The Neemanei Torah VaAvodah (NTA) organization has obtained a ruling by the Jerusalem District Court instructing the Chief Rabbinate to disclose the content of its conversations with the Rabbinical Council of America regarding which rabbis are recognized to testify on Jewish and marital status.

Controversy has long surrounded the way the Chief Rabbinate decides which Orthodox rabbis abroad it recognizes to give such testimony and it has still never provided clear criteria for this process.

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The testimonial letters of some rabbis, especially more liberal rabbis; associated with the so-called Open Orthodox movement in the US, have often been deemed unacceptable by the Chief Rabbinate to establish an immigrant’s Jewish status, and on some occasions those immigrants have been ordered to undergo a Jewish clarification process through the rabbinical courts.

When Jewish immigrants to Israel register for marriage, they must provide evidence of their Jewish status, including a letter from a communal rabbi who knew them in their country of origin, affirming that they are indeed Jewish.

In recent years, however, many immigrants have had those letters rejected by the Chief Rabbinate, creating headaches and difficulties ahead of their weddings in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate says that it consults with local rabbis and rabbinical institutions when deciding which testimonial letters to accept, but has never made clear the criteria by which it makes such decisions.

In order to gain greater clarity, NTA filed a petition last year demanding that the Chief Rabbinate disclose its communications with the RCA with whom it consults on the legitimacy of US rabbis and the eligibility of testimonials given by them.

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NTA pointed out that liberal Orthodox rabbis such as Rabbi Avi Weiss and others from the Chovevei Torah yeshiva he established and the International Rabbinic Fellowship associated with the Open Orthodoxy movement have been among those rejected by the Chief Rabbinate.

NTA is concerned that decisions made by the Chief Rabbinate in consultation with the RCA regarding the testimonial letters of liberal Orthodox rabbis have been made on an internal political and not professional basis.

In order to protect the identity of the various officials and rabbis under discussion, the court ruled on Sunday that the names of all parties involved in the communications between the Chief Rabbinate and the RCA be excluded from the information provided to NTA.

NTA said that this was acceptable since it wished to determine the nature of the decisions and how they were arrived at.

Ben Melech told The Jerusalem Post that if the Chief Rabbinate did not provide sufficient information it would demonstrate that it had no valid criteria and that this lacuna would be the basis of further legal action.

“The ruling requires transparency – on the Chief Rabbinate to share with us the information it received from its requests and on the basis of which the rabbinate decided to disqualify US rabbis with moderate views from giving testimony about their congregants,” said Attorney Asaf Ben Melech of NTA.

“The rabbinate can no longer hide behind obscure information that it claims it has received from organizations such as the RCA and avoid providing serious answers,” he added.