Two weeks ago, the Israel Rabbinate ruled that Haagen Dazs ice cream is no longer kosher. The reason: Haagen Dazs is made with real milk processed by non-Jews. And while this may be kosher enough for the Orthodox Union (OU) which provides Haagen Dazs’ with its kashrut certification, it’s not sufficient for the Israel Rabbinate.
This is not the first time the Rabbinate has clashed with Diaspora rabbis in recent history .
In 2006, my wife, Michele Chabin, broke the story in the New York Jewish Week that the Israel Rabbinate would no longer automatically recognize Orthodox conversions from the Diaspora. The Rabbinate demanded that Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora prove that they and their conversions met the criteria and standards set by the Rabbinate. This unilateral decision, which took the Orthodox rabbis by surprise, meant that even those rabbis ordained by the most prestigious Orthodox institutions and respected in their communities, now needed the Israeli Rabbinate’s approval.
Two years later, after a series of frustrating negotiations, between the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Israeli Rabbinate, an arrangement was finally worked out which stipulated that only those Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora that receive the official approval of the Bet Din of America will be recognized by the Israel Rabbinate. Furthermore, only those Diaspora rabbis on the Israel Rabbinate’s ‘short list’ would be authorized to do conversions. Those who were not could find their conversions disqualified by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel — even retroactively – unless they could prove that their conversions met the standards set by the Rabbinate!
Why does this matter? Because the Rabbinate is afraid that these Orthodox converts or their children will eventually come to, and possibly seek to get married in, Israel — a very likely possibility. And how can they possibly endorse a marriage when the bride or groom may not be Jewish according to their standards? (Remember, the Rabbinate has sole authority over Jewish weddings and divorces).
So, the Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora gave the Israel Rabbinate the keys to the kingdom.
Not everybody has been happy with this arrangement. Even in Israel, the number of “dati” couples who turn to Itim and Tzohar – organizations that provide religious services and support outside the Rabbinate – is on the rise. Today, in 2012, imposition of Israel Rabbinate standards on Diaspora communities, which the Rabbinate called “leShem Shamayim” – for the sake of heaven, has alienated a significant Jewish population and fragmented a global Jewish community that just cannot afford to be divided.
So what will be the Diaspora rabbis’ response to this ice cream freeze-out? Fight? Give in? Wait for the Israel Rabbinate to force its decision on Jewish communities around the world? Occupy Haagen Dazs?
Talmudic tradition shows that these Israel/Diaspora rabbi wars go quite far back, and offers the following sound byte which seems aptly ironic:
אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא: תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם, שנאמר כל בניך למודי ה’ ורב שלום בניך, אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך. שלום רב לאהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול; יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך; למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך למען בית ה’ אלהינו אבקשה טוב לך;ה’ עז לעמו יתן ה’ יברך את עמו בשלום. (ברכות סד:א).
Rabbi Elazar said “Disciples of the Sages increase the peace in the world. As it says ‘All your children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children [banayikh]. Do not read banayikh but bonayikh [your builders]” – namely, rabbis. (Berakhot 64a)
The Rabbi Elazar quoted here is Elazar ben Pedat, a Diaspora scholar who moved to Israel. At first, his Diaspora behavior did not find favor among his colleagues in Tiberias, but he gained their respect and eventually became the head of the academy there.
Perhaps one day the Israel Rabbinate will recognize that the their Diaspora colleagues are no less learned than they are — maybe even in our generation — and are responding legitimately and halakhically to a need the Israel Rabbinate just cannot appreciate.