As Rabbi Avi Weiss Steps Down, Time to Stop Him Once and for All


avi-weissBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Open Orthodoxy’s flagship institutions, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, and a vocal proponent of granting semichah to women, announced on Shemini Atzeres that he is stepping down from the pulpit of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR). He had previously given up the presidency of Chovevei Torah.

In a speech to his congregation, Weiss announced his plans to end his tenure as rabbi, a position he has held for over four decades.

“There is natural sadness that I feel as I step back, but it is overwhelmed by feelings of hoda’ah laKel, of gratitude to G-d, and of simchah, joy,” Weiss said. “As we embark on this necessary and critical transition phase, let’s do so with joy that as wonderful as it has been, the best is yet to come.”

The 70-year-old Weiss – who called his wife Toby up to the bimah after his speech – said he would step down in July 2015.

Weiss said he is not retiring, stating that he will still serve as rabbi-in-residence at HIR, adding that he would continue speaking and mentoring rabbinic students.

In his speech, Weiss called “Rabba” Sara Hurwitz – who he ordained – “my hero,” stating that “although Rabba Sara is spending more time as the dean of Yeshivat Maharat, an institution which grants semichah to women, her contribution in the Bayit (HIR) has been historic, and it continues to be indispensable. A woman’s voice in the spiritual leadership of our Bayit as a full member of our rabbinic team is crucial to our future success.”

While Weiss is stepping down from leading the congregation, the agenda he has set in motion continues to wreak havoc. His graduates occupy pulpits in congregations and schools across the country, propagating his innovations under the cloak of Orthodoxy. In fact, in his speech announcing his “transition,” he proclaimed that he would be working on “establishing an umbrella organization which will hopefully encompass the myriad of today’s Modern Orthodox and Open Orthodox voices.”

He has been the subject of many articles and columns in this publication over the past decade, decrying his faux-Orthodoxy and calling on him to ditch the label and acknowledge his changes for what they are. They are not Orthodox.

While the RCA and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate do not recognize the semichah and geirus granted by Weiss and his institution, mainstream Orthodox organizations have failed to condemn his actions. In fact, Allen Fagin, executive vice president and chief professional officer of the Orthodox Union, is scheduled to attend the installation of Open Orthodox Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, a YCT graduate, as spiritual leader of OU member congregation Beth Israel in suburban New Orleans, LA.

In rejecting a geirus performed by Weiss, the Israeli 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.”

As an example of the double-speak that organizations engage in when talking about Weiss, the RCA quickly issued a statement a day after the Rabbanut said that. The RCA stated, “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 statement continues: “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.”

What makes one Jewish person Orthodox, another Conservative, and a third Reform? What is it that has defined Orthodoxy ever since that term was formulated to describe our way of life?

When the Reform movement began, its proponents claimed that they were simply interested in reorganizing davening to make it more orderly and beautiful. They shortened the tefillah by removing parts that they claimed were no longer understood, relevant or necessary. There was absolutely no attempt to tamper with the fundamental underpinnings of Yiddishkeit or make any readjustment to the doctrines that are at the foundation of our religion. Nor did they amend any halachos or observances.

That all came later. It was in 1885 that the Reform rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh, issued their proclamation to do away with all the “rituals” that they deemed to be “dispensable.” They discarded the Torah and removed it as an influence in their lives. They did away with awaiting a return to Eretz Yisroel and established, for all intents and purposes, a new secular religion.

The Conservatives also began as a seemingly harmless group devoted to maintaining halachah, but concerned with tweaking a few observances here and there so that they would conform to the times. Everything else came later. At their founding, they referred to themselves as “Historical Judaism,” as they sought to counter the radical inroads of the Reform.

Conservatives sought to implement certain minor changes and amendments, and promoted them all as being consistent with biblical and rabbinic precedent. They maintained fidelity to the traditional form and precepts of Judaism and did not deviate by changing any of the laws, not even the language of prayer.

Eventually, the Conservative movement also degenerated and became a religion without a G-d, constantly seeking to amend its observances and conforming to the prevailing notions in style at the moment. To them, the mitzvos of the Torah, which we cherish and observe as the word of Hashem as we seek to draw closer to Him, are the stuff of legend which are followed in order to feel good and part of some glorious ancient tribe with fabulous customs and recipes.

The Conservative yeshivos and rabbinic organizations became tools of the secularists. Although they may have been founded with good intentions and employed Talmudic scholars, they became pedestrian-level institutes of sophistry, doing little more than providing a cynical religious cover to a meandering, secular, assimilationist organization.

Orthodoxy was the term given by the Maskilim to those who remained loyal to the Torah, halachah and minhagim as handed down through the generations. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, “Orthodoxy looks upon attempts to adjust Judaism to the ‘spirit of the time’ as utterly incompatible with the entire thrust of normative Judaism, which holds that the revealed word of G-d rather than the values of any given age are the ultimate standard.

“The Orthodox community, institutively realizing that liturgical reforms were only the beginning of a long-range process designed to change the tenets and practices of Judaism…reacted with an all-out effort to preserve the status quo.”

Orthodoxy regards with great alarm even the slightest tampering of any part of tradition. It refuses to recognize or participate in any united collective religious organization that deviates from – or reforms in any way – traditional halachic Judaism, which is based upon observance of the Shulchan Aruch.

We have repeatedly written about Rabbi Avi Weiss and his innovations. We have written exposés about his yeshiva, Chovevei Torah, and its graduates. He is at it again and authentic halachic Orthodoxy is once again sleeping at the wheel. We feel that it is about time that he be considered outside of Orthodoxy. Once and for all, the collective bodies of Orthodoxy should declare that he has driven himself out of the camp.

Open Orthodoxy began its path by crossing socio-religious red lines, such as fostering greater cooperation with and recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish clergy, and engaging in celebratory religious interaction with Christian clergy. Then came their adopting new standards for geirus. New attitudes toward non-traditional marriage were proffered by YCT’s rabbis, radically changing accepted Orthodox norms so as to bring Open Orthodoxy in line with the times, yet not violating halachah. Soon thereafter, Open Orthodoxy introduced the ordination of women, again accompanied by teshuvos to justify this breach of tradition on technical halachic grounds. Then came changing tefillah: Tefillah could be led by women, and brachos could be cancelled and replaced. They updated davening and nusach to reflect the values of the day. Sometimes, bogus halachic loopholes were created, while at other times, no halachic justification was offered.

Open Orthodoxy’s reforms and attempted integration into Modern Orthodoxy are met with deafening silence at best and sometimes even with cooperation and support. To wit, YCT’s graduates are landing pulpit and campus rabbinical positions at synagogues and universities affiliated with mainstream Modern Orthodox synagogue organizations.

Popular Modern Orthodox lecturers and authors, affiliated with mainstream Modern Orthodox organizations, participate in YCT symposiums and contribute to YCT publications. Meanwhile, Open Orthodoxy continues its leftward trek over the edge, reforming Orthodoxy and breaking away from the chachmei hamesorah, and even censuring the ideas of Chazal when they do not fit in with the times.

Open Orthodoxy has very ambitious plans to change Yahadus, and Modern Orthodoxy and its organs had better wake up, whether Avi Weiss is rabbi of the Bayit in Riverdale or not.

Avi Weiss has a long history. He kept on pushing the envelope as far as he could and waited to see if anyone pushed back. When there was no pushback, he took the next step, and then the next and the next. Eventually, he went so far that he clearly stepped off the cliff and descended into a different realm.

Weiss’ actions are even more brazen than those of the original reformers, yet he has succeeded in evading the eye of scrutiny and continues to be permitted to parade as an Orthodox rabbi.

Why should we care? For the same reason Jews cared for the past three hundred years when reformers of all stripes advanced their agendas. We fought back and repelled them from the normative community. There is no reason that Weiss should be permitted to speak in our name. There is no reason that students of his rabbinic institute should be allowed to label themselves as Orthodox and compete against frum candidates for open pulpits in synagogues across the country.

Having learned from the Maskilim of previous centuries, the students of that movement in this century demonstrate that they have learned from the mistakes of the former. Without seeking to entrap the masses on an individual level and convert them to their beliefs, they concentrate their efforts on a communal level, aiming to conquer pulpits in communities across the United States and Canada in their bid to corrupt Orthodoxy.

Zacharias Frankel, referred to as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, wrote, “The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.”

Pretty soon, the innovations and transformations put into motion by Rabbi Weiss won’t be considered silly, and there will be more and more aberrations, if the phenomenon is permitted to fester.

Yes, it is late. We should have dealt with this earlier. But it is not too late. Even as he rides off into the sunset, his sun still shines.

Let us take this most recent step in his career as an opportunity to remove this cancer from the midst of Orthodoxy.

This article first appeared in Yated Neeman.

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  1. This man is dangerous.
    The ordination of women in any sense is a decimation of Torah control of public dialogue.

    He did not push the envelope.

    He threw it out.

    A terrible example of what G-d is not.


  2. Not by chance is this report right after WoW and Shabbos. “Rabba” Sara Hurwitz as the first “ordained” Rabba should go teach the Women Off the Wall some basic halachos for women: Shabbos, candle lighting, kashrus, taharas Hamishpacha and hafrashas challah.

  3. This is a gross distortion of Torah Judaism. Calling Rabbi Weiss “a cancer in our midst” ids despicable and gross. Did you ever call intermarriage by such terms? Assimilation? Go back to your cave caveman.

    When I hear a Rabbi like you speak
    up and OUT, I am proud to be born a JEW.
    Many rabbis are very silent on issues like this and the evil missionary movement
    I have been following this past year your comments from Matzav. I print and distributed your comments to a few people.

    You remind me of my Rabbi that also spoke out and many times had to face ‘political’ backwash.
    I pray him that his soul rose to the highest
    levels RABBI ABRAHAM HECHT zt’l.


    Your words,your fight, I am sure inspires others to stand strong for HASHEM AND TORAH.

    from a sephardic community member,Brooklyn NY

  5. The author is wrong about both the Reform and Conservative movements and how they developed. Within a decade after the foundation of the first Reform synagogue in Germany, the Reform movement had ditched pretty much everything in traditional Judaism other than belief in God even though their services retained many traditional aspects. The Conservative movement arose a few decades later not as a breakaway from Orthodoxy but as a reaction to the excesses of Reform. All this was decades before the Pittsburgh platform mentioned in the article.

  6. Rabbi Weiss is on at least one area regarding conversions more machmir than the RCA (and apparently the Chief Rabbinate): One YCT musmach participated in a conversion with non-orthodox rabbis; Rabbi Weiss (and Rabbi Linzer) publicly condemned that musmach, who is no longer listed as a YCT alum. In contrast, the leader of the famous Denver Joint Conversion beit din remained an RCA member in good standing until the end of his life last year and was in fact featured on the RCA web site. We should all realized that he was absolutely right regarding the inadvisability of centralizing conversion authority, as all three recent major efforts failed rather spectacularly. Centralizing conversion authority beyond the level of the individual community has no basis in our mesorah and it is ironic that people who push such efforts over Rabbi Weiss’ objections complain about HIS alleged violations of mesorah

  7. We all know who and what Avi Weiss is. Thank you for that reaffirmation. However, why and how he is pulling the wool over traditionalk Orthodoxy is really what must be explained and broadcasted.

  8. The article is very well written and 100% accurate. However, there is really no point in penning these kind of feelings unless you are proposing a way to solve it. What generally happens with these sort of articles is that people read it, they agree with it and then move on to the next article.
    Perhaps someone with your level of influence and exposure, can work toward devising and implementing a more concrete plan of action of how to combat this most atrocious movement.

  9. Excellent article. I do worry though that the article contains an historical inaccuracy which may detract from its intention. The Reform movement ,well before 1885 Philadelphia ,had discarded Torah misinai,etc.

  10. Liberal – the original Pinchos was solely motivated by Ahavas Yisroel. Our Pinchos here, true to his name, is also motivated solely by Ahavas Yisroel.

  11. In Atlanta, GA there is a “shul” whose “rabbi” is a student of Avi Weiss and where Tzvi Farber is a “rabbi” and Avi Weiss visitsand the OU and Young Israel refuse to disaffiliate with them.
    They are the bigger problem! They are confusing naive Jews!

  12. Ahavas Yisroel is to care about innocent Jews being misled. Where is your ahavas yisroel for the thousands of Jews who are “weak” Modern Orthodox being led down the path of the Conservative movement and to assimilation.

    I suggest you read the writings of Rav Hirsch zatzal or even listen to the Roshei Yeshiva of YU who have publicly repudiated R’ Avi Weiss

  13. YAWN!!!! Been there done that. Now if the author wrote something complimentary of R. Weiss, that would be a true “man bites dog” moment. But this, isn’t even “dog bites man.”

  14. att: mr liberal u are most definately wrong on your comment i personally know rabbi lipschutz HE IS NOT A HATER !!! and as a matter of fact he is a person who can find a liking toward many different kinds of people. rabbi weiss has an issue, he is trying to ruin orthodox communities around the country with his reform views !!! if he would just agree that he is reform (and not try to call himself orthodox) all would be well !!!

  15. I wondere how many readers here are in any way connected to any of the shuls with Open Orthodox rabbis. It is true that his semicha is not accepted by the RCA. has that stopped shuls that have low mechitzos or microphones from hiring them. The changes so far are just the start and I have no doubt that it will go much farther in including females. That is a different issue as this will spread to shuls with mechitzos and no microphone unless the orthodox leadrs find a way to serve the population that it no longer cares to service. The Conservative Movementis dying and many of its more sincere members are indeed more comfortable in the Bayit than they would be in a shtibel in Monsey. You may be right but it doesn’t have the slightest effect.

  16. R Lipschutz

    From a mainstream MO, thank you so much for identifying and clarifying the issues surrounding this insidious cancer in our community.

  17. Liberal,

    Are you saying one can’t disagree or else be accused of lack of ahavat Yisrael? Ahavat Yisrael means one has to love every Jew. It doesn’t mean one has to approve actions which go against the Torah, and Torah ethos. I guess in your worldview, one can’t say conservative and reform rabbis aren’t bona-fide rabbis. Otherwise, it would be a lack of ahavas yisroel, and we wouldn’t want any of that. Ahavas Yisrael does not mean we cannot publicly disagree with rabbis who do not act as orthodox rabbis should.

  18. Shoyn genug! Everyone should email or call the OU and protest their executive vice president attending the installation ceremony of a Chovevei Torah graduate as their new rabbi. Furthermore, people should demand that the OU remove their designation of this shul as an OU shul as long as any Chovevei Torah graduate is their rabbi. The Maharat (Avi Weiss’ designation of its female “rabbis”) at one of our local shuls headed by a Chovevei Torah graduate, recently led Kabbalas Shabbos davening! They have crossed all red lines and must be stopped!