Press Release

Rabbinate’s criteria to recognize of rabbinical courts abroad - problematic

IDI on the Rabbinate’s publication on the recognition of rabbinical courts abroad: "A potential strategic blow to Israel’s connection with Diaspora Jewry and a serious operative problem for many Jews in Israel"

The Israel Democracy Institute welcomes Director of the Chief Rabbinate , Rabbi Moshe Dagan's decision today (Tuesday) to comply with IDI’s request to publish the provisional conclusions reached by the committee that formulates criteria and rules for the recognition of foreign Jewish courts. Nevertheless, Dr. Shuki Friedman, director of IDI’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, says that the published rules and criteria are very problematic and may have far- reaching implications for millions of Jews living in the Diaspora.

Friedman explains that the proposal creates a reality in which the Israeli rabbinate extends its monopoly over Jews' personal status in areas of marriage and divorce - beyond Israel. The reason for this being that many Jews, especially those who feel strongly connected to the State of Israel and are likely to immigrate to Israel, will prefer to undergo procedures such as marriage and divorce in Jewish Courts which are recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate. Thus, the rift with between Israel and Diaspora Jewry could grow, many Jews around the world may feel alienated, and immigration to Israel could decline.

On the practical level, if the strict criteria of the rabbinate (largely controlled by the ultra-Orthodox) are accepted, there could be many inconsistencies. For example, Jewish couples who divorce abroad in a Jewish Ceremony and then immigrate to Israel may not be recognized as a divorced. This could potentially cause their children’s legal status to be questioned, and even lead their children to be assigned the legal status of bastards (mamzer). Additionally, many people who have undergone a long conversion process will no longer be eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

Dr. Friedman emphasizes that beyond enforcing the strictest rules of the Chief Rabbinate outside of Israel, this will cause a major rift with Diaspora Jews, most of whom are Reform and Conservative Jews and will be forced to remain "on the other side of the fence" from other Jews. Finally, this blow to the strategic alliance with Diaspora Jewry - is liable to harm Israel on a political level.

Friedman additionally warns that the intention not to recognize non-permanent Jewish courts will harm distant Jewish communities, which until now could assemble a temporary Jewish court. Thus, members of small Jewish communities will have to travel in order to get married or divorced (among other things) and these communities will encounter additional challenges in maintaining their Jewish lifestyle.