Of the approximately 1,000 rabbis who are members of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), about 10 per cent reside in Canada, so the imminent election of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Toronto to head the group is something of watershed moment.
When Rabbi Korobkin assumes the mantle of president of the RCA on June 20 – he’s running for the position unopposed – it will mark the first time a Canadian-based rabbi has led the organization, which provides services to its members and stakes out positions on topical issues.
Rabbi Korobkin, who has served as the RCA’s regional vice-president for the Midwest, which includes Toronto, and first vice-president in previous years, has a pretty substantial agenda that he plans to promote during his two-year term.
The RCA is a fraternal organization that provides services to their members so they can better serve their congregations, he explained.
Picking up his smartphone, he scrolls through some of his proposals, one of which, coincidentally, is to get rabbis more in tune with modern technology to better enable them to serve their congregations.
There’s a book, called the Madrikh, which rabbis use to assist them at life cycle events, which should be updated and digitized so rabbis can have it handy, he said.
Speaking in his office at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT), the largest Orthodox synagogue in the city, Rabbi Korobkin said he was asked to consider vying for the position as president of the RCA.
With a 30-year connection to the organization, “I feel I benefited greatly from being a member of the RCA,” he said. “I felt I wanted to give back.”
Rabbi Korobkin said he did not plan to do anything that is radically out of touch with the way the RCA has operated in the past. But Orthodox Jewry does have a tendency to be somewhat insular and inward-looking, he said. He would like to see more outreach to the Jewish community and other faith groups.
Relations with the Jewish community have taken place in the past through what he called “a permeable membrane. It’s time to minimize those membranes further.”
As for the wider community, outreach is exemplified by the current practice at the BAYT, which sees members bring dinners to firefighters on Family Day, he said.
“These kinds of civic things encourage more Orthodox to get involved and be part of the larger society,” he said.
Rabbi Korobkin, who recently returned from the RCA meetings in New York, said a lot of the discussion focused on health issues, such as vaccinations and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
People who don’t vaccinate their children are violating the Jewish precept against causing harm to others, because failure to vaccinate can lead to outbreaks of dangerous diseases, he said.
On a more politically contentious topic, Rabbi Korobkin said the RCA recently released a statement addressing the abortion debate swirling in the United States and, even though the organization is primarily U.S.-focused, it has taken note of the debate in Quebec over religious symbols. The RCA also supported the U.S. government for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On an issue that has proved problematic in the past – conversion to Judaism – Rabbi Korobkin said “the RCA enjoys congenial relations with the rabbanut in Israel. That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements.”
He referenced a case in which a regional rabbinic court in Tel Aviv negated the conversion performed by an Orthodox beit din (rabbinic court) in North America.
“Because of our relationship and dialogue with the rabbanut, we discussed it and resolved it so that the person is now recognized as Jewish,” he said.
As to whether Israeli religious courts are pushing North American Orthodoxy into greater “strictness,” he said it’s not really a question of strictness, but of creating uniform standards.