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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Avi Weiss’

The Chief Rabbinate’s New Deal

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The impasse between the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and Rabbi Avi Weiss has been resolved. That is a good thing.

To suggest that Rabbi Weiss, who has been a crusader for the well-being of Jews across the globe for decades, can’t be believed to state that someone is Jewish and unmarried is preposterous. Everyone who knows him can attest that he is a man of honesty and integrity.

Rabbi Weiss has stated that the struggle for Rabbinate recognition is not about him. The Jerusalem Post quotes him as saying, “I will continue to speak out until all rabbis of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and the Rabbinical Council of America will be formally recognized for this purpose.”

Full disclosure – I am an Orthodox rabbi and a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America (though I do not speak for the RCA). As such, I fully support the RCA’s conversion standards, and would only accept Orthodox standards of personal status. I also have great respect and admiration for Rabbi Weiss, who has been a beloved friend and mentor to various members of my family for over 40 years. While he and I disagree on a number of halachic issues, I recognize and appreciate that he has brought countless Jews to a life of affiliation to Torah.

However, I must respectfully take issue with my dear friend when he calls for expanding recognition beyond current standards.

I am not writing to argue the Modern Orthodox vs. Open Orthodox point of view. That is not the point of this article. I don’t expect to change anyone’s closely held religious beliefs in an op-ed piece. Rather, I want to explain why I think that even advocates of a more “open” standard of religious observance should also support the Rabbinate’s current position.

In some respects, nothing has changed. Rabbis whose letters the Chief Rabbinate accepted in the past will continue to be accepted.

If I, a presumably unknown entity to the Rabbinate, decide to write a letter stating that a person who is engaged to be married was born Jewish and has never been married, the RCA will endorse that letter and send it on to the Rabbinate.

If, however, I state in the letter that there is a divorce or conversion in that person’s background, the matter will be referred to the Beth Din of America (BDA) for further investigation. If that divorce and/or conversion are found to meet the high standards of the BDA, it will endorse the letter and send it on to the Rabbinate.

The main difference between the old system and the new one is that the investigations of these divorces and conversions will be handled by the BDA here in the U.S. rather than by the Rabbinate in Israel.

I am concerned by the suggestion that this agreement be extended to members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship.

Recently, Open Orthodox Rabbi Zev Farber of the IRF called for taking on the agunah problem by invalidating or retroactively annulling marriages. While it is admirable that he seeks to find creative ways to put an end to this terrible situation, he is making a very big mistake. The overwhelming majority of Orthodox experts (including the Chief Rabbinate) follow the rulings of Rabbis Feinstein and Soloveitchik and others who reject this approach. The end result could be that Modern Orthodox and haredi Jews will refuse to marry the children of women who remarry after receiving this annulment.

Some have suggested that we emulate Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel, who coexisted and even intermarried (with each other) in spite of differences of opinion of marital status. The way they did it was by informing each other about whom they could marry and whom they couldn’t.

Tefillin Controversy Latest Sign of Emerging Orthodox Schism

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The announcement that SAR, a Modern Orthodox high school in New York, is allowing girls to lay tefillin, is helping expose an increasingly sharp fault line within Orthodoxy.

For decades, it has been difficult to sort out the precise dividing lines between the varieties of Orthodoxy – ultra, haredi, centrist, modern, liberal. Each category bled into others, and the movement has been broad enough to encompass everyone from black-hat-wearing rabbis with long beards to young women in jeans and T-shirts. What united them was a stated commitment to halacha, Jewish law traditionally defined, and, of course, self-definition as Orthodox.

In recent years, however, a visible divide has been emerging over a single issue: the role of women.

The decision by SAR high school, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, is just the latest development on this front. Before it came the decision by Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Orthodox rabbi in Riverdale, to ordain women clergy. Before that came the Orthodox minyans that decided allowing women to lead certain parts of worship did not violate the letter of the law.

It’s difficult to say when it all began. Was the original Bais Yaakov school for girls, opened in Poland in 1917, the first breach, breaking the traditional ban on giving girls a formalized Torah education? That school, which would be considered ultra-Orthodox by today’s standards, was then seen as groundbreaking. Only the imprimatur of the Chofetz Chaim helped stem the controversy that greeted its establishment.

In America, a key milestone came in the latter half of the 20th century when Orthodox schools began offering girls the same Jewish education offered to boys. When some Orthodox schools began allowing girls to study Talmud, under the authority of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of the Maimonides School near Boston, it opened the door to a new way of thinking about the role of Orthodox women.

If an Orthodox girl could study Talmud in high school, why couldn’t she in college? By the early 1980s, Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, was offering elective Talmud classes at its Stern College for Women, though it wasn’t until 2009 that Stern opened a master’s program in biblical and Talmudic interpretation to women.

In 1984, the Drisha Institute, a New York institution under Orthodox leadership, opened the first-ever full-time women’s kollel study program.

The glass ceiling of female Orthodox spiritual leaders began to shatter too. In 1992, Drisha began offering a three-year program “paralleling rabbinic ordination” to certify women scholars. A few years later, Nishmat, an institution in Jerusalem established in 1990 “to open the gates of higher Torah learning to women,” inaugurated a program to certify women as yoatzot halacha – consultants on Jewish law. The consultants mainly ministered to women on laws pertaining to sex, Shabbat and kashrut.

In 2009, Rabbi Weiss pushed the envelope even further by ordaining Sara Hurwitz, later conferring on her the title of “rabba,” a feminized version of rabbi. The move was immediately condemned, not just by haredim but by leaders of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.

“The ordination of women as rabbis represents a serious and inappropriate breach with our sacred tradition and is beyond the pale of Orthodox Judaism,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a Teaneck rabbi who was vice president of the RCA at the time.

For a long time, it had been unusual for one sector of American Orthodoxy to condemn another, despite differences in practice and even ideology. Many families span the various kinds of Orthodoxy, and it’s not unusual to find haredi Jews worshipping in Modern Orthodox shuls and vice versa.

But as liberal Orthodox Jews support new roles for women, particularly in the synagogue, it’s looking increasingly like Orthodoxy is undergoing a schism.

The more traditionalist elements of the Orthodox community view the reforms as beyond the pale, a threat to the integrity of their halachic community. This is why Weiss and the yeshivas he has established, including the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, have faced so much Orthodox opposition – from the RCA, which does not recognize Chovevei ordination, to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which recently questioned Weiss’s Orthodox credentials.

While the more public battles have been over women’s ordination, laying tefillin or reading from the Torah, there are many other women-related issues both large and small with which Orthodoxy is grappling.

It’s not just about clergy but also women serving as synagogue presidents, making the blessing over bread or wine on Shabbat, or dancing with Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah.

Will the changes considered controversial today gradually gain mainstream acceptance too, or are they fated to remain a fringe Orthodox phenomenon? In a movement with no central governing authority or membership structure, it’s hard to say.

Clearly, the haredi Orthodox will stand against change. The question is which way the Modern Orthodox and the institutions associated with them – the RCA, Y.U., the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel, to name a few – will swing.

There is, perhaps, one factor that may play an outsize role in determining this: leadership. If the change agents within Orthodoxy become educators, role models and leaders of the next generation of Modern Orthodox Jews, successfully pass on their commitment to both halacha and egalitarianism, and continue to live a life committed to Jewish law, they could transform the face of Modern Orthodoxy.

But if they fail, then those who have been arguing all along that these changes have no place in Orthodoxy will see vindication in that failure.

Chief Rabbinate Backs Down, Accepts Rabbi Avi Weiss

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has reversed its stand and said it will accept letters from Rabbi Avi Weiss confirming the Judaism of those who wish to wed in the country.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Weiss’ attorney in Israel, Assaf Ben-Melech, the Chief Rabbinate affirmed its position on the liberal Orthodox rabbi from New York.

In October, the Chief Rabbinate rejected a letter from Rabbi Weiss vouching for immigrants who wanted to marry in Israel pending an investigation into his adherence to traditional Jewish law. The move sparked widespread outrage that Rabbi 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.

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s religious services minister and Diaspora Affairs minister, has been meeting since November with officials from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the Chief Rabbinate to resolve the issue.

He reportedly sees the issue as one of prime importance based on the potential negative impact it could have on Israel-Diaspora relations.

Weiss founded the liberal Orthodox rabbinical seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and has pioneered a number of controversial innovations in the Orthodox world, most recently his decision to ordain women as clergy through a new seminary called Yeshivat Maharat.

“I appreciate that this injustice has been corrected and am deeply grateful for the overwhelming support I received from all over the world,” Weiss said in a statement. “I also urge the Chief Rabbinate to reflect on how it can help us reach out, respect and acknowledge all Jews in the Diaspora.”

Engel Goes to Bat for Rabbi Avi Weiss in Letter to Netanyahu

Monday, January 13th, 2014

The New York congressman who represents Rabbi Avi Weiss expressed his concerns to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Jewish status letters written by the rabbi.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter to Netanyahu dated Jan. 10, “This trend of rejecting status letters written by Rabbi Weiss and others undermines the bond between Diaspora communities and the state of Israel, and I fear may ultimately lead to the wholesale prohibition on community rabbis in the Diaspora from participating in the religious life of Jewish people in Israel.”

Weiss not only lives in Engel’s congressional district, but the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale that Weiss led for nearly 40 years and the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school he founded also are located there.

Late last year, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel rejected a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an American couple marrying in Israel written by Weiss, as well as the letters of at least 10 rabbis in other cases.

A letter vouching for a couple’s Jewishness and that each of the couple is single or divorced according to Jewish law, has been required for decades from couples wishing to marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate decided several years ago that it would no longer automatically recognize conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, and agreed to accept those of a limited number of approved rabbinical courts, or batei din.

Engel said he is concerned that the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Weiss’ letter “is simply the latest instance of the broader marginalization of the many diverse streams of Judaism in Israel. If Rabbi Weiss’ credentials are rejected — an Orthodox leader with decades of experience — what does that portend for other strands of American Judaism?”

Engel left for Israel Sunday as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s delegation to the funeral for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Jewish Congressman Concerned over Rabbinate Boycott of Avi Weiss Flock

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel sent a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern over the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Jewish status letters written by Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in the letter to Israel’s prime minister dated Jan. 10 that: “This trend of rejecting status letters written by Rabbi Weiss and others undermines the bond between Diaspora communities and the state of Israel, and I fear, may ultimately lead to the wholesale prohibition on community rabbis in the Diaspora from participating in the religious life of Jewish people in Israel.”

Weiss is one of Engel’s constituents. Both the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, which Weiss led for nearly 40 years, and the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, which Weiss founded, also are located in Engel’s congressional district.

Late last year, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel rejected a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an American couple marrying in Israel written by well-known Weiss, as well as the letters of at least 10 rabbis in other cases,

A letter vouching for a couple’s Jewishness and singlehood has been required for decades from every couple wishing to marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate decided several years ago that it would no longer automatically recognize conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, and agreed to accept those of a limited number of approved rabbinical courts, or batei din.

Engel said he is concerned that the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Weiss’ letter “is simply the latest instance of the broader marginalization of the many diverse streams of Judaism in Israel. If Rabbi Weiss’ credentials are rejected – an Orthodox leader with decades of experience – what does that portend for other strands of American Judaism?”

Engel wrote that it is “profoundly inappropriate for the Chief Rabbinate to cast aspersions on any individual’s commitment to Jewish traditions simply because of differing religious customs and practices.”

Engel left for Israel Sunday as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s delegation to the funeral for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharansky Supporting Rabbi Avi Weiss vs. Rabbinate, RCA

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky has released the following statement regarding the debate surrounding Rabbi Avi Weiss:

“Rabbi Avi Weiss is a prominent leader of the Modern Orthodox Jewish world. By his teachings and his personal example, he has inspired and raised generations of Jews in the spirit of kol yisra’el arevim zeh la-zeh (the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another) and with a deep commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

“Rabbi Weiss’s commitment and integrity are beyond reproach, which is why I find the ongoing discussion about his Rabbinic credentials absurd.

“As Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, I would like to state clearly that our shlichim (emissaries) will continue to honor Rabbi Weiss’s certifications and recommendations, as we have been proud to do up until now.”

Rabbi Weiss complained recently that the Israeli Chief rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) were in cahoots to disqualify “Liberal Orthodox” rabbis by the Rabbinate refusing to honor their recommendation of their congregants as proper Jews.

As we wrote here earlier, this created a situation in which the largely anti-Zionist Rabbinate, comprised of wall-to-wall Haredim, was collaborating with the RCA, catering mostly to Orthodox Jews who are comfortable staying in New Jersey – to block Zionist Orthodox American Jews from making aliyah.

Hopefully, this madness will be corrected now, possibly with some additional help from Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett, who dropped the ball this year on electing a National Religious Chief Rabbi.

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

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/only-bennett-can-solve-the-avi-weiss-conundrum-he-caused-it/2014/01/05/

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