Rejoinder To Rabbi Avi Weiss: Retain Halakhic Standards


avi-weissBy Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

Rabbi Avi Weiss has for years been on the periphery of Orthodoxy. His ordination of women for rabbinic roles, his bringing church choirs into his synagogue and his dancing with priests in his yeshiva, and his serving as the founder of the Open Orthodox movement, with all of its religious innovations and out-of-bounds ideologies, including radical feminization of prayer and female chazzanim (cantors), with Rabbi Weiss’ blessings, as well as his countless other activities typically associated with the non-Orthodox movements, have clearly placed him on the edge.

Rabbi Weiss, in the latest of his series of articles arguing to strip the Chief Rabbinate of its authority over conversion standards (“End the Chief Rabbinate’s Monopoly“, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 6, 2013), writes:

“Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to Conservative and Reform communities. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions.

“For that matter, civil weddings should also be recognized by the state.

“I am not advocating that the Orthodox rabbinate accept these conversions or weddings as halakhically valid. No rabbi should be called upon to give up his halakhic principles.

“At the same time, however, the State of Israel is the nationstate for the entirety of the Jewish people. As the state accepts non-Orthodox definitions of Jewishness for aliya and Israeli citizenship, so, too, the state should move to accept non-Orthodox conversions and weddings done in Israel as a matter of Israeli law.”

This puts Rabbi Weiss squarely at odds not only with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and its Chief Rabbinic Council, but with the thousands of Orthodox rabbis in Israel’s yeshivas, cities and towns.

How can Rabbi Weiss, as an Orthodox rabbi, in good conscience promote the performance and potential recognition of non-halakhic conversions? While I and many others will agree with Rabbi Weiss that non-Orthodox Jews are not likely to accept Halakha if it is “thrust down their throats”, and people who are not halakhically committed are more likely to become committed to Halakha if they can experience Torah observance at their own will and pace, that is not the issue when it comes to conversions.

There is an overriding factor at play here: the Jewishness of millions of people. Rabbi Weiss’ plea for the rights and recognition of non-Orthodox conversions means that the thousands upon thousands of non-Jews who each year undergo non-halakhic, invalid conversions would now be recognized as Jews in Israeli society, such that they will inevitably marry Israelis who are halakhically Jewish (and if they are non-observant, they will not be aware of the problem), eventually resulting in myriads or even millions of Israeli “non-Jewish Jews” and a massive intermarriage epidemic in the State of Israel, as we have here in America.

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate clearly states that the need for Orthodox conversion to be the only recognized conversion in Israel is to prevent that debacle and to prevent Jewish families from demanding verified family trees from one another before dating – as well as to allow Israeli “baalei teshuva” to be integrated into observant society.  Israel is not an ordinary country, it is the Jewish state, and the Religious Zionist vision for that state includes a Rabbinate that protects the basic halakhic status of the Jewish People.

Yes, Rabbi Weiss calls for an “Open Orthodoxy”, but does this openness come at the expense of an entire nation’s Jewish status?

Rabbi Weiss’ argument goes far beyond an argument about centralization versus decentralization of rabbinic services. On the contrary, his sweeping plea for the authorization to perform invalid conversions and for these invalid conversions to be subject to recognition by those who so desire is a radical approach that contravenes fealty to the binding nature of Halakha, and is shocking to read as being promoted by Rabbi Weiss, as he invokes his Orthodox rabbinical authority.

Rabbi Weiss has no one but himself to blame for the Israeli Rabbinate’s rejection of his letter attesting to the Jewishness and single status of an American couple that went to the State of Israel for marriage – the event that caused Rabbi Weiss to openly challenge the Chief Rabbinate and call for its disempowerment in many areas.

Rabbi Weiss’ own well-established pattern of unOrthodox actions and associations have cast aspersions on his Orthodox rabbinic bona fides. It is Rabbi Weiss and not the Rabbinate that has created the problem for the young couple.

Although not perfect, the current Israeli Rabbinate system, which maintains strict standards for Jewish identity and personal status, has maintained and preserved the halakhic integrity of Israeli Jewry and much of Jewry in the Diaspora. Innumerable cases of mamzeirus (children born of forbidden unions) and intermarriage (due to lack of verified halakhic single and Jewish status) have been prevented.

Without Orthodox rabbis whose services must conform to one halakhic standard in areas of Jewish and personal status in charge, the halakhic integrity of Jewish and personal status of Israeli citizenry and much of Jewry in the Diaspora will suffer. Rabbi Weiss’ plan, which argues against any required halakhic standards, would result in untold and mass tragedy regarding Jewish and personal status.

There is certainly an element of kefiyah (compulsion) involved here; submitting Israeli society to halakhic marriage, divorce and conversion requirements  is obviously not something that everyone embraces, although surveys have shown that most Israelis recognize the need for it, but would like the services themselves to be more user-friendly. Yet, the positive yield of this system, which is the preservation of yuchsin (the integrity of Jewish lineage), is unquestionably worth the price of the imposition. The current system, despite its inadequacies, has undeniably served us well and has protected and secured the legitimacy of our yuchsin; in fact, the system is a no-compromise must, without which the Jewish People cannot endure and perpetuate.

Rabbi Weiss, prior to the year 2000, had earned himself a reputation for successful kiruv (outreach) and passionate activism on behalf of world Jewry. It is my wish and the wish of much of the larger Orthodox community that Rabbi Weiss reconsider his current trajectory and return to using his dynamism and creative talents to spread authentic Torah and defend our people, rather than promulgate a movement of deviation and divisiveness in the name of Orthodoxy.

This article first appeared at Israel National News and is republished here with permission from the author.

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  1. Skdoula: He approach of ignoring Avi Weiss and his chevra has failed miserably.

    Avi Weiss and his YCT group began their deviations by according honor to Reform rabbis. The Orthodox organizations were silent. Then Avi Weiss and his crew started to get involved with “partnership minyanim” led in part by women. And mainstream Orthodoxy was silent. Then Avi Weiss and his group opened a yeshiva to train women rabbis. And there was more silence. Then AW and his following began a radical new approach to homosexual acceptance. And there was more silence. Then AW and his group started having total heretics, denying Torah Mi-Sinai, as leaders. And there was more silence. They AW and his group began calling for recognition of invalid geirus. Will we again be silent?

    Silence has done nothing other than give a green light to more deviation. Perhaps if people spoke up, the above pattern would finally change?

  2. How is this a story? There is probably not one observant Jew who has ever dropped down to join one of these guys!

    What is a way more important issue, is the 5 million American Jews that are removed from Yiddishkeit.
    Did you know that approximately every 4 minutes, another one of our Yiddishe brothers and sister marry a Goy?
    That is roughly 350 a day, and 130,000 per year.
    So while we pat ourselves on the back when a new Kosher restaurant opens, and we say, “the community has grown so much!” just remember that for every day that you do mitzvos, there are 9 Jews in this country that don’t keep anything.
    When you sit down by your Shabbos table tonight, you, your wife, and your five children KA”H, and you shep nachas as you rightly should, remember that correspondingly, another 60 Jews are either driving to the theater, or other Chillul Shabbos.
    Every time you make a Brocho, 9 other Jews missed out, every time you grow in your Avodas Hashem, another nine Jews won’t have our opportunity.
    When you look around your Shul and you see 50 people, keep in mind that correspondingly, 450 Jews will raise children that will never step into a Shul.
    But most of us will do nothing, and more Jews will disappear, as have already 1.5 million Jews over the last 30 years.

  3. Plain daas, as usual Rabbi Gordimer is spot on.
    People who know Rabbi Weiss, long term residents of his community, like him for all the reasons mentioned – his bein odom lachaveiro, his passion to help people in need. They are turned off by his being called a rasha, but can respect, if agree to disagree, a dispassionate yet strong dissection such as in these articles.

  4. Tzippi…who cares if he is passionate…cares about his neighbors, friends, if he doesn’t care of the Rebbonoi Shel Oilom and his Torah….his bein odom L’makon is lacking….totally….
    There are times when one is allowed to call another a rasha…check it out…

  5. #5, wow & #6, tzippi: You both are wrong, definitely wrong. Firstly, if Avi Weiss is not exposed for his chilul H’ against Torah, there will be horrific consequences, as #2, Realist, accurately brought out, keeping silent only created one chilul after the other, slipping down that slope to the most reform of the reform movement. When, for instance, conversions are performed by a group calling itself orthodox but being worse than reform, it can create a whole mock Jewish people and chaos, c’v. Frauds must be exposed for the sake of the sanctity of the nation. He has been a renegade from far back and now its reached a new low. His being soft-spoken and ‘nice’ is meaningless. As Jews, we are responsible for one another, especially concerning klal Yisroel.

  6. Hm. Curious my comment didn’t come through, I hope it’s still in the queue because I don’t think I can recreate it. Basically, divrei chachamim b’nachas nishmaim. And when there is a need for something stronger, I trust responsible parties such as Rabbi Gordimer to employ it. (Some may argue he has already.)