The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has stated that due to American Rabbi Avi Weiss’ “questionable” commitment to Jewish Law, it has decided not to accept letters from him attesting to the personal status of his congregation members who seek to immigrate to Israel or get married in the country, until the matter is clarified.
This is the first time the Rabbinate provides reasons for its strict attitude towards Weiss and other liberal rabbis affiliated with the Orthodox community.
In a response to the religious-Zionist Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah movement, which has been supporting Rabbi Weiss’ struggle for recognition by the Chief Rabbinate, the Rabbinate said it had received testimonies from well-known rabbis in the United States, some of whom are member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), that Weiss’ halachic opinions – reflected in different incidents and circumstances – “cast doubt on the level of his commitment to the customary and acceptable Jewish Halacha.”
The Rabbinate’s legal advisor, attorney Harel Goldberg, wrote to attorney Assaf Benmelech, the movement’s representative, that the Chief Rabbinate was looking into the American rabbis’ claims against Weiss. Until the matter is clarified, Weiss’ congregants have been asked to obtain certificates on their Jewishness or personal status from other rabbis.
Goldberg added that should the Rabbinate seek to “disqualify” the Rabbi Weiss, the examination’s findings would be brought to his review and he would be able to comment on them.
“We must not ignore the difficulty facing Rabbinate representatives, who are required to check hundreds of rabbis across the world’s Jewish Diaspora, whose certificates have been submitted to the authorized elements in Israel for the purpose of registering a couple for marriage,” attorney Goldberg wrote.
He noted that the Rabbinate was checking and cross-checking information with rabbis it trusted who were capable of testifying about colleagues seeking recognition.
“The Rabbinate examines whether the rabbi who signed the submitted certificate indeed serves as the rabbi of an Orthodox congregation, how he was certified as a rabbi and the level of his commitment to Halacha, in order to ensure that the Judaism certificates he issues can be trusted,” the lawyer wrote. “The Chief Rabbinate believes that it is not enough for a rabbi to identify himself as Orthodox in order for the Judaism certificates he issues to his congregants to be recognized.”
The legal advisor clarified in his letter that the Rabbinate recognizes Judaism certificates issued by a very wide variety of rabbis, but that it cannot do so when its representatives are convinced that a rabbi’s halachic perception, lifestyle or the way he leads his congregation deviate from the acceptable Orthodox framework.
Weiss, who leads a large community in northern New York, has been waging in recent weeks a public battle against the Rabbinate, which he says has stopped recognizing him and his colleagues over their liberal worldview. His protest has reached the Knesset, and he also plans to petition the High Court of Justice with the help of prominent Jewish American lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
Weiss is known as the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for the ordination of rabbis and Yeshivat Maharat, which is the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as clergy.
One of the symbols of his permissive worldview is his definition of a woman graduating from Yeshivat Maharat as a “rabba” – as the Reform and Conservative do – rather than as a “rabbanit.”
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