RCA Statement In Regards To Rabbi Avi Weiss & His ‘Rabbah’ [& His Response To RCA]


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The Rabbinical Council of America has today issued the following statement regarding Orthodoxy and Women’s Leadership Roles:

Over the course of the last several weeks, at the request and initiative of Rabbi Avi Weiss, the leadership of Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Avi Weiss have engaged in discussions concerning the issue of ordaining women as rabbis. We are gratified that during the course of these conversations Rabbi Weiss concluded that neither he nor Yeshivat Maharat would ordain women as rabbis and that Yeshivat Maharat will not confer the title of “Rabba” on graduates of their program.

We are delighted that we have been able to resolve this matter in adherence with Torah principles and in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of peace and unity within our community. We are confident that continued dialogue of this type will enable us to resolve other important issues facing the Jewish community today.

The RCA reaffirms its commitment to women’s Torah education and scholarship at the highest levels, and to the assumption of appropriate leadership roles within the Jewish community. We strongly maintain that any innovations that impact the community as a whole should be done only with the broad support of the Orthodox rabbinate and a firm grounding in the eternal mesorah of the Jewish people.
Letter from Rabbi Avi Weiss to RCA President Rabbi Moshe Kletenik

Dear Rabbi Kletenik,

This has been a most challenging time. The change in title from “Maharat” to “Rabba” has precipitated a level of controversy in the Orthodox community that was neither expected nor intended.  In light of the tension caused to our greater community and my commitment to the principle of gadol hashalom, I share the following:

It is not my intention or the intention of Yeshivat Maharat to confer the title of “Rabba” upon its graduates.  Yeshivat Maharat prepares women for positions of religious leadership in the Orthodox community. Each student who completes its course of study in Tanakh, Talmud, Halakha and Jewish Thought, and is deemed fit by her faith, knowledge of our Mesoret, ethical integrity and temperament to assume positions of religious leadership in Orthodox institutions will be confirmed as manhigah hilkhatit, ruhanit, toranit (Maharat).

They will have been prepared to provide varied forms of communal and synagogue leadership in accordance with halakha.  They will also have been trained in pastoral counseling, as well as having the ability to answer questions of halakha to those who seek them out, as has been recognized and well established in both classical and contemporary halakhic sources.

I hope that good will emerge from all of this, and that some of the meaningful conversation and communication that has taken place these past few weeks between myself and yourself as the President of the Rabbinical Council of America, might continue.  I thank you for your candor and your receptiveness.

In the prayer that we all continue to work for the betterment of Am Yisrael–


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(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. The RCA gave him a pass, inexchange for some meaningless and misleading psychobabble.

    Weiss should have been excommunicated, Like that reconstructionist Kaplan, who was excommunicated by the Agudas Horabbanim.

  2. “having the ability to answer questions of halakha”
    Maybe I am wrong, – I hope I am, – but judging from what he wrote in his letter, it seems to me that the only change is in the title.
    The “job description” is still that of a rov.

  3. I think as long as it is done in a tzanua way, a woman is certainly allowed to teach, offer pastoral care, and instruct people about what the Mishna Berura etc. says. (Paskening a shaila not directly addressed in the seforim is a different question) The issue I believe is one of serrara. If the shul has a main rav, who is its manhig, a woman can certainly do all of the above.

    I think that was what was accomplished with the semantical shift.

  4. Weiss isn’t finished yet. This letter, although seemingly a retreat from his “ordination” of “Orthodox” female rabbis, is but a strategic retreat in the face of strong opposition. The opposition obviously came from outside the RCA, whose rabbis to a great degree agree with Weiss and would be happy to hire some of Weiss’s “Rabbas”, given the chance.

  5. ALthough I can agree with the sentiment of many readers, I think it is high time tht YWN/editors/readers/commneters stop bashing our brethren;
    Let’s focus our energies on bashing the enemies of our people, and save the remainder of our efforts to (quielty) befriend our co-shomrei Torah.

  6. I wonder what everyone in this forum would have done when Devorah Ha’navieah was considered the Shofit HaDor? Would they have tried to put the RSh”O in cherem for his controversial choice?

    Frankly the term rabah is a fraction of the term Shofet the Hashem gave her. I have no idea what these current women’s qualifications are or aren’t I am just bring up the point that female Jewish leadership is something that has been previously endorsed (under the current circumstances) by HKB”H

  7. Readers should recognize that the RCA is an organization that incorporates a very wide range of rabbis across the Orthodox spectrum. There are many who are very involved in the organization who are staunch supporters of our mesorah and opposed to giving women any sort of title or allowing them to paskin, as suggested by the statement. However, any organization that is inclusive necessarily needs to try to cater to the entire range of its members. It’s easy for the Moetzes to stand on the sidelines and make strong statements against these activities when they will not integrate into their group members of the RCA and the wider group of Shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos who don’t agree with them on all matters of hashkafah. However, the RCA has to walk a very fine line and tries to maintain achdus among the rabbis from across the wide range and I hope those who seek to criticize the RCA recognize that and don’t attribute this statement to the view of every member of the RCA.

  8. Deepthinker,

    Rabbi Kaplan was not a member of Agudas Horabbanim, and the excommunication was decades after he had left Orthodoxy.

  9. Rabbi Avi Weiss is in fact a Rav and a Morah Dasra. Anyone who calls him mister is a dolt, and owes him mechilah.
    One is entitled to disagree with his shitas, as do I, but mudslinging is purely unnecessary and loshon horah.
    If the RCA and Reb Avi have found a common ground we should all accept that and move on. We don’t have to daven in his shul or patronize his Yeshiva, but it is what it is and we need to move on.

  10. People here have to understand that R. Weiss is a formidable force within the RCA. His outlook is highly relevant to a very large portion of American Orthodoxy and its rabbinate; especially outside New York. Expelling him from the RCA, aside from creating a “loose canon” under the control of no rabbinic body, might have engendered a significant defection from the RCA in the American hinterland. Pulpits once lost to RIETS and other yeshivot are rarely regained.

  11. “The change in title from ‘Maharat’ to ‘Rabba’ has precipitated a level of controversy in the Orthodox community that was neither expected nor intended.” (from the statement R. Avi Weiss)

    This statement deserves the ‘disingenuous award’ of the year. Of course he knew that his action would precipitate an uproar, which is exactly what he intended from the start.

    And he knew from the start that he would have to retreat in the face of the uproar, but he accomplished his main purpose: to break the ice and publicly “ordain” a woman and call her “rabbi.” Regardless of the title that Yeshiva Maharat will presently write on their certificates, a precedent has been set, and it’s graduates will almost certainly continue be called “rabbi” by R. Weiss and the M.O. congregations that hire them.

  12. #9 -“israelibochur” – are you comparing Avi Weiss to HaSh-m?!?!? – I don’t think even he would do THAT!!!
    HaSh-m making Devorah a Judge hardly is comparable to Avi Weiss giving smicha to women!
    Devorah, and a few others were clearly EXCEPTIONAL CASES.
    The general rule in klal Yisrael for nashim tzidkaniyot is to follow the the example of the tzniyut of Sara Eemainu (heenai Sara ba’ohel). It was this concept of female tzniyut that set the example for righteous women in general, and specifically for the nashim Moavi’ot, which is why THEY (as opposed to the MoavIM) were exempt from the ban on converting to Judaism, which created the opportunity for Rut to become a Jew, and ultimately her offspring, the line of David, will be Mashiach.
    Avi Weiss’ me’halaych is one that tries to make women into men and negate the fact that men and women have equally important, but very different, roles in Jewish life. To put women into men’s roles, is NOT to elevate them, but, adaraba, it wrongly indicates that the critical role they do have AS WOMEN is not really important.

  13. throughout all of the updates from YWN, there have been numerous posts referring to R’ Avi Weiss with the title Mister. Not only is such a title blatantly incorrect, as he is still a recognized Orthodox Rabbi, for any one of us to assume that he deserves to lose such a title would seem to border on Apikorsos. Disrespecting a Talmid Chochom is the definition of an Apikores (you can look in the Rambam Hilchos Teshuva if you want). The commentators who post on this site cannot possibly assume to be on the lofty level it takes to declare one outside the fold of Torah Judaism. I cannot imagine that any of those posting here are from amongst the Gedolei Hador. No one here has quoted legitimate Rabbonim who have labeled R’ Weiss as a heretic, and i doubt that any will. Granted, the RCA itself put out a letter condemning the bestowal of Rabbah on any woman, but that very same RCA just issued another statement, as hopefully most of the commentators read, which would seem to welcome R’ Weiss back into the fold.


  15. Right on, AinOhdMilvado. Thanks.

    It’s ridiculous to claim that because Hashem made Devorah a neviah that therefore R’ Weiss can make ordain a female Rabbi.

    I also am a bit skeptical about his claim that he didn’t think his titling Mrs. Hurwitz “Rabbi” would create an uproar, but I guess he deserves the limud zechus as does every Jew with a chezkas Kashrus.

  16. #1 – Please treat R’ Avi Weiss with respect, even if you disagree with his shitos.

    #9 – If Hashem sends a Navi to tell us to make the graduates of R’ Avi Weiss’s programs “Rabbahs”, we will happily do so. Until then, there is no comparison between the two cases.

    #15 – How do you know? Did R’ Avi Weiss tell you his intentions when he did this? If not, we have a chiyuv to be danl’kav zichus on every jew.

    #19 – Besides being total Loshon Hara/Motzei Sheim Ra, that’s a very strong statement about a very large group of people, many who are shomer Torah u’Mitzvos according to their Chashuv Rabbonim’s pisukim. You owe them an apology.

  17. #21

    Rav Aharon Kotler ZTV’L, in Mishnas Rabi Aharon (Vol. 3, Hesped on the Brisker Rav) states that the essence of Modern Orthodoxy is the same as the Reform and Conservative. That is, change Judaism into something that more people will be willing to accept.

    Rav Shimon Schwab ZTV’L (in Mitteilungen, Bulletin of Khal Adas Yeshurun April/May 1989) wrote “Sometimes the Modern Orthodox halachic foolishness which is flirting with the anti-Torah establishment, may border on heresy. This is all part and parcel of the spiritual confusion of the dark ages in which we happen to live.”

    Were Rav Aharon Kotler & Rav Shimon Schwab respectful enough or do they owe anyone an apology for those statements, in your humble opinion?

  18. before commenting, i wish some of the posters KNEW more!The facts: the possuk says (shoftim 4): “Udevorah Isha nevioh ,eshes lapidos, hih shofto es yisroel bo’es hahih”
    Clearly, she was a prophet and only the greatest people in our history have been recognized as “neviim”. so, she was a person of the highest holy order. She became a ‘shofet’ NOT through any appointment by the Almighty (9 and 16) but becuase the PEOPLE appointed her as their ‘shofet”. so,clearly, she was the accepted choice of the klal in those days. Whether we could do this today is another matter altogether.
    additionally- number 16- sarah imenu has nothing to do with the fact of Ruth’s conversion. It is true that the fact that they did not participate in the withholding of of water (see medrash)exempted them from the ban on geirus. but what does this have to do with soroh inemu?
    The plain fact is that in todya’s world, women DO take a larger role in society and this is what this is all about. How far and how much can we adapt our customsd?it is not easy matter and anyone thinking that a total ban is the answer should only look at his own backyard and see what happens there.

  19. Here is an Email that I just got…

    Dear friends,

    Please join us on Wednesday, March 3rd as Rabbah Sara Hurwitz, newly
    ordained spiritual leader of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s shul in Riverdale, NY, speaks
    to Synagogue Council and Jewish community leadership from 4:00-5:00 pm, here
    at our office in Newton Centre.

    Rabbah Sara Hurwitz is the first Orthodox female rabbi and is a part of the
    Rabbinic staff at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an 850-family Modern
    Orthodox synagogue in New York. Rabbah Hurwitz will be speaking on the
    topic “Can Orthodox Women be Rabbis?”, which will include text study on
    halachic approaches to women serving as rabbis, as well as discussion about
    Sara’s personal journey into the rabbinate.

    Rabbah Hurwitz serves as dean of Yeshivat Mahara”t, the first Orthodox
    school to ordain women. She graduated from Drisha’s 3-year Scholars Circle
    Program and studied for 5 years under the supervision of Rabbi Avi Weiss.
    She received a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University. She also
    helped create JOFA’s Gender and Orthodoxy Curriculum Project. Sara has
    lectured at JOFA, Drisha, the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, the JCC in
    Manhattan, Lights in Action, CAJE, CLAL, and at various synagogues across
    the United States. She was named as one of the Jewish Weeks 36 under 36, as
    well as a “top pick” in the Forward50 most influential Jewish leaders this

    We hope you will be able to attend this thoughtful, provocative and
    interesting conversation with one of the cutting-edge young leaders of our

    RSVP by email to …
    Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

    Visit our website: http://www.synagoguecouncil.org/

  20. Rofeh-ardama wrote: “Let’s
    focus our energies on bashing
    the enemies of our people, and
    save the remainder of our
    efforts to (quielty) befriend
    our co-shomrei Torah.” Chazal
    teach us that the last part of
    galus Edom will be a repeat,
    albeit harsher, of galus Yavan
    where the “enemies” were those
    from our camp – fellow shomrei
    Torah u’mitzvos. They were
    Probably big talmidei chachomim
    as well. Perhaps big ba’alei
    midos, aliyah, and avodah. They
    were lacking in one thing:
    emunas chachomim. From that
    lack, the misYavnim, caused
    all they caused. Nee more be
    said. The bottom line is, when
    major issues in halachah arise,
    We know to whom everyone turns.
    What sefer of contemporary
    halacha doesn’t quote Rav
    Shlomo Zalman, Rav Moshe, the
    Chazon Ish, Rav Tzvi Pesach
    Frank, Rav Henkin, etc.? (Is
    anyone what them and their
    yorshim even writing seforim
    on these issues?). So why is
    it that when it comes to issues
    such as this they don’t ask
    the opinion of these same
    Gedolei Torah? The reason is
    because they have a shita!
    Their own shita! They believe
    there are things for which we
    don’t need da’as Torah! For
    thousands of years, shomrei
    Torah asked morei hora’ah for
    not only p’sak, but for aitzah
    as well. This is still the
    hanhagah of the so called
    “kitzonim.”Anything short of
    this behavior is a forgery.

    Israelibachur wrote: “I wonder
    what everyone in this forum
    would have done when Devorah
    Ha’navieah was considered the
    Shofit HaDor? Would they have
    tried to put the RSh”O in
    cherem for his controversial
    choice? Frankly the term
    rabah is a fraction of the
    term Shofet the Hashem gave
    her. I have no idea what these
    current women’s qualifications
    are or aren’t I am just bring
    up the point that female
    Jewish leadership is something
    that has been previously
    endorsed (under the current
    circumstances) by HKB”H.
    This comment stems from the
    same lacking as the previous
    one; emunas chachomim. But
    here you see clearly the
    result of such a lack – as
    CHaZa”L say regarding the
    eigal – avodah zorah! Bnei
    Yisroel didn’t believe Moshe
    Rabbeinu had a cheshbon of 40
    days. Their cheshbon was the
    only right one – after all,
    they have degrees in math and
    language. We know how to count
    and we understand what he said.
    It can’t be he had a different
    cheshbon. What did this
    attitude lead to? Avodah zorah!
    CHaZa”L teach us about Devorah
    ruach Ha’Kodesh shynee. Enough
    said. We do embrace our
    brothers. Do they embrace their
    Torah and its chachomim?

  21. Thank you #24 for that revealing post. if anyone thinks Ms. Hurwitz and rabbi Weiss are not on a campaign to address the issue of gender in orthodox leadership, her past activities should dispell that myth.
    I doubt that a “gender and Orthodoxy Curriculum Project” was part of Devorah Haniviah’s activities. She probably kept it to basic Shoftim issues such as dealing with the plishtim etc..

  22. I know Talmedei Chachamim and Avi Weiss is no Talmud Chachem. But Avi Weiss is an ego maniac Am Ha’aretz who has no respect for Mesorah and holds himself more capable than the gedolim of this generation and any previous generation. Avi Weiss is the joke of the frum world.

  23. #22 not apology was expected form them. But in making those statements the manners in which they made them, R Kotle zt”l and R. Schwab zt”l rendered themselves and their views irrelevant to many Jews.

  24. cantoresq- “R Kotle zt”l and R. Schwab zt”l rendered themselves and their views irrelevant to many Jews.”

    …and to many non-Jews.

  25. Avi Weiss has crossed over the Modern Orthodox line and has even gone past the raison d’être for the establishment of The Union for Traditional Judaism, originally known as the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism.

    The Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism was founded by a group of traditionalist Conservative rabbis who broke with the movement because of the Conservative changes in tradition and especially to admitting women as rabbis.

    Yeshiva University’s modern Orthodox chancellor, Rabbi Norman Lamm noted that Avi Weiss’ conduct at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale has no regard for Kavode Hatzibor.

  26. edp41 #17,

    I attend Rabbi Weiss’s synagogue. Would you like for me to pass on your message to him when I see him next (which may be a while because he is headed to Israel for a family simchah). He does not read internet blogs.

  27. Regarding Rabbi Weiss’ ideology, I have personally heard him state before sceptical audiences that he believes in Torah Mi Sinai, that the Torah gives the rabbis the authority to interpret it, and that rabbinic rulings are binding as halachah. Just yesterday he publicly stated that women do not have the same roles as men. I don’t see where this makes him non-Orthodox; to the contrary this puts him beyond the pale of the Conservative movement!

    What has been lacking in this entire dispute is halachic arguments. I thought as Orthodox Jews we start from the halachah! Can someone please cite the halachah (including sources) that you claim Rabbi Weiss has violated?

  28. Joseph #23,

    Rav Kotler z’tz’l was actually quite close to Rav Soloveitchik z’tz’l (nephew of the Brisker Rav), who was the leader both of what we call Modern Orthodoxy and of Religious Zionism. They clearly respected each others’ Torah even though they individually followed very different derechs. The idea that they considered each other beyond the pale is preposterous.

  29. Charlie:

    I once again refer you to the verbatim words of Rav Ahron Kotler, as transcribed in sefer Mishnas Rabi Aharon, Vol. 3, Hesped on the Brisker Rav.

    I let Rav Ahron’s words speak for themselves.

  30. Joseph,

    Rav Ahron famously welcomed Rav Soloveitchik as a featured speaker at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner. I let Rav Ahron’s actions speak for themselves.

  31. Charlie:

    Beautiful. So we can agree that we’ll let Rav Ahron’s own words speak for themselves, and his Ahavas Yisroel speak for itself!

  32. Joseph: As the Gedolim have deemed the importance of bringing the Avi Weiss affair out into the open public for discussion, it is likewise important that the issue continue in an open ongoing forum; the Coffee Room. I tried to start a thread but I am an unwelcome person with the Moderators. Since you have CR fans, you might fare better.