Friday, May 05, 2006

Once Again the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Supports an Alleged Sex Offender

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Rabbi Mordecai Tendler

Chief Rabbinate Barring Conversions From Top U.S. Orthodox Rabbis
Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent
Conversions approved by well-known N.Y. Orthodox Rabbis Ephraim Buchwald, left, and Adam Mintz now being questioned.

Jewish Week
May 5, 2006


In what appears to be a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the largest branch of Orthodox Jewry in America, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel is refusing to accept conversions performed by several leading Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) rabbis here, The Jewish Week has learned.

For instance, although the name of Gedaliah Dov Schwartz, chairman of the Beth Din of America, is on a list of American rabbis whose conversions are approved by the Chief Rabbinate, his signature on an authorized document is no longer accepted unless he personally performed the conversion.

“We need to ensure the highest standards,” explained Rabbi Yigal Krispel, deputy to Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. “Rabbi Schwartz sits in Chicago, while the conversions are performed elsewhere.”

The Beth Din of America is closely associated with the Rabbinical Council of America, a branch of the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox organization in the world.

Rabbi Krispel insisted “there has been no change in policy” that only a rabbi recognized by the Chief Rabbinate could perform conversions.

The difference is that since Rabbi Amar assumed his position in 2003, he said, “we have been operating according to a list of approved rabbis.”

The list, obtained by The Jewish Week, has fewer than 50 names on it, including some rabbis who are deceased.

“A member of the RCA is not automatically recognized,” Rabbi Krispel said.

This news comes as a surprise to the leaders of the RCA and the Orthodox Union.

“I don’t know anything about it,” said Rabbi Schwartz, who added that the Chief Rabbinate “can’t just bypass the rabbis who are its biggest supporters.

“We have to investigate through our own channels,” he said.

And Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive director of the Orthodox Union, said he was surprised at the news, which he felt indicated either a major snafu by the Chief Rabbinate or a major and disturbing shift in policy on its part.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, an organization in Israel that helps potential converts navigate the bureaucracy of the Chief Rabbinate, said that body “is marginalizing the American Modern Orthodox rabbinate.

“By not recognizing the legitimacy of conversions approved by the Beth Din of America, they’re intimating that the Beth Din of America has no legitimacy whatsoever,” Rabbi Farber continued. “It’s a slap in the face to American converts and American Orthodox rabbis.”

When Sarah (a pseudonym), a New York-based Orthodox convert to Judaism, and her Israeli-born fiancé, decided to get married in Israel this summer, they were prepared to tackle some of the Chief Rabbinate’s legendary bureaucracy.

With this in mind, they opened a marriage file with the Chief Rabbinate back in December 2005, armed with her fiance’s parents’ ketubah and other proof of his Jewishness.

Sarah, who studied at the Lincoln Square Synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan, for almost three years before undergoing an Orthodox conversion several years ago, presented her conversion certificate as well as a conversion ishur — authorization document — from the Beth Din of America.

While the Chief Rabbinate accepted Sarah’s fiancé as a Jew, it refused to accept Sarah’s conversion documentation as proof of her Jewishness.

An internal Rabbinate memo stated that the three Orthodox rabbis — Ephraim Buchwald, Adam Mintz and the late Hershel Cohen — who signed her conversion certificate “are not recognized.”

“They rejected my documents straightaway,” Sarah said in an interview from New York. “I’m hurt because I studied halacha and we lead a Jewish life. That the Rabbinate has questioned my commitment to Judaism to such an extent that it has no faith in the rabbis I studied with is deeply disappointing. We could get married in America, but our dream is to get married in Israel.”

While the Rabbinate has always scrutinized conversion documents issued abroad, those who deal with the authority say that in the last year or so, it has routinely begun to question the credentials of many respected Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. and elsewhere on matters related to conversion.

Exactly what precipitated the Chief Rabbinate’s more stringent criteria is open for debate.

Some American rabbis suggested that the Rabbinate’s failure to automatically recognize most conversions performed by RCA-affiliated rabbis is a form of retaliation for the RCA’s recent decision to oust Monsey Rabbi Mordechai Tendler from its ranks after he was accused of sexually abusing and harassing several women.

When Rabbi Tendler, the son and grandson of prominent rabbis, was barred by the RCA, “the Tendler family turned to the Chief Rabbinate for support,” said one of the rabbis, on condition of anonymity.

Others disagree.

“The idea that this was to get back at someone is ridiculous,” said Rabbi Avrohom Union, an administrator for the Rabbinical Council of California.

Some rabbis feel that the chief rabbinate has become more haredi in recent years and is seeking to raise the bar in terms of halachic standards.

Whatever the motive, Rabbi Farber said that in recent months, many American Orthodox rabbis “were coming under increasing scrutiny” by the Rabbinate in Israel.

Two months ago, he said, Rabbi Eliahu Ben- Dahan, the director general of the Israel’s National Beth Din told Rabbi Farber that “no Beth Din of America document will be accepted as proof of Jewishness without the individual convert also appearing before the Rabbinical Court in Israel.”

He said the new requirement, demanding foreign converts to personally appear before an Israeli rabbinical court — where they are quizzed on Jewish law and their level of religious observance — creates not only logistical problems but also emotional stress for the converts.

“In most cases, the converts don’t even know about the requirement until they arrive in Israel, right before the wedding. No one has informed them or their [diaspora] rabbi that there is a problem,” he said, noting that once, after ITIM intervened, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar approved a marriage just before the wedding, after his deputy, Rabbi Krispel, had said no.

Of the dozen or so marriage cases involving American converts that ITIM has assisted during the past year, all but Sarah’s were ultimately approved by the Chief Rabbinate, usually after numerous frantic phone calls had been made and many tears shed. It is unknown how many converts from other countries, if any, have encountered similar problems.

The parents of a bar mitzvah boy converted in New York prior to the family’s aliyah weren’t so lucky. The Chief Rabbinate instructed the parents to have the child re-immersed in an Israeli mikvah, and they grudgingly did so.

Rabbi Krispel said that his office recently established a committee composed of three rabbis who determine the qualifications of any rabbis who do not appear on the list.

“What this means is that anyone not on this list has to go through a background check and an examination process.”

He intimated that the Chief Rabbinate will no longer accept conversions performed by community, synagogue or other rabbis who do not specialize in conversion.

“Only dayanim [religious judges] are permitted to do this and just as the rabbi of this or that municipality in Israel is not permitted to be involved in conversion, so too in the diaspora.”

Rabbi Krispel said he inherited the list from his predecessor, Rabbi Yitzhak Ohana, who served under former Chief Rabbis Lau and Bakshi-Doron.

But Rabbi Farber said the previous chief rabbis “knew that if Rabbi Schwartz of the Beth Din of America approved a conversion performed by an RCA rabbi, no further action was necessary. They were familiar with the American rabbinical leadership. Clearly, Rabbi Krispel isn’t, and the converts are the ones caught in the middle.”

Rabbi Peretz Steinberg from Queens, Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag from Brooklyn, and Rabbi Eliezer Teitz from Elizabeth, N.J., are on the approved list, as are some now-deceased rabbis.

Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, which is holding its annual conference next week, said he “preferred to understand this change as being done for positive reasons. The fact is, there are many people who call themselves rabbis who may have studied in certain seminaries and received certain kinds of smicha [ordination]. Unfortunately, given the realities of Jewish life, it is necessary to establish appropriate standards for conversion.”

Rabbi Yona Reiss, director of the Beth Din of America, said he would expect any conversion that goes through the conversion commission of the RCA, which is overseen by the Beth Din of America, to have “universal recogition.”

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, who sat on Sarah’s conversion “tribunal,” called the Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize him and the other rabbis involved “upsetting.”

“Maybe there was a technical hitch that can be straightened out,” he said hopefully.

Meanwhile, Sarah says the hassle over her wedding has put a damper on her big day.

“Here we are, looking forward to such a wonderful event, and suddenly there are road blocks in the way. I was converted in an Orthodox bet din. I honestly don’t know what’s going on here,” she said.

Rabbi Aron Boruch Tendler
Please note that serious allegations have been also made against Mordecai Tendler's brother -- Rabbi Aron Boruch Tendler.

Rabbi A. Tendler is still listed on the web page as the chairman of the board of Kashrus in the state of California. Rabbi Sholom Tendler is also a member of the Vaad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


A Brooklyn rabbi and his yeshiva were hit with a $20 million civil lawsuit yesterday, accusing him of molesting two students more than 25 years ago.
One of the alleged victims said Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, 60, sexually assaulted him when he was a seventh-grade student attending Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah, an Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, religious school.

"It happened in his car on the way to school and at recess during summer camp," the 48-year-old man said at a press conference.

The plaintiff, identified by his Miami lawyer, Jeffrey Herman, only as John Doe No. 1, was allegedly molested during the early 1970s over a two-year period, Herman said.

The alleged victim charges that Kolko had instructed him to sit on his lap and hold the steering wheel while they were in Kolko's car on the way to school as the rabbi molested him.

Herman, who claims there are at least 15 victims, charges that school officials waged a campaign of intimidation and concealment against victims and their families to bury the accusations against the rabbi.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

Kolko, who lives in Midwood in a red-brick house on E. 22nd St., could not be reached for comment.

The other plaintiff, who was not present, was identified as a 38-year-old man who was allegedly sexually abused when he was also a seventh-grader in the 1980s.

The alleged offenses exceed New York's three-year statute of limitations.

May 06, 2006 9:23 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

if you can imagine, the RCA business actually isn't related to the tendler issue. it's worse.

May 09, 2006 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

before believing the wholo kolko story find out if its true..
for 30 yrs he has been a mainstray in out childrens chinuch, a man who has helped thousands of kids

May 20, 2006 10:14 PM  

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