Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate Faces Down Avi Weiss- The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost

As was reported by the Yated two months ago, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate rejected a letter from Rabbi Avi Weiss attesting to the Jewish status of two people from Rabbi Weiss' Riverdale congregation who sought to marry in Eretz Yisroel.

For months, no one knew the rationale of the Rabbanut for its decision. The Israeli-based Neem’nei Torah Va’Avodah organization, in which Rabbi Weiss occupies a principal role, as well as lawyers who protested to the Rabbanut on behalf of Rabbi Weiss regarding the rejection of his letter, had naively claimed that the Rabbanut maintains a secret “bad rabbi list” – a list of rabbis whom the Chief Rabbinate considers unreliable – and that Rabbi Weiss was part of that list. At the time, Neem’nei Torah Va’Avodah and the attorneys involved in the matter kept pressuring the Rabbanut to “come clean with its ‘bad rabbis list.’”


On the other hand, those who know of the damage that Rabbi Weiss’ Open Orthodox movement has done to Orthodoxy were certain that the Rabbanut’s rejection of the Weiss letter was based precisely on that – the repeated crossing of red lines by Rabbi Weiss and his Open Orthodox movement, to the extent that Rabbi Weiss’ own Orthodoxy had become suspect in the eyes of the Rabbanut and many others.


In an unprecedented move, the Rabbanut confirmed this past Thursday that these suspicions about Rabbi Weiss were the true reason for its refusal to rely on Rabbi Weiss’ letter and to recognize his halachic credibility, citing that several American rabbis, including some rabbis from the RCA, made reliable statements to the Rabbanut about Rabbi Weiss’ departures from Orthodox tradition, such that despite Rabbi Weiss’ self-identification as Orthodox, he does not meet the standards expected by the Rabbanut in order to be able to testify as an Orthodox rabbi on issues of Jewish personal status.


In this first such ever revelation, the Rabbanut explained, via its legal adviser, Harel Goldberg:


“The Chief Rabbinate has been contacted by various rabbis known to the rabbinate, some of whom hold positions in the RCA [Rabbinical Council of America], who claim that Rabbi Weiss’ halakhic positions, as expressed in various incidents and under various circumstances, cast doubt on the degree of his commitment to customary and accepted Jewish halakha.”


It was further explained that, “It’s not enough for a rabbi to say he is Orthodox…”


Senior assistants to the chief rabbis explained why it is that rabbis from chutz la’aretz must undergo scrutiny rather than being automatically accepted: “In the Diaspora, there are no criteria for appointing rabbis. Each community behaves in its own way and appoints rabbonim as it sees fit. There is no possibility for the Rabbanut to establish criteria for overseas rabbis who were appointed without any criteria.”


The day immediately following the Rabbanut’s public explanation as to why it rejected Rabbi Weiss’ rabbinic credibility, the RCA issued a carefully-worded and firm statement that its offices did not communicate with the Rabbanut about Rabbi Weiss and that broader discussion of the contours of Orthodoxy that the controversy involving Rabbi Weiss touch upon are better discussed elsewhere. The RCA also explained that it is developing a system to more efficiently facilitate the ability of its members to testify about personal Jewish status to the Rabbanut and other organs:


“Recent assertions that the Rabbinical Council of America advised the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to reject the testimony of RCA member Rabbi Avi Weiss are categorically untrue.


“The RCA regrets that the discussion concerning the reliability of American rabbis for technical matters under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate has been used to promote broader issues relating to the contours of American Orthodoxy and its limits. The RCA believes that there are better places and ways to work through these issues.


“Since its inception, the RCA has cherished its relationship with the Chief Rabbinate and has been working closely with it in recent months to create a new protocol. This protocol will enable Jewish status letters to be written by its member rabbis and be endorsed in the United States, where the RCA is better informed and positioned to resolve matters in ways that will avoid the problems and embarrassments of these past weeks.”


Sources close to the RCA have indicated that the RCA’s clarification did not seek to defend Rabbi Weiss or to condone his actions and positions – actions and positions that violate RCA policy, such as giving semichah to women and engaging in interfaith and interdenominational discussions that violate the p’sak of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik.


Not wasting a second, Rabbi Weiss’ supporters immediately sprung into action here and abroad. Statements in condemnation of the Rabbanut and in defense of Rabbi Weiss came from members of the advisory board of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT, Rabbi Weiss’ controversial rabbinical school), such as Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and David Bigman, as well as the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), the left-wing rabbinical group founded by Rabbi Weiss over a decade ago to counter the RCA’s geirus policies. Rabbi Marc Angel, who helped found IRF and who is notorious for his attacks on the Rabbanut and the RCA for their insistence that geirus include kabbolas ohl mitzvos by the prospective convert, also condemned the Rabbanut. So did Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in a letter signed by Rabbis Asher Lopatin and Dov Linzer, its president and rosh yeshiva, that reads in part: “Rabbi Avi Weiss is one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in America. His Orthodoxy and scrupulous adherence to halakha, both in his personal life and in his religious leadership, is absolute and beyond any doubt. His synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, has been a model for the Orthodox community since its inception. His profound commitment to Torah and halakha, with all its depth and nuances, and his unflagging mesirat nefesh on behalf of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael, are unquestionable.”


This deceptive description of Rabbi Weiss takes the cake. How does Rabbi Weiss’ recent call for the performance and potential acceptance of Reform conversions in Eretz Yisroel fit into “his Orthodoxy and scrupulous adherence to halakha, both in his personal life and in his religious leadership”? How does Rabbi Weiss’ synagogue – which hosts church choirs in its sanctuary, has a female rabbi, and had a woman lead Kabbolas Shabbos for men – fit into the description of “his synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, has been a model for the Orthodox community since its inception”? Does “his profound commitment to Torah and halakha, with all its depth and nuances, and his unflagging mesirat nefesh on behalf of Am Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael, are unquestionable” accurately portray Rabbi Weiss, in his role as the leader of Open Orthodoxy, with its promotion of to’eivah marriage, its ordination of women, its violation of p’sak regarding interfaith and interdenominational relations, and its reforming and feminization of davening?


The IRF statement was likewise an exercise in folly, pontification and obfuscation of the issues:


“The International Rabbinic Fellowship expresses its shock and anger over the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s casting aspersions upon Rabbi Avi Weiss’ fidelity to Halacha. Rabbi Weiss has been a distinguished leader within the American Orthodox community for decades, leading numerous Orthodox institutions, inspiring and teaching tens of thousands, and bringing multitudes closer to Torah and to their heritage. His mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is legendary. His commitment to Halacha in his personal life and in his communal leadership is absolute, and any suggestion to the contrary is nothing less than slanderous.


“We look forward to the Chief Rabbinate recognizing its error, reversing its position, and creating broader and more reliable systems for determining the trustworthiness of American Orthodox rabbis.”


Why did the IRF not express its “shock and anger” over the countless deviations from normative Orthodoxy on the part of Rabbi Weiss and his followers? When close students of Rabbi Weiss hire women rabbis to lead their congregations, and have women lead davening, lain the Torah and megillos, serve as makri for teki’as shofar, delete certain brachos from davening that they find offensive, and campaign for to’ievah marriage as a mitzvah, why is the IRF not shocked and angered? The facts speak for themselves, and it is clear that the more strenuous the condemnations and defenses by Rabbi Weiss’ followers, the more the evidence of his movement’s unprecedented deviations from the Torah pile up against them and remind us all of the movement’s departure from Orthodox practices from A to Z.


The current public relations stunt being carried out by Open Orthodoxy is sure to win sympathy. After all, Rabbi Weiss thrives from martyrdom, and this new episode plays exactly into that scenario.


The Rabbanut is not to blame for its decision. Nor are those who informed the Rabbanut about Rabbi Weiss and thereby influenced its decision to reject his testimony. The only one to blame here is Rabbi Weiss himself for knowingly and repeatedly violating Orthodox standards, obviously jeopardizing his Orthodox standing, and then condemning those who followed the dots and concluded that his Orthodox affiliation is suspect.


As the Yated reported previously, rabbis in YCT were “mattir” two YCT students who are kohanim to marry giyoros through halachic acrobatics that poskim have rejected and condemned. Is it not a surprise that the founder and main rabbinic personality at YCT, Rabbi Weiss, has been deemed unreliable regarding halachic issues of Jewish legal personal status? 


It is always easier to lash out and blame others, but here, it is clear as day that Rabbi Weiss has himself provided more than ample reason for the Rabbanut to decide that his commitment to Orthodox standards is lacking.


One can only hope that the Rabbanut can withstand the outrage and anger of those who are coming to the defense of Rabbi Weiss and are attacking the Rabbanut for calling a spade a spade. The evidence of Rabbi Weiss and his movement departing from normative Orthodoxy is all over the place, and one has to be delusional to deny it.


The hope is that reality reigns and that the non-Orthodoxy of Open Orthodoxy has finally been accepted for what it is, and that Open Orthodoxy’s leaders will finally be held accountable for their deviationist movement.




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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