6/12/2006

On the Agreement between the RCA and the Rabbanut

Before looking at the agreement itself, take a look at jpost’s article on it (Hat Tip: Shmarya). The original document, posted here last week, is more informative and not much longer than the jpost article.

Also, I feel for Benjy Balint. His article appeared in the WSJ just as the agreement was released (Hat Tips: Larry and BOTH). The beginning of a resolution to the conversion issue doesn’t really undermine his central contention, though it certainly weakens it. I thought his quotation from A. B. Yehoshua, that Diaspora Jews are “just playing at Jewishness”, wasn’t as dismissive of the Golah as it seems, nor was it terribly original. Nachmanides said the same thing.

Regarding the agreement, it’s significant on several levels. Most importantly, it means that the RCA and the Rabbanut are entering into a direct relationship with each other. Even if they don’t see eye-to-eye on all issues, the Rabbanut understands that the RCA is the address for issues pertaining to American Orthodoxy (i.e., not EJF or anyone else). This was despite several attempts by various kannoim, including RNE, to undermine the credibility of the RCA through a variety of means, several of which would be considered underhanded (for example, calling the fact that RBF’s shul has a Women’s Prayer Group to the attention of the Rabbanut).

Additionally, the agreement was signed by 4 people: Rabbis Krispel and Wiener from the Rabbanut (I don’t know a thing about the latter) and Rabbis Heshy Billet and Barry Freundel representing the RCA (they were the only 2 delegates that the RCA sent). Rabbi Krispel, you will recall, is R’ Amar’s secretary who was responsible for certifying overseas conversions who lacked a real knowledge of the American Orthodox landscape. This made him fertile ground for the disinformation campaigns of groggers like RNE. This agreement means that the RCA is recognized by the bureaucracy itself, which is where this whole mess started in the first place.

There were some nerves on the part of Rabbi Freundel (with whom I spoke last week after the agreement was signed) that theoretically the Rabbanut could still disqualify many conversions on an ad hoc basis, but the hope was that the Rabbanut’s right to do that would be seldom exercised. As he put it, the main goal of the trip was to enter directly into a relationship with the Rabbanut. Mission accomplished.

Some might say that this is a ‘loss’ because it means that the RCA basically has bought into the Rabbanut’s desire for universal standards. That can be countered in 2 ways:
  1. the RCA will be submitting a list of Rabbis, not a standard; those on the list are deemed trustworthy and we don’t have to look over their shoulders

  2. essentially, that was always the RCA’s policy. R’ G.D. Schwartz didn’t certify every giyur that crossed his desk. There are those who would have us believe that R’ Schwartz took a stance of “ka-zeh re’eh ve-kadesh”, but it’s simply untrue.

A more difficult situation, alluded to in recent comments, pertains to the ‘out-of-town’ communities. Will every one be on the list, or will there simply be no giyur there?

My answer is that officially no, but really yes. In theory, the RCA set up – a long time ago – a system of ‘regional’ recognized authorities. These regional authorities can – and do – ‘deputize’ other trustworthy local Rabbonim with gerut. I’ve had three constituents who converted during my tenure, and in all the Av Beit Din for the giyur trusted me that they are ready. The Av Beit Din himself, when one of these gerim asked for RCA certification, obtained it through the regional authority’s recommendation to R’ G.D. Schwartz. Thus, though I, unrecognized by the RCA or Rabbanut, prepared this ger for conversion and served on the Beit Din, it was ultimately recognized because of trusting relationships that we build. This particular ger happens to be making Aliyah in the near future, so that ishur will hopefully come in handy. I think that a similar procedure will be developed by and for other way-out-of-town Rabbis.

The selection of 9/11 to be the day that the joint committee reports its findings is completely coincidental. The choice of 18 Elul was not coincidental.
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