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Only Bennett Can Solve the Avi Weiss Conundrum – He Caused It

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The failure of Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to enforce the election of Rabbi David Stav as Chief Rabbi is now coming to haunt Modern Orthodoxy both here and in America, on the very issue that’s most crucial to us: promoting immigration of Zionist, Orthodox American Jews to Israel.

Having a Haredi administration run our Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which almost never really caters to the Haredim and constitutes a kind of colonialist rule of the black hats over the knitted yarmulkes, is annoying most times of the year. But now, as it turns out, it is actually suppressing the aliyah of the very American Jews this country is hungry for: Modern Orthodox folks, with professions and values and money and religious sanity.

Dozens of American Modern Orthodox rabbis have been complaining that the rabbinate in Israel has been refusing to accept their letters of recommendation regarding members of their congregation preparing to make aliyah. This is because the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), mainstream Orthodox, has been telling the Israeli Rabbinate that the Modern Orthodox rabbis are the same as Conservative and Reform. So the Rabbinate, inherently suspicious of anyone in a colorful jacket, is no longer paying attention to the likes of Rabbi Avi Weiss.

“In recent days, I have been informed that letters I’ve written attesting to the Jewishness and personal status of congregants have been rejected by the office of the Chief Rabbinate,” Rabbi Weiss wrote recently. “I’m not the only Orthodox rabbi to have his letters rejected – there are others.”

Weiss reports that “the Chief Rabbinate have denied letters from me or other rabbis without input from select rabbis here in America who, I believe, are whispering into the Chief Rabbinate’s ears. For me, they’ll whisper one thing, for another they will find some other reason to cast aspersions.”

And so, the most vital aspect of Zionist Judaism – living in Zion – is now being handled by the RCA, which caters to Orthodox Jews who live comfortably in New Jersey and don’t dream of going anywhere else soon, except to visit, and the Haredi Rabbinate which has no influence at all on anti-Zionist Haredi Americans who do make aliyah.

Modern Orthodox Jews, Zionist Jews, pro-settlement Jews, have always suffered from an inability to communicate our case to the masses. Somehow, we always end up being defined by others, and those “others” more often than not don’t like us and are deeply ignorant of what we’re actually about.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of the most courageous and at the same time sweetest people I know, finds himself, after years of dedicating his life to Jews and to Judaism, being put in a kind of boycott by people who have done less than him and, in general, aren’t worthy of carrying his umbrella for him, if he had one.

Joel Brand, who risked his life to try and save Hungarian Jews from the Nazis only to become the victim of a despicable scandal, once said that there are three types of outcomes to every war: there are those who die in battle and they come home to great fanfare; then there are those who come back alive, and they’re most likely to face a court martial; and, finally, there are those who didn’t fight at all, and they’re most likely to be the judges in said court martial.

The largely anti-Zionist Rabbinate, in cahoots with the largely disinterested in aliyah RCA, are collaborating to keep the congregants of actively pro-Zionist shuls from immigrating to Israel, by treating shomer Shabbat Modern Orthodox rabbis as Reform.

Rabbi Avi Weiss has been a pioneer in using halachic tools to meet the challenges of the negative forces in the Jewish body politic, namely the Reform movement, and, to a lesser extent, the Conservative. I heard of him originally when he was busy chaining himself to various fences, protesting abuses against Soviet Jury, followed by rallies against the abuse of Israeli settlers by their own government.

But he has been as active in creating new, imaginative projects as in fighting old evils. Rabbi Weiss is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a rabbinical seminary he dubbed “Open Orthodoxy.” The term may sound dubious, but the rabbis his yeshiva has graduated are now the most sought after rabbinic prospects in America. He also founded Yeshivat Maharat for Orthodox women, dealing through halachic means with the changing gender roles in America. And then he co-founded the International Rabbinical Fellowship, an Orthodox rabbinical association that’s a liberal alternative to the Rabbinical Council of America.

Big mistakes, all three.

For the record: I support and embrace every one of Rabbi Weiss’ endeavors, I believe that they’re completely proper in terms of Jewish tradition, and I’ve had the honor of being part of a congregation that was led by a YCT graduate—and the experience was fabulous.

But each one of Rabbi Weiss’ endeavors have been so poorly presented to the Orthodox public, that he was practically begging for his current confrontation with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and, in turn, with the Israeli Rabbinate.

I don’t believe the YCT movement is actually interested in a split from mainstream Orthodoxy. But at this point it is facing a terrible image issue with that mainstream. Complaining in heartfelt op-eds is fine, but there appears to be an existential problem today which a mere public relations effort will not fix. It concerns the ability of Zionist, Orthodox Jews to make aliyah quickly and without needless hassle.

Luckily, Minister of religious Services Naftali Bennett, the one who dropped the ball on our chances to revive the Chief Rabbinate, can still get involved with the RCA and explain to them in no uncertain terms the difference between the value of Zionist aliyah and the value of Rabbinic turf.

This outrage must be stopped. The RCA must be told, by a dedicated and Zionist Orthodox Israeli leader, the damage caused directly by their shenanigans. If they have bridges to mend with the YCT crowd–and Heaven knows those bridges could use mending–they mustn’t do it on the backs of American olim, and the best kind of olim at that.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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13 Responses to “Only Bennett Can Solve the Avi Weiss Conundrum – He Caused It”

  1. SUPPORT RABBI WEISS. WHY IS THE R.C.A. ALLOWING THIS. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  2. Anonymous says:

    History is repeating itself. Jews will destroy themselves in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps we are not ready for a Jewish State. Only 65 years and look what is happening. The Arabs we can lick. Ourselves we can't.

  3. Avraham Rosenblum says:

    Dave: Isn't Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein in the position to challenge the RCA? Has anyone asked him to address this matter? Is there any Religious Zionist leader in Israel that is defending Rabbi Weiss or American M.O. rabbis at all?

  4. Daniel Zuckerman says:

    Is this a joke? Avi Weiss is "modern orthodox"? He doesn't even use that label himself.
    Just who are you trying to fool?

  5. Since when is Open Orthodoxy Modern Orthodoxy and the RCA not Modern Orthodoxy? You have to be kidding!

  6. Ben Yosef Shomer says:

    Try try hard mister , to prove us that he is "orthodox" . You put so many labels, you want to divide, you will fail. SETTLERS HAREDIM UNITED

  7. Dita Gould says:

    Isi Lebler,what do you think of this argument?You are always clearheaded.

  8. In what can only be described as a new low in journalistic inaccuracy, Yori Yanover manages to pack more distortions, untruths, and fabrications in a short essay than I thought possible. (Only Bennett Can Solve the Avi Weiss Conundrum – He Caused It – January 5, 2014).

    Defending Rabbi Avi Weiss against a great deal of criticism that he has brought upon himself, Yanover makes the following misrepresentations, in order:

    The results of the election of the Chief Rabbinate were due to Minister Naftali Bennet's failure to “enforce the election of Rabbi David Stav”, implying that Bennett (and Rav Lau) somehow stole the election improperly, because Yanover's favored candidate did not win. Elections results are not “enforced”; they are won at the ballot box.

    Haredim “running the Chief Rabbinate” (tell that to the Hareidim, they will laugh out loud) is the cause for suppressing Aliyah of Modern Orthodox Jews. Utter nonsense.

    “The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has been telling the Israeli Rabbinate that the Modern Orthodox rabbis are the same as Conservative and reform”. The Jewish Press would actually print such an obvious screed? It is not only outrageously false, it is is outrageously ridiculous. The RCA is the main body that represents primarily the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate. Why in the world would the RCA be telling anyone that “Modern Orthodox rabbis are the same as Conservative and reform”?

    He then offers his theory as to why “the largely anti-Zionist Rabbinate, in cahoots with the largely disinterested in aliyah RCA are collaborating” . . . It is no less than a plot “to keep the congregants of actively pro-Zionist shuls from immigrating to Israel, by treating shomer Shabbat Modern Orthodox rabbis as Reform.” Beneath contempt.

    Finally, he quotes Rabbi Weiss as complaining that his documents attesting to the Jewishness of congregants have been rejected by the Israeli Rabbinate. This is true. But it is not because of the RCA that “caters to Orthodox Jews living comfortably in New Jersey” who supposedly do not care much about what happens in Israel. It is not about “Modern Orthodoxy” at all. It is rather about Rabbi Weiss's movement – the non-Orthodox “Open Orthodox” movement.

    Open Orthodoxy, and its flagship institutions Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat are the brainchild of Rabbi Weiss, who has separated himself from the major Modern Orthodox institutions such as Yeshiva University and the RCA. In doing so, Rabbi Weiss has gone too far outside of accepted Orthodox practice, on too many occasions, for serious Halachists to trust that him on matters of Halacha. In ordaining women Rabbis, in questioning basic beliefs of Judaism, in allowing Kohanim to marry converts, in openly promoting a Gay and Lesbian agenda in his institutions, in tremendously downgrading the standards for conversions and divorces that have always been accepted and in many other ways, Rabbi Weiss and Open Orthodoxy have brazenly trampled on accepted standards in the Orthodox world. He has repeatedly shown his contempt for the Halachic principle that serious innovations and changes in Jewish practice and custom may be accepted rarely and if at all, only with the agreement of the very highest Halachic experts and sages. None of the great Sages of the Modern Orthodox world – not Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Gedaliah Dov Schwartz, Rav Yaakov Ariel, Rav Tzefania Drori, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l and others – none of them would agree with the agendas and positions of Rabbi Weiss.

    That is why Rabbi Weiss, and the Rabbis who have gone with him on his departure from Orthodoxy, are finding their Halachic bona fides questioned. It has nothing to do with “Modern Orthodox” Rabbis or the RCA, who are passionately devoted to Israel, Aliyah, and keeping our Mesorah intact while engaging with the modern world in ways that are in full accordance with Halacha as we have been taught by our great predecessors, most notably Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik, zt”l.

    Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer
    Forest Hills, NY

  9. Yechiel Baum says:

    check Bennets finances.

  10. Yonatan Uziel says:

    As the current Conservative movement (stream) passes into oblivion, Avi Weiss has become the leader of the new upcoming Conservative movement. After all his fine accomplishments, it is a great shame and a tragedy of epic proportions.

  11. Yonatan Uziel says:

    (Rabbi Oppenheimer, an excellent piece. Right on the mark.)

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