U.S. Rabbis: We Never Told Israeli Rabbinate That Avi Weiss Wasn't Kosher

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The Rabbinical Council of America said Saturday that it hadn't advised Israel's Chief Rabbinate to reject the testimony of its member Rabbi Avi Weiss.

About two months ago, in a move that roused protests from Orthodox rabbis in both Israel and the United States, the Chief Rabbinate disqualified Weiss from attesting to the personal status of members of his New York congregation who sought to marry in Israel. The decision even sparked a Knesset debate in November on the rabbinate’s opaque policy of disqualifying certain Orthodox rabbis overseas based on no clear criteria.

Weiss, founder of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school, represents the left flank of the Orthodox community, and he recently upset many in that community by becoming the first Orthodox rabbi to grant ordination to women. But he is also highly influential in the American Orthodox community, hence the outrage when the rabbinate refused to accept his affidavits regarding the personal status of people seeking to marry in Israel.

In a response to attorney Assaf Benmelech, who is battling the Chief Rabbinate's decision on behalf of Weiss, the rabbinate’s legal advisor, Harel Goldberg, said that the rabbinate was advised by members of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“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,” Goldberg wrote, using the term for Jewish religious law.

The rabbinate hasn’t yet completed its own investigation of Weiss, Goldberg continued. “When this investigation is finished, and to the degree that the Chief Rabbinate thinks there is a problem with recognizing affirmations of Jewishness made by Rabbi Weiss, the findings of the investigation will be brought to Rabbi Weiss for comment before a final decision is made.”

Regarding how the rabbinate decides which rabbis overseas it considers trustworthy, Goldberg wrote that it makes these decisions by asking other rabbis from the same country, “who are known to and trusted by representatives of [the] rabbinate,” about the rabbi under investigation. The rabbinate is careful to cross-check the information it obtains by asking several different rabbis from the same country, he added.

Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, said it would be a mistake to confine the debate to Weiss alone.

In its statement the Rabbinical Council of America said that it has been working closely with the Chief Rabbinate in recent months to create a new protocol that would "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."

A Jewish wedding held in Israel in 2010.Credit: Alex Levac

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