Remember Itamar Tubul, the mid-level bureaucrat who decides who can marry in Israel?
Tubul evaluates requests from Israeli immigrants seeking a marriage license. To do so, he needs to ensure that they’re Jewish, and receives proof-of-Judaism letters to that effect from around the world.
Tubul made the news two years ago for rejecting a proof-of-Judaism letter from liberal Orthodox New York Rabbi Avi Weiss. After that controversy erupted, the Rabbinate decided to accept Weiss’ word.
Since then, Itim, an Israeli organization that helps people navigate Israel’s religious bureaucracy, has petitioned a Jerusalem municipal court get the Rabbinate to be more transparent about the proof-of-Judaism process. Itim’s key demand: for the Rabbinate to release the list of Diaspora rabbis whose proof-of-Judaism letters it accepts.
The Rabbinate’s response came last week: There is no list. At least not one the Rabbinate is prepared to show.
In its response, the Rabbinate confirmed that Tubul is the sole employee handling proof-of-Judaism letters and marriage requests from immigrants. All 5,000 such requests from 2013 through 2015 were evaluated by Tubul alone. The Rabbinate wouldn’t even say how many were accepted or rejected. That would require having Tubul tabulate three years of cases, which would be “an unreasonable expenditure of resources.”
So which rabbis does Tubul trust? The Rabbinate claims that there is no list. Tubul judges proofs-of-Judaism on a case-by-case basis.
“Rabbis are not approved; rather, cases are approved,” the Rabbinate said. “Personal status requests have been approved based on all the circumstances in the case, not necessarily based on the rabbi’s identity. And at present there is no list of approved or recognized rabbis.”
To approve or reject requests, Tubul turns to a group of senior rabbis he trusts in each country, and confers about the rabbi who sent the proof-of-Judaism. So according to the Rabbinate, there is some kind of list of accepted rabbis, though it did not identify in its response who those rabbis are.
The Rabbinate also doesn’t say what criteria are used to determine whether individual rabbis are reliable enough, though it says it is working on such guidelines.
Until that happens, immigrants seeking to marry in Israel depend entirely on the personal judgment of Tubul, a man the Rabbinate itself portrays as an overloaded bureaucrat single-handedly managing a heavy caseload.
Itim’s executive director, Seth Farber, called publicizing the list a matter of “basic transparency and accountability.” He’s waiting to hear how the court will respond to the Rabbinate’s claims.
“This doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable request,” Farber said. “If they don’t have the material organized, they have to take part of their budget and get it organized.”