How The RCA Gave Away The Game To R. Shlomo Amar

Israel’s chief rabbis have traditionally divided up their duties — one would handle Beit Din (Jewish law court handling conversions, divorces, business disputes etc) stuff and the other would handle everything else including kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). Then, every five years, they’d switch roles.

As the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, is not qualified, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, has handled all Beit Din matters since 2002.

Rabbi Amar initially was beholden to Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (comparatively accomodationist for an Orthodox rabbi) and Rabbi Elyashiv (chareidi) but these days he sides more with Rabbi Elyashiv.

When the conversion controversy erupted, Rabbi Omar initially said he would not accept RCA (the rabbinical arm of the Orthodox Union) conversions.

So the RCA sent a representative to R. Amar to make a deal.

You’d think they’d send someone prestigious like Chicago’s Gedaliah Dov Schwartz. Nope. Instead they sent a comparative pisher, Basil Herring, who got rolled.

Basil Herring is about 45. Gedalia Schwartz is about 85.

Rabbi Schwartz could’ve walked in the room and said, "You’re wrong. I know what I’m doing with these conversions. You need to back down."

Basil Herring had no such prestige. He went and surrendered. So now Rabbi Amar can decide which RCA conversions he accepts.

If you allow people who are not competent to handle conversions, you are not helping. If you do not allow competent people to handle conversions in their town, you are not helping.

Helping with what?

With the influx of about a million Russians in the early 1990s, Israel was flooded with people who were not Jewish. There needed to be a comparatively easy way for these people to become Jewish. Rabbi Haim Druckman took on the problem upon the assignment of his superior rabbi in the early 1980s.

Rabbi Schwartz wanted to take this meeting with Rabbi Amar but Basil Herring insisted on going himself.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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