A little while back, we reported on what appeared to be a rift between the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The rift was said to have been caused by the Chief Rabbinate stating that it was going to no longer automatically approve conversions by all but 50 senior North American Orthodox Rabbis. Rabbis who wished to have their conversions approved would reportedly have been forced to undergo additional exams and training as administered by the Chief Rabbinate. This announcement caused a certain measure of concern and controversy given that in the past all conversions carried out by RCA Rabbis were automatically recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. All sorts of nightmare scenarios were said to be in the making as well.

Despite the prediction of such nightmare scenarios however, the Chief rabbinate and the RCA somehow managed to clarify things with a recent agreement. The two bodies agreed that all past and current conversions approved by the RCA will be approved by the Chief Rabbinate unconditionally. The bodies also agreed to the creation of a Joint Commission on Personal Status as follows:

In continuation of their multifaceted existing partnership, they agreed to immediately establish a Joint Commission to examine, in light of the halachah, current standards and procedures in the realm of conversion and personal status, with a view to expanding the cooperation and partnership between the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America in those areas, to achieve clarity and consistency wherever possible. The commission will complete its work and submit its recommendations to the respective organizations by the 18th of Elul 5766, i.e. 11th September 2006.

I personally am pleased that the two rabbinical bodies were able to reach an agreement so quickly. Furry Hat tip to ADDeRabbi.

About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • This was in the Jerusalem Post article:

    The RCA, a predominantly Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization, caved in to the rabbinate’s insistence on doing its own investigation of all new RCA-affiliated rabbis. The RCA had originally demanded that the Israeli rabbinate continue to automatically okay US conversion courts that have RCA authorization.

    In parallel, the rabbinate dropped its demand to force all new American rabbis to come to Israel to take a special test and be interviewed before a three-man panel of senior rabbinic judges. It also agreed that all conversions performed up until now with written RCA authorization would be recognized by the Israeli rabbinate.

    “The RCA is very pleased with the outcome of our discussion and the agreement that we reached,” said Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA. “The spirit and atmosphere throughout the talks were very positive and reflect a real sense of historic partnership in dealing with a very difficult issue.”

    Haredi sources involved with conversions in the Diaspora said that the rabbinate’s crackdown on conversions in America was motivated by a desire to eradicate negative phenomena. The sources claimed there had been several incidents in which RCA-affiliated rabbis had performed what they called “substandard” conversions.

    “In one case there was a Conservative cantor that sat on the panel of rabbinic judges that oversaw the conversion,” said the source. “In another, a rabbi who allowed coed seating and a microphone on Shabbat in his synagogue was a member of the panel of judges.” Other examples of substandard conversions given by the source included a rabbi that cooperated with Reform and Conservative institutions in outreach activities.

    No, no, I didn’t quote that because I had to include a quote by Basil Herring.

  • So, the JPost starts off by claiming that the RCA “caved in.” What is this based upon? It looks like the RCA recoignized there’s a problem and agreed.

    An article discussing the problems with conversions by RCA affiliated Rabbis was published last week by Jonathan Rosenblum: It’s not about numbers.

  • The RCA obviously caved in. What else were they going to do when a state sanctioned body in the Jewish state was telling them who is boss?

    Rosenblum’s article is one you keep posting. We can agree to disagree.

  • TM, there’s no obvious cave-in here. If the “sources” quoted in the JPost and the case examples given in Roseblum’s article are accurate, the RCA aren’t going to go into denial when confronted with the facts.

    If anything, RCA Rabbi Herring’s words are a nice way to avoid looking like they have egg on their face.

    Prediction: watch the RCA institute what Rosenblum recommends in his article, in the not too distant future. This will be done simply because it’s the right thing to do, the RCA has become aware that this is not just an odd case or 2, and because the RCA itself now understands why the time has come to establish supervised standards for conversions.

    In fact, most every Rabbi would agree to that, even if they disagree with the blunt method the Rabbinate used to bring the issue to the fore.

    Like CK said at the end of his entry above, this simply sounds like an obvious meeting of the minds.

  • Sure, sure.

    Big Rabbi: “Hey folks, we know you’re trained pros and devout believers, it’s just that you’re doing it all wrong and have been doing so for a while. Since we in Israel are better at this stuff (even if my wife and son happen to kidnap and beat up an innocent person because he’s trying to date my daughter) than those of you over there where there is no government to make you “chief” rabbi, from now on you HAVE to do what we tell you.”

    Rabbi from other place: “Uh, what? You think we’re doing it all wrong? Oh, okay, since you’re so great and we’re all just dreamers over here who have been wasting our lives doing this stuff all wrong, we’ll gladly give up our way of doing things to accommodate you. Oh joy, oh bliss.”

    Keep telling yourself there was no coercion here and that the RCA did this because “it’s the right thing to do.”

  • The complete official announcement by the RCA can be found here:

    Statement by the Rabbinical Council of America Regarding its Agreement with the Chief Rabbinate.

    The last paragraph sums it up:

    Finally, and more generally, the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America agreed to develop a variety of improved modalities of cooperation and communication between them, in the interests of the betterment of Jewish life in the State of Israel and Jewish communities throughout North America.

  • *sigh* The Chief Rabbinate was not saying that all RCA Rabbis were “doing it all wrong and have been doing so for a while.” There is no reason to believe that RCA Executive VP Rabbi Basil Herring’s characterization of their meetings was disengenuous. Man, sometimes I don’t even know why I bother. This was an attempt to deal with a very important issue. Perhaps they all should have discussed the merits of rap music instead.

  • Like married couples, Orthodox rabbis talk in a mutually understandable language that someone else, even someone else who is standing right there, cannot really understand completely, fully, no matter how much they think they can.

    It is just an in thing. You hadda be there. It is like a guy thing. Or a girl thing.

    Yes, there are things Jews of all streams say to each other no non-Jew, no matter how friendly and accepted, can truly, fully quite totally understand, because they hear with different ears. Even if they are standing right there, accepted and listening closely.

    TM, that is what is operating here. Please do not assume you know what is going on. I personally do not I assume what is going on either. I just know I don’t.

    You don’t play-a da game, you no make-a da rules. As you are not personally bound by the Orthodox rulings in Israel or outside Israel, you have no standing in the dispute.

    This is not meant critically! It is just an observation.

    Heck. I am not Reform. I don’t love stuff they do. But I would never presume to say so. It is their business. This stuff is the Orthodoxes’ business. Why is a Conservative Jew getting excited about it?

  • I’m getting all excited about it because of the hypocrisy involved, not to mention the part of the article where the Rabbinate considers these conversions by RCA members unkosher because a rabbi might have had some dealings with the Conservative movement.

    ck, I took your post very seriously, which is why I posted the JPost clip.

Leave a Comment