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The recent volt-face on the part of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel regarding recognition of Rabbi Avi Weiss as an Orthodox Rabbi is rather disturbing and sets a dangerous precedent. As the result of a meeting between lawyers representing Rabbi Weiss and the attorney representing the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate will now accept letters from Rabbi Weiss attesting to a candidate’s Jewishness in cases where such testimony matters, including, it would seem, the validity of conversions.
Rabbi Weiss has re-invented his brand of Judaism as a social movement, and while doing so has trampled upon both the sanctity and boundaries of Halacha.
His involvement in the establishment of an institution that ordains Rabbis who have written and expressed theological positions that lie in stark contrast to traditional Judaism is one case in point. Leaders of his “Open Orthodox” movement have openly written their thinking about the text of the Bible that parallels the positions of Reform and Conservative Judaism – but not a strictly orthodox one.
Rabbi Weiss’s ordination of women Rabbis contravening thousands of years of Torah tradition and halacha, yes halacha, is a second case in point. Rabbi Weiss has unilaterally declared the statements in the Gemorah and in the Gedolei HaPoskim as merely the reflection of socio-economic realities and forces and not actual halacha. The Gemorah tells us “Isha baAzarah minayin.” Not so, the good Rabbi Weiss. He states, “There are no Halachic barrier that would prevent women from becoming spiritual leaders, spiritual leaders within synagogue whatever the title.”
In celebrating Martin Luther King Day this past Monday, Rabbi Weiss also crossed a line. No one is questioning that Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King was a remarkable civil rights leader who fought racism peacefully, touched the hearts of the nation, and changed the face of America -making everyone a better person. The crossing of the line was that Rabbi Weiss held this celebration within the confines of an ostensibly orthodox synagogue in front of an Aron Kodesh, replete with mixed-gender singing, a mixed-gender choir, and a mixed-gender crowd.
Imagine, for a moment, if Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court of the United States of America celebrated in this manner in the Supreme Court building across from the capitol building in Washington D.C. Certainly the Supreme Court building, with its hallowed halls, bronze doors, and marble facades, requires a certain decorum by virtue of the fact that it is the highest court in the nation and represents the apogee of American judicial jurisprudence. How much more so does a Mikdash me’at, require a sense of awe and majesty.
Such conduct is clearly not permitted in an orthodox synagogue. A celebration of civil rights is a good thing, but a musical singing and dancing ensemble should be conducted neither in the Supreme Court building of the United States nor in a shul. Many Poskim rule that it is not just the building of the shul, but the very air of the synagogue is infused with holiness. The Gemorah tells us that Rav Yochanan used to actually curse those who profaned the synagogue with matters mundane.
This is not Orthodox Judaism. It is a manifestation of “feel-good Judaism” that allows everything and anything to slowly creep into thousands of years of Jewish tradition. It is a brand of Judaism that adopts and incorporates within it the latest trends and fashions of the society around us.
A famous parable is told of two synagogues, each one with a Torah scroll in which the mantle, the cover did not fit the scroll. The first synagogue realized that the mantle was too small and went to a tailor and had him sew and tailor a mantle that would fit properly. The second synagogue decided to take a different route. They cut the Torah scroll down to fit the mantle.
Rabbi Weiss, there is no question that you are charismatic, but I ask of you. Where is the Awe? Where is the Majesty? With such conduct in front of an Aron Kodesh how can you lay claim to the title of “Orthodox Jewish Rabbi?”
And Chief Rabbinate of Israel, I ask of you. How can you recognize as orthodox a man, who although his heart may be in the right place on many issues, continues to assault the very foundations of Torah-true Judaism in his statements, actions, and behaviors?
And where will it end? One can see a new edition of the Hagaddah with commentaries culled from the words and speeches of leaders of various social movements. One can well imagine new scholarly articles appearing in the journals and “Rabbinic” publications of the institutions that Rabbi Weiss has lend a hand in creating. Why can’t non-Jews lead religious services too? Can gentile experts in Jewish history and the Halakha serve on a Beit Din as well?
Great Rabbis of the Chief Rabbinate. Higiya zman. It is time to take a stand for Torah-true Judaism. Im lo achshav, aymasai?
Yerachmiel Katz – NYC
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.
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