fake driver’s licenses...

People with no driving experience (or valid licenses) were getting valid licenses in Israel with fake ids! Not having access to foreign records, or an easy/quick method of determining which licenses where actually genuine (many of the fakes were printed on the same machines as the genuine articles, just so you understand the extent of the problem), the DMV made a decision that all Olim that present a preexisting license must take a driving test.

Not fair to the other Oleh groups that wouldn’t pull that trick, but no one was going to profile a specific Oleh group and say only they had to take the test despite showing a license.

We have enough problems here; this might actually be a step in the right direction to start addressing them.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Anonymous said...

Yes and no.

Streamlining in principal is fine, but the question is who is determining the 'qualifications' of the foreign Rabbis and what are their criteria. This is where the fear of political power plays will come in. Think about the farce that took place when the current Chief Rabbis were appointed! I think we all have to be concerned that a particular brand of Haredi thinking is going to seek to dictate matters here, based on their own narrow political interests, with scant regard of the actual halacha or the wider needs of Am Yisrael.

Yellow Boy

JoeSettler said...

Great example with the University degrees. I wish I had thought of it too!

JoeSettler said...

I posted this comment on my site (thanks for the idea):

Jameel used an example of University degrees. There are plenty of universities out there, some have names that are recognized off the bat, and some, well the only people that seem to know about them are our esteemed Knesset members and Police officers.

If you came to Israel to Israel and got a job as a civil servant (where the pay is commensurate to your education) wouldn't you want to be sure that your degree is recognized and recognizable. And if you were Israel wouldn't you want to make sure that the education you are paying someone a higher salary for was actually a real education?

(Of course when the Ministry of Education's refused to recognize Y.U. degrees a few months ago, it was more than a bit ridiculous on their part).

Anonymous said...

state bureaucracy will trickle down into the religious services...

And vice versa...
Look at the faces of these men surrounding Will Smith or this political leader with Samuel Eto'o and tell me what you deduce :)

westbankmama said...

Jameel, I think you are wrong in this case. Orthodox smicha in America is SURPRISE Orthodox - and the Rabbanut disdaining it is terrible. This will just make it more problematic for gerim. The problem is not setting standards, the problem is not accepting the standards that are already above reproach.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

WBM: Hey, I could be wrong, and I have no problem admitting it, if so.

In any event, the Rabbinate here can come up with methods to allow for easy recognition for RCA member rabbis -- the only problem would be (as mentioned in my post) is that it would appear VERY disturbing no any other rabbinical organization.

Let's wait and see...

rockofgalilee said...

There's orthodox semicha and orthodox semicha. There are plenty of examples of orthodox semicha where the rabbi is completely clueless and/or doesn't practice Orthodox Judaism.

One good thing that this will do is change the pressure to accept Reform and conservative conversions and divorces.

Before it was any orthodox rabbi could do these so there was pressure to accept non-orthodox. Now it will be on an idividual basis based on knowledge of Jewish law. That means there is no discrimination against a specific sect but rather discrimination against the ignorant.

JoeSettler said...

As you know, one doesn't need to be a 'Rabbi' to give a Get or convert a Ger. It is a technical process which any kosher self-appointed Beit Din can perform if they get the technicalities right.

No one is denying that Orthodox Rabbis in the States are Orthodox, but what happens when the potential Oleh comes to Israel with their documents from the Chief Rabbi of Timbuktoo, Oregon. Who knows this guy? Who's heard of his Beit Din?

Or what about the guy with the Shteeble in his Boro Park basement. He's Orthodox too.

Or if someone went to some ad-hoc beit din that is technically kosher.

This is about standardizing the paperwork so that the Oleh doesn't have to go through the horrible process of document authorization and authentication they must go through right now because the problems won't be there in the first place.

(Even within regular Smicha, there are various levels of Smicha which describe what you are actually qualified for.)

Jerusalemcop said...

This is definately an issue that needs to be dealt with (sooner than later), the question still remains as to how "pure" the motives are and if it is just a way to politicize another process.

Dont get me wrong, I agree with what most of you are saying, it's just that the politicalization of the rabbinate has caused waaay too many problems that shouldn't be.


JoeSettler said...

One of the things about Rav Amar is that he is a problem solver, not a politician.

He is personally handling and resolving a lot of outstanding Get issues right now.

When he was Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv he cleaned up the major Kashrut certification problems in the city, despite the personalities (, money, ) and politics involved.

People have been knocking him as a 'lightweight' compared to other candidates for Chief Rabbi since even before he started his tenure, but that is because they don't understand what he is and does (and has done).

He doesn't play politics. He finds the core problems of issues and resolves them. He sets standards and gets them upheld.

The Rabbanut is a government bureaucracy and I would best describe him as the technocrat that will get it back under control (besides being a very serious Talmid Chacham).

That is clearly how his tenure will be remembered.

Dot Co Dot Il said...

Great Post!

Some of your best work.

Anonymous said...

My sister in law had been in the 6 year BA/MD program for 2 years at BU when she went to Michlalah. She decided to stay. Hebrew U insisted that she start over again. HU didn't accept any of her previous work.
The university analogy is an apt one.

DTC said...

Just because a YU Rabbi (or a Rabbi from any other institution) has on his semicha that he knows Hilchos Geirus doesn't mean that he really knows enough PRACTICAL Halacha to actually properly supervise such activities.

Would you ask someone who learned through Hilchos Shechita ONCE (ok, he had to review for the bechina - let's say 3 times) but has never held a chalaf in his hand to be your shochet? Just because he's a member of a Rabbinic Organization means that he knows everything.

Scraps said...

Jameel and Joe, I really hope you're right. If you are, then this is a good thing, and it will make the whole aliyah process a lot easier for a lot of people. If not...well, it's going to make a lot of people's lives a LOT harder in a lot of ways.

However, I still have a few problems with the policy of non-recognition, even if it does turn out to have benevolent motives: 1) What will people who already converted or got divorced with the "wrong" rabbis do now? It's not like they could have planned for this. 2) What if someone converts or gets divorced in the States (or elsewhere chu"l) and then, ten years later, they decide they want to make aliyah? Ten years ago, they weren't thinking that they needed to convert/divorce with the "right" rabbi--so now what do they do? 3) They are creating out of thin air THOUSANDS of "mamzer" and "non-halachically Jewish" children! How DARE they?!

JoeSettler said...


Imagine 2 years from now in 5768...

Two potential Olim make Aliya. One converted with a certified RCA Rabbi and one converted with an uncertified RCA Rabbi.

The certified convert breezes through the Aliyah process because all the requested documentation is already in the computer and preapproved so she gets an immediate green light and Teudat Oleh.

The uncertified convert goes through the same exact archaic, disorganized, awful process that converts went through 2 years before. The documents must be examined, the identity of the Rabbis and witnesses must be confirmed, and as it happens, the format of the his particular document is a little different than usual, and no one is sure who that specific signature belongs to. The process drags on.

Nothing at all malicious (or even unusual) is intended towards the second applicant, but he simply chose to go through an archaic, awful, inefficient process which has been 95% phased out because it was so bad, and was replaced with the Amar process that is quick, efficient and relatively painless.

In answer to your question, there will still be legacy cases to deal with, and they will probably go through the same exact time-consuming stuff they go through now. Perhaps they'll come up with some solution involving reauthorization by a certified Rabbi.

Again, the children affected by the "uncertified" Orthodox rabbis won't be mamzerim or non-halachically Jewish, but they certainly will have a very difficult time with the Israeli bureaucracy if and when they make Aliyah, particularly as Jerusalem consolidates its authority.

Scraps said...

I'm not clear on why the children of "uncertified" cases won't be considered mamzerim, etc--isn't that the point of the investigation process? What if they're investigated and the Chief Rabbinate decides that it doesn't want to accept the conversion or divorce of mara d'asra of Cheyenne, Wyoming? And this conversion/divorce was done fifteen years ago, long before the "streamlined" process was initiated?

FrumGirl said...

This is what Israel is so good at... Beaurocracy!

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Two problems:

One, the RCA has standards too. Thus, if the Chief Rabbinate doesn't accept that the RCA's standards are valid, at least bediavad, then it is indeed an insult.

Two, there are serious issues with, for lack of a better word, screwing around with geyrim. One could argue that placing hurdles in front of someone who has already converted and is therefore a Jews and a ger is oppression.

JoeSettler said...

FG: Israel is great at bureaucracy, but you know what? My wife had to do some paperwork in the US a few times and it was very difficult to get it done because she isn't a citizen and doesn't have the documentation they recognized for the purpose.

Look what happened to Jameel and Jerusalemcop when they went to register their children as US citizens. Not so easy either.

1. I'm sure they'll find a resolution for the RCA over time. Perhaps they'll have the RCA do their next convention in Israel and everyone will get certified and asked to make Aliyah. :)

2. The hurdles are already there in Misrad Hapnim and the Rabbanut and they won't get diminished due to the nature of the bureaucracy. But they aren't adding any new ones, only removing them for many people (and for most of them if the Galus Rabbis think about it a little bit).

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you very strongly on this one.

As a mikva l'chumra baby, I would be hurt and offended if the rabbanut made me re-tovel. Because theyre the identity I've had for 21 years. That's very different from the annoyance of having to get a new drivers license.

It's also easier to agree on Drivers Ed. standards, and university standards, than to agree on what orthodox judaism should be. Nor are Israeli academic insitutions known for the corruption and the power plays of the rabbanut.

We'll see how this plays out. But seeing how reluctant they are to give the benefit of the doubt, and seeing the general state of beaurocracy in the rabbanut, a lot of innocent people are probably going to be hurt.

Anonymous said...

whoops, sorry, meant to write :

"they are challenging the identity"

JoeSettler said...

It's interesting that everyone is confusing something that is being implemented to reduce bureaucracy and bottlenecks and assuming that it will instead automatically invalidate previous actions.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Amar did not accept the certification of the head of the RCA's Beis Din.-that is not disrespectful and causing serious machlokes?

rockofgalilee said...

scraps, lets say that 15 years ago the Orthodox "mara d'asra of Cheyenne, Wyoming" really did the divorce wrong and the children really are mamzerim?
Would you prefer to hide that under the guise of "well it was an Orthodox rabbi"?

rockofgalilee said...

I'll give you an example, a woman went to an "Orthodox" bais din and got converted so that she could get married to a Jewish man.
The "Orthodox" rabbi had them read a book that said if she was not planning on keeping the religion the conversion wasn't valid. The rabbi never invited he for shabbos, had her invited out for shabbos or checked if she actually tried to be shomer shabbos. In fact the woman has never kept a single shabbos in her life.

Is her daughter Jewish? Remember it was an "Orthodox" rabbi and an "Orthodox" bais din.
Would you want your son to marry her?

Scraps said...

If the scenario is as you describe it, her daughter probably isn't observant either and I wouldn't want my son marrying her in any case! :-P

I understand what you're saying, but as someone else mentioned, we're not just talking about the Mara D'Asra of East Nowhere that they're rejecting.

Anonymous said...

The issue here is not one of streamlining the conversion process. If you look at the list of Rabbis who are certified and those who are not, some of the ones who aren't certified are more knowlegable and experienced than those who are certified. This is about politics. The Jerusalem Bes Din issued a seruv against the RCA because of another issue. The RCA's response was that rabbi's in ISrael do not have judrisdiction over American rabbis. This is their response.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that at the same time the Israeli Rabbinate is losing its power in Israel (the Bagatz just limited it's power over civil cases,) it is trying to assert it's power in america.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

MFMD: I'm not saying that Rabbanut doesn't have has plenty of them. And the RCA and OU definitely have a higher standard when it comes to Kashrut.

When I'm in the US, I don't eat food with the Triangle-K hechser. Rightly or wrongly - we never did in our house (don't know more about that than what I just wrote).

However, the Rabbanut HaRasheet accepts the triangle-K for kashrut and then recertifies everything imported into Israel with triangle-K hasgacha as under the rabbanut as well.

I would like to hope that this isn't petty politics...and we'll see if JoeSettler is right or not. (After all, he was the one who spoke to me about this in the first place).

JoeSettler said...

Someone (I think from the OU) told me (and I never confirmed it so don't take my word for it) that the Rabbanut's attitude is that they are not certifying the foreign foods as kosher. They are certifying that a kashrut organization (such as the Triangle-K) has given their certification on the item.

It's an important distinction.

(Have you noticed that Kikkoman Soy Sauce has a Triangle-K on its original packing, but the importer covered it with an O-K on his Hebrew label?)

JoeSettler said...

Actually the OU and the Rabbanut have different standards when it comes to Kashrut.
(And the Rabbanut has different levels such as Rabbanut-Mehdrin, etc.)

For instance, with regard to shchitah, one prefers the animal be upright and the other prefers the animal be upside down when slaughtered (I forget who prefers what). It has practical ramifications (speed of the bleeding, difficulty for the shochet) and each side considers themselves the more makpid side.

JoeSettler said...

And finally, is it really a higher standard in your opinion, or has someone taken upon themselves a few extra Chumras?

(Did you remember to filter that tap water today?)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...


Rabbanut's attitude is that they are not certifying the foreign foods as kosher. They are certifying that a kashrut organization (such as the Triangle-K) has given their certification on the item.

It's an important distinction.

Well, now, don't you find THAT rather unsettling?

That you can't even trust the rabbanut's kashrut for foreign hashgachot? How about all thoser super-duper frum looking ones from europe (which also have rabbanut harasheet on it) -- whats the point of the rabbanut saying they are OK to begin with? That's just as bad the Rabbanut mashgichim that get paid a fulltime salary to give hasgacha for a certain restaurant, but refuse to eat there (or let their family eat there).

Maybe you should also call yourself JoeUnsettler?


JoeSettler said...

On one hand I find it unsettling and the other hand I understand what they are doing.

The Rabbanut is not going to send its own Mashgichim to examine every single factory to make sure the products are kosher. Nor are they going to get involved with the arguments on the various chumras and kullas that the different overseas kashrut organizations rely upon.

They decided they will certify for the Israeli consumer that a particular Orthodox kashrut organization actually did give its certificate to a particular product. The Rabbanut views it as the consumers responsibility to decide if he accepts that foreign teudah, just like you decide between the Triangle-K and the OU.

They view themselves as providing a certificate of authenticity on the teudah itself, not the content.

The Rabbanut does a horrible hasbara job, so most people are unaware of this.

Anonymous said...

I am personally aware of cases of US mashgichim from certain large US kashrut organizations not eating from the factories they supervise.

It creates a real halachic problem and it is far from limited to just happening in Israel.

JoeSettler said...

(Have you noticed that Kikkoman Soy Sauce has a Triangle-K on its original packing, but the importer covered it with an O-K on his Hebrew label?)

Correction: He put a Star-K on the label, not an O-K.

Joe the UnSettler

Anonymous said...

One of the wonders of Eretz Yisrael, the whole issue comes out as Devilish brats in Holy shrines, it really can't be that bad, or is it?

Scraps said...

By the way, at least some Kikkoman Soy Sauce in the U.S. is actually under the Star-K, and I don't think I've ever seen anything from that brand under the Triangle-K (the Half-Moon-K maybe...).

Anonymous said...

After reading this thread for a while, I've made some observations. The comparison between the new Israeli rabbinic attitude toward the American Orthodox rabbinate is a surprisingly good one. For although I've heard many people say that Triangle-K is not acceptable, no one can point to a specific reason why. It's just sort of a tradition, it seems, stemming back to some incident(s) or another far back enough in history that no one knows. My guess, considering the circumstances, is it's political and really has nothing to do, at least in these days, with kashrut. Isn't it, therefore, an aveira to continue to uphold this boycott if no one knows why they're doing it? Especially since I know some people who will eat only vegetables with this hechsher, others only juice, others think Fritos are okay, and nothing else- people are making their own rules to that configure to their own comfort zones.

In a strangely similar turn of events, for reasons that are fully known only to the Israeli rabbinate, American Jews and gerim are being judged based on an enormously broad mis-representation of their personal "hasgacha". While the motives being hashed out here and in many other places may seem to serve the greater interests of global Judaism, they make assumptions that are wrong, hurtful and possibly violate more principles of halacha than I know (hey, I'm just a girl!). In addition, we really don't know for sure if those are the rabbis' reasons behind this strange decree; it may well be simply political.

I'm all in favor of keeping high standards for Beis Dinnim. But doesn't the Shulchan Aruch already address these concerns? Or is that not good enough anymore?

Anonymous said...

doesn't mean that he really knows enough PRACTICAL Halacha to actually properly supervise such activities

It's not that complicated.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear on why the children of "uncertified" cases won't be considered mamzerim

The offspring of a goy and a Jewess are NOT mamzerim.

Anonymous said...

others think Fritos are okay

Going back about 20 years -- Fritos from the Southern U.S. were OK.

TM (Jewlicious) said...

Wow, you guys are being so lenient.

Here's my analogy:

"Yes, yes, we know, Dr. Friedman that you have trained at a fine medical school with strong mentorship by fine doctors. We also know that your methods are similar to ours and that you have spent years of your life acquiring this expertise. But, it's our hospital because those non-doctors over there gave it to us to run, and we have deemed that you will need further training and another exam. Also, if you don't do it, then all of your previous patients may find they can no longer come to this hospital for treatment because we don't trust that you did good work. Why? Because, well, because the non-doctors gave us the power and this is how one ensures everybody plays by our rules."

JoeSettler said...

scraps: Just took a look. The covered up hashgacha is the half-moon-K.

tm: Actually, it's more like:

I'm sorry Mrs. Cohen. You won't be able to get anything in your malpractice suit against the esteemed Dr. Friedman. You see he was never certified as a doctor in Israel and therefore the insurance company refused to cover him for legal reasons, so there is no money for you to win in your law suit. You went to a doctor that is simply not covered nor recognized by the system.

TM (Jewlicious) said...

Joe, it's worse for Mrs. Cohen if she had to fight her husband to get a get.

Here's the new analogy:

Mrs. Cohen had the operation to remove her kidney and it cost her plenty and caused a body part to be removed and her heart to be broken. She feels better now, but just as she is ready to re-start her life, she came to this new hospital they told her the surgeon Friedman didn't know what he was doing and they're going to re-open her up because unless they remove the other kidney, she really isn't better, she's just imagining it. In the meantime, she is not allowed out of the hospital to restart her life for fear of infecting others. Operation or a lifetime in the hospital, it's her choice.

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