Avi ‘Rabba’ Weiss: Conversion Bill A Divisive Blow To Judaism


avi-weissThe following article by Avraham Weiss, aka Avi Weiss, of ‘Maharat’ and ‘Rabba’ fame (sic), appears in Haaretz:

New legislation has been proposed in Israel that would give ultimate authority on matters of conversion to the Chief Rabbinate. While its intent may be to empower the more moderate rabbis employed by local governments to perform conversions in order to help hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants, it can be expected to have the opposite effect. Not only would the bill, which has thankfully been shelved for the time being, give the Chief Rabbinate, which is known for its stringency on this issue, final say over any conversion in Israel, it also signals that its power might soon extend to the Diaspora as well. The consequence of the bill would then be to grant Israel’s Chief Rabbinate full authority to determine one’s Jewishness with regard to the Law of Return. This possibility has justifiably upset Conservative and Reform rabbinic leaders in the United States, whose conversions are not currently recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.I write as an Orthodox rabbi who is passionate about his belief. It is part and parcel of my very being, and it is from this perspective that I raise a voice of protest against the proposed legislation. It is bad not only for Conservative and Reform Jews – it’s bad for Orthodox Judaism as well.

At present, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate recognizes only those conversions performed by a select group of American Orthodox rabbis. Even conversions performed by some Israeli Orthodox rabbis are not accepted. And even Orthodox rabbis who have worked closely with the Chief Rabbinate’s committee on conversion have had their conversions questioned and sometimes, shamefully, even revoked years later. The new legislation, therefore, further discriminates not only against Conservative and Reform Jews, but also against many streams within the Orthodox community.

While Conservative and Reform Judaism are by and large each united within one denomination, there are countless strains within Orthodoxy. Orthodox Jews range from Hasidic – and even among those sects there are serious divisions and disagreements – to Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Agudah, religious Zionist and modern Orthodox. The Chief Rabbinate is controlled by only one of these groups – the Haredi extreme right-wing element of Orthodoxy, which is often unwelcoming to Orthodox people who are outside their camp.

But even if every conversion performed by an Orthodox rabbi were accepted, the new legislation would still be bad law. Israel today is a diverse society. Religious and non-religious Jews are often at odds with each other. The feelings of the non-Orthodox toward the Orthodox are especially bitter. This discord can often be traced to negative feelings regarding the Chief Rabbinate, which is seen by many (especially the non-religious ) as the symbol of a monopolizing Orthodoxy in Israel and throughout the world.

What Israelis find intolerable is a rabbinate that is religiously coercive. Coercion turns people off Judaism – and specifically Orthodoxy. Legislation that allows the Chief Rabbinate to unilaterally determine who is Jewish will only serve to alienate countless more Jews – a dynamic that we, as a people, can ill afford.

The law would not only split Israeli Jews, it would divide American Jews as well. Apart from the obvious concern of Conservative and Reform rabbis, the more open Orthodox camp is troubled about the proposal too, but many have remained silent, concerned that any criticism would jeopardize their chances of being accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.

In opposing this new legislation, I nevertheless support the expansion of the role of local Israeli rabbis in conversion. It is they who should have responsibility for ruling on the Jewishness of a particular individual as well as with regard to synagogue membership or a ritual honor, or in order to consecrate a marriage. Much like in the United States, such decisions are best left to the local rabbi.

The Chief Rabbinate is of the opinion that coercion is a necessary means to maintain the Jewish character of the state. The reality, however, is that any form of coercion is a turn-off to the majority of Jews in Israel and around the world, who do not subscribe to their brand of Orthodoxy. It alienates them and drives them away.

Quite simply, coercion and religious growth are mutually exclusive. The pathway to religious commitment and spiritual striving is through choosing to grow and commit, not through force and coercion.

The best way to promote Judaism and, for that matter Orthodoxy – indeed, the best way to inspire hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants to seek out conversion – is through openness. The more one is open and offers choices, and the more one speaks and acts with love, the more others will be inspired to live a life of greater commitment to Jewish values and Jewish law. It is that commitment which, I believe with all my heart, will preserve and strengthen the Jewish character and identity of Israel.


{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. An excellent example of how much damage false leaders do by pandering to apikorsim so much they eventually come to use the disingenuous language of their enemies and believe their own falsehoods. It’s time to “ex-communicate” him, revoke his smicha (if indeed he has any). He is a danger to Jews r”l. I’m sure there would be many groups in the Reform religion who would welcome his views and need a spokeswoman.

  2. Once again Avi Weiss is undermining Judaism. The reason for this very important law, is to promote unity. That would be, in that it establishes a “gold standard” for conversion so that even the most stringent groups can accept conversions of others. The current environment and foolish opposition is about to lead to a private Book of Genealogy, or even a few of them. Will people have to prove that they are really Jewish with a card before they are counted in a minyan? What could be divisive then that?

  3. What rubbish! “The best way to promote Judaism” Who is interested in promoting Judaism??? ONE G-D, ONE TORAH, ONE PEOPLE. Yes, as Jews they are issues among the religious groups, which have to be resolved, but they all Keep Shabbos, Keep Kosher, Family Purity etc, What rubbish to compare us to the Reform or Conservative, to state that they are more united. IN WHAT??? In their Ke’fira? I am not shocked by your article, and I am sure many people are not either.

  4. While I agree with the part about the Orthodox concerns, I am not sure whether Rabbi Weiss is implying that Israel should recognize non-Orthdox conversions, as well. This would be a tragic mistake, as it would cause chaos in the whole system of Jewish lineage to have multiple standards.

    However, if the only purpose of the bill is for the law of return, then it is strictly a political immigration bill, and really would not make a difference whose conversions are recognized, although it would possibly set a bad precedent for other things.

  5. “Rabbi” Weiss certainly runs to to form. He seems to NOT advocate that daas Torah, i.e. the Gedolei Hador be consulted, and a shailah asked! Just as he didnt ask before the rabba scandal, or before welcoming worshippers of oso ish into his shul to celebrate MLK day on a Shabbos, he does not feel we should ask now!

    Och and Vei to a tzibbur who has such a believer of kochi votzem yadi at it’s helm.

  6. unless you subscribe to his type of orthodoxy, there is really no reason to post any of his views for your crowd – which i understand is more ‘hareidi’ type orthodox,
    unless, the reason you’re posting this, is because you want your readers to get excited, and have comments full of derisions against avi weiss. but i dont think that’s so appropriate

  7. “THE BEST WAY TO PROMOTE JUDIASIM” basicaly what he is saying is that we should do the opposite of what TORAH SAYS IN ORDER TO PROMOTE JUDIASM at least he is now publicising in public for everyone to see his twisted hashkofos

  8. Once again Weiss has hit the jackpot and found his name in the paper sagain! Congratulations on your latest efforts! Yaggati Umatzati taamin! Did you ever hear of Kabbalat ol mitzvot as being part of the geiruth process before we worry about turning people off we have to worry about preserving pure authentic judiasm we have to stick to our principles before worrying about attracting others. We must first know what we are. And yes “hareidi”=ultra orthodox meaning they are the epitome of an orthodox jew thus they have the authority to govern the halachic aspects of the state. weiss, perhaps you should just learn to keep your mouth shut for once and for all.

  9. It is Rabbi Avi Weiss.
    Everything that Rabbi Weiss has done , whether you agrea with his position or not has been Lemaan HaShalom and Lemaan Clal Yisroel. He has done more Chessed and more to help Clal Yisroel than all the commentators on this blog who write their trash as they villify him. He is entitled to not only Kavod HaRav, but simple Kavod Habriyot. Before you can be a Yeray Shomayim first and foremost one must be an ADAM.
    Something your readership does not understand.

  10. Not to mention that his argument that Reform and Conservative are fairly monolithic is specious. And why does he leave out Reconstructionist and Secular Humanist Jews, among others? Don’t they have a voice?

  11. To Comment Lo Mugbal: Who made you Posek Hador to know what is kosher and what is treif?

    To Annoymous, Comment #3- Please I beg you to look at your statement and recognize the tremendous Sinaat Chinam that it states. Yisrael She Chatah Yisrael Hu. Clal Yisroel is NOT just “TORAH TRUE” Jews but all Jews. How you see the problem is the very problem. When the Nazis checked for Jewishness, the did not ask if you wore Dalet Kanfos. Look deep and rethink the venom of your words. Reform Jews are Jews. By calling them the Reform religion
    not only do you expose your sinah for a fellow Jew, but you also are OVER on many DeOraIsos. Namely, VeOHavto LeRayacho Camochah. Besides going against the very Halochoh which you seek to support.

  12. To the Comment from THE GABBAI:
    In Reality, Rabbi Weiss does confer with Daas Torah. The problem is that you do not recognize the perspectives of his GEDOLEI TORAH and their Hashkofoh.

  13. To Sheldon:
    U do not need to be Posek HaDor to know what kosher and what not.It is a common knowledge. I bet U know it too.
    I accept every Jew with all hashkafot, but some kind of STANDARD for Klal Israel as a people should be maintained. And it is not Conservative or Reform.

  14. To Comment #12 Kish Ka:
    Are you sure that is the Halacha on Geirus. or is that your gut opinion. You know what most people have in their gut. By the way, do you keep every Halachah in Shulchan Aruch?

    To Comment #14, Not a Heretic: Where to Begin?
    Last I remembered we live in America and we have freedom of speech. By the way that is the same freedom that allows you to express your own parochial opinion.
    Secondly, your equation
    “Hareidi”= ultra Orthodox= the epitome of an Orthodox Jew leaves one to wonder By what standard do you make such an assumption. Are you the Don Yechidi? Are you the Dayan Emet?
    Are you the Bochen Klayot? Who appointed you and your ilk to be frumometers to measure other people’s level of observance?

  15. To Sheldon: I’m not heckling, please believe me. But who are his gedolim? Who does/did he consult? Who are his peers who will stand behind him?

    I honestly have no doubt that he is tremendously good-hearted and don’t believe the chesed he’s done can be negated by other actions, but we need a fuller picture.

  16. I hope you have the character to post my submission but it would not surprise me if you didn’t.


    No, we won’t post your submission which is chock full of lies about chareidim, yeshivos and the Torah world in general. If you want to share your opinion, go right ahead. But don’t expect us, the website representing the Torah world, to post your lies and fabrications.

  17. Regarding Comment from Tzippi:

    Rav Doniel Sperber, Rav Yissachar Dov Katz Rav Dov Linzer, Rabbi Angel, Rav Yoel Bin Noon, Rav Yehuda Amital A”h, Rav AHaron Lichtenstein, Rav Yehuda Gilad,Rav Shaul Berman, Rav Henkin in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi David Silber and many others. If you don’t know them or you never heard of them, I can Give you their cvs.

  18. Dear Tzippi,

    I quote to you from Rav Yehuda Amital’s Commitment and Complexity pg 49.

    “Whereas Halakha may be simple, the evaluation of reality is complex. Just as Judaism rejects the Karaite negation of the Oral Law….. so we must also reject a Karaite approach to Halakha. Halakha that is devoid of the exegesis of reality is a sort of Karaite Law. This “Karaite” approach has led to Halakha becoming for the youth, something autistic, unconnected with reality…..”

  19. Dear Tzippi,

    By the way, why is the issue Who is your Gadol?
    Why is the issue My Gadol is bigger than yours?
    Let’s deal with the issues at hand that are real and relevant. Lets stop calling names and deal with real issues. Lives are at stake here. Whether the issue is rabba, feminism, conversion
    let’s deal with them rationally, halachicly, respectfully, and with the understanding that there are real people and children that require help and answers. Whether we like it or not, women are in the work place and in roles of leadership that is reality. Whether we like it or not, there are thousands of people from the former Soviet Union who see themselves as Jews. They are commited to serving for the IDF, and the Jewish Community as a whole. Treat them fairly and respectfully. Don’t pull the rug out from under them. If we can not show compassion in our dealings with people as they approach Yahadus, then of what value is our Torah.

  20. Sheldon, I’m not trying to rate gedolim on some scale. I’ve seen though, that the people I respect (and I have to admit, I’ve primarily had exposure to the more yeshivish sort) tend to be talmidim muvhakim of someone from a previous generation, and if they don’t exactly mold themselves into their mentors’ images, they are still authentic transmitters of their mentors’ path.

    And I also want to stress that I’m not being confrontational. I don’t want to write something and have you think, them’s fightin words (though my last paragraph of the first post here could have been worded much better, sorry about that).