Rabbi Avi Weiss Desecrates Shul to Make a Point


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weiss rabbiBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

It is now a yearly event, and it is time that a line be drawn.

It is wrong to take a synagogue, to remove the Mechitzos, and to host a party atmosphere with mixed singing and dancing. To have a non-Jewish clergyman from a very different faith lead that singing in a place where the Torah is normally read adds to the shock of it all. To have an entire cadre of female church choir members sing in front of the shul’s Aron Kodesh is the icing on that cake.

In celebrating Martin Luther King Day this year, Rabbi Avi Weiss once again crossed a line. 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.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better method to disrespect a shul.

In Shulchan Aruch, the parameters for what is halachically considered darchei emori, following the ways of the gentiles, are either a] origins in Avodah Zarah or b] origins in non-tznius behavior. Not only is this celebration rooted in both of these – the fact that they are happening in front of an Aron Kodesh and on a bima makes it worse than darchei emori.

There is no question that the civil rights movement was a great movement. Hashem created all people b’tzelem elokim and we must remove racism from our midst. And 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. But we do not do this at the expense of throwing out halacha and kavod for the last remnant we have of the Beis HaMikdash – the shuls.

Even for the greatest manifestation of redemption from slavery we do not throw out halacha in order to celebrate. Kol Isha? Mixed dancing? Church choirs in shul?


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. This brand of Judaism should not have the word Orthodox in it – because it is clearly and demonstrably not. We should call them something else.

Leaders of his “Open O” movement have openly written their thinking about the text of the Bible that parallels the positions of Reform and Conservative Judaism – but not an orthodox one.

Imagine, for a moment, if the Chief Justice 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.

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 Torah Judaism. It is a manifestation of “feel-good-ism” 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.
Rabbi Weiss, you were once a wonderful soul that infused people with a love of Klal Yisroel and of Judaism. You have got to stop this and regain perspective. Use your talents to grow Torah Judaism – not divide it.

Inadvertently perhaps, you have given birth to a movement that rips apart Yiddishkeit from within. Its writings and actions are infused with elements quite foreign to Judaism. Eventually, you will have succeeded in creating yet another schism within Judaism. Is this what you want? Is this your legacy?

The author can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Now that we know that Avi Weiss is an epicorus( and so is his movement), can we go to town on him. Is it a mitzvah.

    Anyways, we have reached $36,000 in funding to perform brain surgery on the leaders of this movement and find out if we can fund a cure to their thinking.



  2. I once had respect for rabbi Weiss (notice the small ‘r’). But he has forsaken his heritage and the mandate as a halachic Rabbi, and should be ashamed for misleading so many Jews. Lifnei iver lo titein michshol (before a blind person do not put a stumbling block) does not allow one to say that something is permitted when it is (clearly) not.

  3. We seem to spend more time bashing rabbonim and askanim whose hashkafah doesn’t conform to traditional standards than trying to understand what can be done to attract more of our brothers and sisters to torah-true yiddeshkeit. I really don’t believe that silencing these voices, calling them out as apikorsim or otherwise engaging in this kind of name-calling and hyperbole will bring a single yid closer to torah.

  4. #4: As others have pointed out, exposing apikorsim for what they are, and deriding them, is a mitzva. Whether or not doing so “attracts more of our brothers and sisters to torah-true yiddeshkeit”, is irrelevant. We follow mitzvos because Hashem said so, not in order to “attract” anything.

    Torah and mitzvos are the backbone of “Torah-true Yiddishkeit”. If you ignore certain mitzvos because they don’t appeal to your agenda, then you may “attract” people, but what you are attracting them to is something other than “Torah-true” Yiddishkeit.

    Of course, that is exactly what Avi Weiss and co. are trying to do, what Moses Mendelsohn tried to do, what Isaac Wise tried to do, etc. Can you please clarify if this is what you are also trying to do?

  5. Whay are we calling this person who’s revolting against hashem, Rabbi? Is he even worthy to go by a Jewish name? We should call him “Acher JR”!!!

  6. Why is the “line” drawn here? I think he crossed the line a long time ago. In fact, he doesn’t even call his own place a “Shul” or Beit Knesset; he calls it “The Bayit”. There’s no place like home…

  7. I knew Avi Weiss many years ago, shortly after he received smicha from YU. He has strayed far from mainstream Yiddishkeit in these 45 or 50 years.

  8. Whatever you think of Avi, you all need to stop the name calling. Because someone does some things that you feel have strayed from normative Orthodoxy, does not at all give you the right to talk about him like he is dirt. If I had to choose someone to teach my grandchildren Torah values, I would hands down choose Avi over any of you guys that claim to be so very “frum”. How many baale teshuva are any of you critics responsible for? Avi has hundreds under his belt, maybe thousands. How many people have any of you critics freed? Avi’s work has freed thousands. Even if you are right in all the purely religious aspects of your comments, you are all worthless in the mensclechkeit department. And derech eretz kadma latorah, yah? Shame on you all in the tone of your comments about a Jew that has saved so many in so many ways. Kshot atzmecha, v’achar kach kshot acheirim.

  9. I don’t rabbi Weiss personally, but I saw him at few demonstrations on behalf of Am Yisroel & other important Jewish causes, and I bet he did more great things than all of you put together. For many commentators here who do nothing for fellow Jews to bash someone who holds different opinion on certain things is very wrong.Anyone who is more modern than you you label “apekoros” but Hashem sees everything and hopefully one day you realize how wrong you are.

    YOu are furious about mixed-gender singing, a mixed-gender choir, and a mixed-gender crowd.

    And what is wrong with that, if that is not a davening, and in mixed choir you can not hear females singing. I am a baal tshuvah and I attended many Shabbatons made by very frum Kiruv organizations who not only allowed but actually supported mixed seating, mixed singing (not dancing).

    Do you call a True Yideshkeit when a husband can not sit next to his wife at any event, when there is a mechitza on bus, there is a separate sidewalk for males & females, is that the Torah is all about?

  10. hes giving over yidishkiet which is not mesorah we follow a certain derech ya u can be a lil more to the right or to the left but to have women sing in a shul thats not something that any jew can defend its not like were trying to bring Him closer to yidishkite, he thinks hes doin the right thing we must protest

  11. #12:
    There are kiruv organizations that asked a shailah and were told to allow men and women (or teens) to sing in the same room, such as a dining room, and not to enforce separate seating. That doesn’t mean that the individuals running the organization support that behavior, just that they had to allow it. And it was NEVER allowed inside a shul.

    What Avi Weiss has done is to bring in a mixed church choir, with women soloists and singing, to sing revival songs while standing in front of the Aron Kodesh, with men and women singing and dancing in a mixed fashion in the pews and the aisles. That is something no posek would allow, even for the sake of kiruv rechokim – which the MLK day spectacle in Weiss’s shul most certainly is not.

    Yes, we are outraged at the idea of desecrating a shul in this manner. No amount of positive influence Avi Weiss may have had on anyone mitigates what he does in his shul on MLK Day.

  12. Rabbi Hoffman is a halachic expert and he should not be the one to deal with this!

    This is not a halachic issue, it is a mental health issue.

    You should get a well qualified Psychiatrist to analyze why Avi behaves this way.

    The guy is so obviously NUTS!

  13. Why is everyone making such a fuss about this? This happens in Reform an Conservative temples every day! Rabbi Hoffman is arguing with them from the Shulchan Aruch? Seriously? These people dont care about the Shulchan Aruch. Why are we pretending like they are Orthodox?

  14. #12…and do you call yiddishkeit that i can’t enjoy a ham sandwhich, delicious fried snails,is this what yiddiskeit is all about?! Is this yiddish keit that I cant seat next to my family shul, drive shabbos and yom tov to shul can’t smoke a cigaret or cook something fresh, is this what yidishkeit all about ? Well M ball tesuvah , you have alot to learn. Go thru the Jewish code of law and you’ll see what yiddikeit is all about What you mock about singing, mixed seating..is in Even Huazer..nothing we made up but what different movements abandoned

  15. #21 Its not as bad as Greeks defiling ………the gemmorah in Mes Shabbos ‘rather go into bais avoda zarh then house of minim (hertics) pasken in Hilchos Ackum. And since this avi weiss temple is house of minim (By the way this is also one of the things ‘yiddishkeit is about)

  16. Dear Alexfrommy, Baal teshuva, and Gadol Hador,

    1. Is Judaism a do what makes you feel good religion?
    2. Do we need to add or subtract to the Torah?
    3. Do frum Jews follow halacha?
    4. Do we not go by the Rov( majority?)
    5. Would you buy a product if it’s defective?

    There is a term ” Snake Oil”. It was created as the cure all tonic in the 1880’s. It made people feel good. It was the lead seller in the unregulated tonic industry which was valued at 1.2 billion in today’s terms.

    Unfortunately, there claims were completely refuted, and the product is faulty.

    In the heart of every single Jew who loves Hashem and the Torah, we know what Open Orthodox is faulty.

    How about the growth of Reform? Conservative? and other “branches”. PEW and numbers show a complete decline is all sectors.

    The same ones who buy snake oil from Avi Weiss and his movement, are buying a faulty product.

    Am I trying to ” win”. NOPE!. We have documented verified statement by the leaders of Open Orthodoxy proclaiming heretical views on Torah Mi Sinai, which are being condemmed by the OU, RCA, Aguadah, and all other streams within Orthodoxy.

    Mishpacha featured an OU response a year ago from R. Pruzansky? to Avi Weiss. It’s worth reading.

    We have a responsibility to do Tikun Olam. A great example is the Masbiach food kitchen which serves the Jewish and Non-Jewish community. Tikkun Olam cannot come at the expense of Torah and Halacha,

    Martin Luther King was a great man, who changed the world. MLK does not have anything to do with a shul or a sefer Torah. Avi Weiss could have gone to speak in a local Community center, or rented a hall.

  17. alexfromny: His methods (even back in the 70’s and 80’s) were never with the approval of the Gedolei Torah. How do I know? Because Rabbi Sherer asked if the Aguda should join him and was told no.

    Using a shul (not just a room in the shul but the main part of the shul) for this purpose is highly questionable. Are there times when mixed seating might be appropriate? Yes…..but not where the whole gathering is questionable. Kol Isha? If there are women soloists then their voices are not drowned out in a choir.

  18. I do not agree with rabbi weiss but shame on anyone here to put down a baal teshuva….have you not learned anything in yeshiva? they are what we strive to be…Hashem should have mercy when it comes time to judge you.

  19. I don’t know… Where I come from, Bereishis Rabba tells me that derekh eretz is a prerequisite for Torah; no DE, and the whole Torah project doesn’t get started. Hillel taught that all of Torah is about having empathy for others, R’ Aqiva, that it’s about loving other Jews, Ben Azzai — the brotherhood of all humanity. R’ Chaim Volozhiner told his son repeatedly that the point of Torah is to share other’s burdens (see into to Nefesh haChaim)….

    So, all in all, a kofer who distorts the halachic process IS INDEED a better Jew than someone with a normative theology and definition of halakhah, and who is fully observant when it comes to Orakh Chaim and Yoreh Dei’ah.

    So, we whose community produced an epidemic of cheating charity money out of government programs are really in a glass house when it comes to the right to ridicule Avi Weiss.

    Let’s just shut up and address our own problems.