Israeli Chief Rabbi apologises to co-founder of Nefesh b’Nefesh over ‘blacklist’

Rabbi Lau says the record of ‘non-approved’ diaspora ministers was ‘in no way’ a rejection of Rabbi Fass.


Israel’s chief rabbi has apologised to the co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh whose name was included on a ‘blacklist’ of rabbis.

Chief Rabbi David Lau met Rabbi Yehoshua Fass on Tuesday to express his regret about the document, which he claimed was leaked.

The meeting was aimed at assuring the American rabbi, whose organisation has helped 50,000 olim come to Israel in the last 15 years, that he is well respected by the country’s religious community.

Following the meeting, Rabbi Fass – who lives in Israel – received a letter from the Chief Rabbi’s office. It said the “unapproved documents” were publicised by a clerk in the Chief Rabbinate “of his own personal accord”.

The letter continued: “Chief Rabbi David Lau... is saddened that this document impugned your good name, and therefore has asked me to inform you that this document is in no way, God forbid, a rejection of you. The Chief Rabbi very much values all your endeavours, and has instructed all those involved in this matter to act accordingly.”

Speaking after the meeting, Rabbi Fass, who has served as the executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh since 2002, said: “The Rabbinate should serve as a shining example of unity and connectivity within Judaism and promote its positive values in order to bridge any divides and prevent Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred)."

The controversy erupted on Sunday after news emerged that the Chief Rabbinate had been keeping a list of diaspora rabbis whose authority to rule on somebody’s Jewishness it had rejected.

The rabbis in question have vouched that individuals from their communities are Jewish so that they can marry through the Israeli rabbinate. But according to the list, their testimonials were rejected in at least 160 cases in 2016. Among them was Rabbi Fass.

There are five UK rabbis on the list — a document which, according to the Orthodox rabbi who publicised it, will drive a wedge between Israel and diaspora Jewry.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Seth Farber, head of Itim, a campaign group that obtained the list as part of its long-running legal challenge to force the rabbinate to become more transparent about whose proof of Jewishness it accepts.

Rabbi Farber said of rabbinate officials: “They are disparaging diaspora rabbis. Israel-diaspora relations are berth fragile and important and to delegitimise rabbis and communities is to delegitimise the historic role of Israel.”

The revelation of the list caused embarrassment within Israel’s rabbinate. Spokesman Koby Alter argued that the document did not constitute a “blacklist” — a description used by Rabbi Farber and widely repeated.

Mr Alter said that the list — which includes Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis — was simply a record of which rabbis had had letters of testimony rejected. Rejection may be unrelated to the standing of the rabbi, he said, suggesting that it is sometimes because of a technicality with the submission or because it appeared faked. “There were applications from a rabbi signed in 2016 who died in 2012,” he said.

Mr Alter insisted: “There could have been lots of reasons that permission was not given, and there could be different cases for the same rabbi that were approved.”

The UK names include Rabbi Blue, presumably Rabbi Lionel Blue, the former convener of the Reform Beth Din, who died last year; Rabbi Rodney Mariner, another former convener of the Reform Beth Din; and Rabbi Mark Winer, a former senior rabbi of the West London Synagogue.

A fourth is Rabbi Daniel Glass, the name of an Orthodox rabbi who has lectured at the Jewish Learning Exchange and was rabbi of the Shomrei Hadath (Federation) Synagogue London — although it is not clear if this is the person intended.

The fifth spells out in Hebrew Rabbi Jeremy Goltick, a name which so far no one has been able to link to an individual, although there has been speculation it could be a misspelling of Rabbi Jeremy Collick, the former rabbi of Edgware Masorti Synagogue.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive