Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Clarification of the Rabbanut's Compromise

Guest Blogger:
R Reuven Tradburks
RCA Representative in Israel

What Elli Fischer correctly pointed out in his article
is that the Rabbanut debacle with R Avi Weiss [RAW] was over a very small issue.
The Rabbanut wants to make sure that people who marry are Jewish and hence permitted to marry.  That's it.  It is no different than when someone comes to a rabbi to get married.  That person too determines if they are Jewish.  How does he determine that?  Does one ask for a letter from another Orthodox rabbi?  Usually, we know the people, they are members of the shul, and we generally, in practice, do not do anywhere near the drisha v'chakira of the rabbanut.  Because we know most of the people.
The Rabbanut created its own straw man.  It tried to figure out what documentation it would require to establish Jewish status - because it does not know the people.  the halacha does not require edut from a musmach.  All it requires is that the person claiming to be jewish act as a Jew and say they are Jewish.  Rav Schachter pointed this out in his call on this subject for the RCA.  The Rabbanut added on a takana, that you need a letter from an Orthodox rabbi, serving in an Orthodox shul, who behaves in an Orthodox manner.  That is all what we would call good practices, but it is not the halacha.
If RAW were to submit a document saying the person is Jewish and that they were born Jewish, the RCA Beit Din would accept that.  Rav Schwartz and Rav Willig are both on record having said that.  It has nothing to do with our opinions about his behaviour in other areas. Just that they feel he has nemanut in this area.
So, the Rabbanut got itself in hot water by making up an arbitrary requirement for these letters.  Elli Fischer is correct - the rabbanut made a very narrow statement - that letters from RAW about the personal status of members of his shul would be accepted.
Now, some people are correct that there is an enormous amount of hyperbole that has resulted from this statement.  Because if you are requiring an Orthodox rabbi, then you just made a statement that open Orthodox rabbis are considered Orthodox rabbis.  Rather, what the rabbanut should have done is to make a much more specific statement; namely that they are only addressing the very narrow issue of writing letters of personal status stating that someone is Jewish.  That is all they are concerned with.  They have no interest in becoming involved in assessing the credentials of open Orthodoxy.
There are 2 issues that are getting tangled up, that I feel ought not to be.
• The first is the broad issue of how the RCA ought to approach the innovations and behaviours of Open Orthodoxy.
• The second is the much more narrow issue of helping jews who want to marry in israel.
The RCA agreement only deals with the second.  Our mandate is to help people who want to marry in israel.  the agreement allows us to do this.

Reuven Tradburks

Kol Tuv,

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