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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 17, 2014 PAGE 11A Meet the Israeli bureaucrat who decides who can marry in the Jewish state Itamar Tubul, the head of the Israeli chief rabbinate's personal status division, decides which American rabbis are qualified to vouch for the Jewishness of Israeli immigrants. By Ben Sales JERUSALEM (JTA)--To be married in Israel, immigrants must prove their Jewish an- cestry to the country's chief rabbinate. Couples can solicit a letter from their hometown rab- bis or present their parents' Jewish marriage contracts. Sometimes they even bring a Yiddish-speaking grandmoth- er before a rabbinical court. In the end, every claim has to pass through one man: a midlevel bureaucrat named Itamar Tubul. Tubul, 35, is the soft-spoken rabbi who heads the chief rabbinate's personal status division--a job that places him at the center of a brewing crisis between the chief rabbin- ate and the American Modern Orthodox community. In October, Tubul rejected a proof-of-Judaism letter from Avi Weiss, a liberal Orthodox rabbi. The move sparked wide- spread outrage that Weiss, a longtime synagogue leader in New York who had vouched for the Jewishness of many Israeli immigrants in the past, was suddenly having his reliability called into question. Tubul rejected the letter from Weiss after two members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Modern Ortho- dox rabbinic organizati9 n of which Weiss is a longstanding member, questioned Weiss' commitment to Orthodox Jewish law. "They said there were prob- lems with his worldview," Tubul told JTA. "His system raised doubts regarding his non-deviation from what is accepted in matters of proof of Judaism and personal status." The chief rabbinate says it is considering whether it can trust Weiss, who has pioneered a number of controversial innovations in the Orthodox world, most recently with his decision to "ordain" women as spiritual leaders through a new religious seminary called Ye- shivat Maharat. Critics say the process for evaluating Ameri- can rabbis lacks transparency and objective standards. To make his recommenda- tions, Tubul relies on a network Academic group won't consider Israel boycott ' By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--Un- til recently, the rule of thumb in the pro-lsrael community was that the bigger the aca- demic group, the less likely it was to consider a boycott of Israeli colleagues. But with the 30,000-mem- ber Modern Language As- sociation set to host a panel on BDS at its convention this week in Chicago, the rule may have to be reconsidered. Supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement have scored some victories in recent months, mostly among smaller groups. The American Studies As- sociation, which endorsed a boycott resolution last month targeting Israeli academic in- stitutions, claimsabout4,000 members. Though the Modern Lan- guage Association will not consider an outright boycott of Israeli universities, it will consider a resolution calling on the U.S. State Department to oppose the "arbitrary de- nials of entry" to American academics seeking to teach or conduct research at uni- versities in the West Bank and Gaza. "They proposed the travel resolution as a fallback," said Cary Nelson, an association member and former president of the American Association of University Professors. "They're trying something else as a step toward a boycott resolution the next time. If they can win this, they will move onto the next one." In a conference call Tues- day organized by the Is- rael Action Network, Nelson argued that the Modern Language Association did not deserve the scorn it has weathered for hosting the panel, which will feature five supporters of BDS and no op- ponents. The panel is among several hundred to be held at the convention, and Nelson said such panels typically reflect a single point of view and are not debates. The Modern Language As- sociation also is already on record opposing academic boycotts. In response to the removal of two Israeli scholars from a British journal, the group adopted a resolution in 2002 calling boycotts based on nationality or ethnic origins "unfair, divisive, and inconsis- tent with academic freedom." Still, activists on both sides of the issue say the success of individual boycott efforts is less important than the fact that boycotts are being discussed at all. "The mere calling for a boy- cott will impede the free flow of ideas," Russell Berman, a comparative literature pro- fessor at Stanford University and a past Modern Language Association president, said on the conference call. "The calling of a boycott will have a chilling effect on academic life." Rosemary Feal, execu- tive director of the Modern Language Association, said what is truly alarming is the notion that just convening a panel implicates the group as anti-Israel. "It's chilling, the idea that putting on a session is wrong, that it signifies foregone con- clusions," Feal told JTA. Samer Ali, the associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas in Austin who convened the panel, said the point is to shed light on Israeli practices. "I think the only tan- gible benefit to come out of academic boycotts of Israel (and the ASA vote, the MLA roundtable, etc.) is generat- ing discussion about the daily effects of the occupation," Ali wrote in an email. Far from sparking a wave of pro-boycott measures, the vote by the American Studies Association has engendered a broad backlash, with more than 100 university heads speaking out against it. "Some may argue that BDS is picking up momentum," said Geri Palast, who directs the Israel Action Network, an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America. "The reality is that the broad academic community is rejecting BDS in terms of its singling out one country and saying there is only one narrative. We are winning this debate." Nelson said he would at- tend the BDS panel to offer his opposition before heading to a nearby hotel to speak on a panel organized by the campus group Hillel and the Israel on Campus Coalition. Notably, there were signs of disagreement between academics opposed to BDS and pro-Israel groups over how best to counter such reso- lutions. The Conference of Presidents of MajorAmerican Jewish Organizations, for in- stance, in its appeal to univer- sities to reject the American Studies Association boycott also called on them to cut off the group. "I can understand that reaction," Berman told JTA. "But I don't think I would want to elevate the principle that political statements should be grounds for academic sanctions." of personal contacts. His first step is to confer with judges on nine U.S. rabbinical courts ap- proved by the chief rabbinate. If the judges don't know the rabbi in question or doubt his credentials, they refer Tubul to local colleagues. After soliciting their recom- mendations, Tubul accepts or rejects the letter. "There aren't enough checks and balances in the system," said Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, an Israeli or- ganization that guides couples through the chief rabbinate's bureaucracy. "This is all capri- cious. It's all who they happen to know. That's not a way to run a state." Tubul told JTA that he corresponds with at least three rabbis regarding every American letter he investigates and never rejects a letter based solely on an initial negative recommendation. "We check every possibility to complete the puzzle," he said. "If someone says you can't trust [a letter], we don't reject it. Sometimes there are interested parties that we don't want to deal with, so we investigate further." In the wake of the Weiss decision, the chief rabbinate has entered negotiations to give the RCA more say in the evaluation process. According to a draft agreement obtained by JTA, the rabbinate will consult with the RCA on ev- ery questionable letter before making a decision. In addition, the RCA would provide the rabbinate with a list of rabbis accredited to give proofs of Judaism, marriage and divorce. "For the chief rabbinate to rely more formally on the RCA for approval of these letters is a question of helping the process along," Rabbi Mark Dratch, the council's execu- tive vice president, told JTA. "Cooperation will help both sides be able to serve more appropriately and prevent the kind of embarrassment that exists from time to time." The RCA does not have the power to override Tubul's deci- sions. Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor told JTA that the RCA will be a partner in the process, but final authoritywillstill rest with Tubul. Nothing in the draft pre- cludes individuals within the RCA from conveying their con- cerns about particular rabbis directly to the chief rabbinate. And while Dratch told JTA that the organization stands by Weiss' authority to vouch for Jewishness, he acknowledged that most of the group's mem- bers do not support the various innovations by Weiss. "Amajority of RCA members feel that some of his decisions are pushing the halachic red line or beyond that," Dratch said. "Our goal is to be able to support the rabbis of the RCA, to be able to make sure that their letters are accepted by the chiefrabbinate's office." It's unclear whether the reforms being developed will satisfy the Chief Rabbinate's critics, Weiss included. His lawyer in Israel, Assaf Ben- melech, told JTA that further formalizing the process could end up creating unnecessary bureaucracy. Better, Benmelech said, for the chief rabbinate to simply take awiderview of who counts as Orthodox. "When you have a known rabbi who knows Jewish law, he should be trustworthy," he said. "To place formal bound- aries is stupid. It's all about personal trust."  Development Corporation for Israel Israel Bonds 12600 South Belcher Road, Suite 101A ISPAE L BONDS ............ ....... 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