Israeli chief rabbi endorses top U.S. rabbi’s conversions in aftermath of rejection

(JTA) – Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau sent a letter urging a midlevel bureaucrat in the Chief Rabbinate to accept conversions certified by the head of a prominent American Orthodox rabbinical court.

Lau “asked me to clarify to you once more that his position is to recognize the certifications given from the Beth Din of America and signed by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, and they should be trusted in the matter of confirming [conversion] certificates received from the United States,” the chief rabbi’s assistant, Pinchas Tenenbaum, wrote to Itamar Tubul, the rabbinate official who singlehandedly decides which Jewish conversions meet the threshold for Orthodox marriage in Israel. 

Tubul rejected three conversions overseen by Schwartz, who heads the Beth Din of America, the rabbinical court of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Those three conversions, as well as a fourth certified by Schwartz, were rejected by the Chief Rabbinate’s municipal rabbinical court in Jerusalem.

In 2007 and again in 2014, the RCA announced that it had entered agreements with the Chief Rabbinate wherein the rabbinate would automatically accept all conversions certified by the RCA. In the letter to Tubul sent Monday from his office, Lau vouched for Schwartz and wrote that the rejection of his conversions violates the 2007 agreement.

The endorsement by Lau, however, will not by itself ensure the conversions’ approval. Lau also endorsed a conversion overseen by Haskel Lookstein, a prominent New York modern Orthodox rabbi, but in July, Israel’s Chief Rabbinical Court still rejected it.

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