Op-Ed: What are the Criteria for Blackballing a US Rabbi?
For several decades now, Israel's Chief Rabbinate is in the hands of hareidi rabbis and these maintain its long-standing authority on fundamentally important issues like status, conversion, marriage, and burial. Inside the Jewish state, they are perceived by many as extreme and are unpopular among large segments of the population for various reasons, whether justifiied, media-hyped, or not.
While Israel and America have vastly different Jewish communities, the Chief Rabbinate was endorsed last week by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) who said they “…see the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as the guiding light of worldwide Orthodox Judaism, lighting and leading the way.” This has been the mandate of Israel's Chief Rabbinate from its early days, but perhaps the RCA has to look more closely at that body's functioning today to see if its decisions have been affected by its current makeup
The RCA, which describes its mission as focused on “advancing the cause and the voice of Torah and the rabbinic tradition by promoting the welfare, interests, and professionalism of Orthodox rabbis” clearly has vitally important work to do for the American Jewish Orthodox community. And, recently, a member of RCA’s Executive Committee, Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, has written articles criticizing Rabbi Avi Weiss' activities from a halakhic point of view after one of Rabbi Weiss' conversions was not accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Weiss, a member of the RCA, received smicha from Yeshiva University, and the synagogue he founded has more than 850 families as congregants, and is one of the most thriving orthodox shuls in America. He, and perhaps other Orthodox Rabbis have recently had their ability to verify that Jews are Jewish taken away from them by the Israeli Cheif Rabbinate. Yet, as far as I know, no one from RCA or the Chief Rabbinate has called Rabbi Weiss or the other Rabbis, asked for a meeting, clarified why letters are disallowed, or provided other details in addition to those articles.
It should be chilling to Orthodox Jews worldwide if the Chief Rabbinate decided to disallow the letters of communal Orthodox Rabbis without explanation. Who makes decisions like this which affect many Jews? Will conversions of other Rabbis be overturned? How far back will they go?
Rabbi Gordimer should also address that fundamental issue, one which is at the center of this controversy. This isn’t only about halakhic issues such as women leading services in the Orthodox world, nor about the admittedly left-wing turn certain Rabbis have taken – it is about the process whereby a number of Orthodox Rabbis have had their ability to verify that Jews are Jewish taken away from them.
The real issue is about understanding how the Chief Rabbinate suddenly decided that it does not recognize certain American Orthodox conversions. It seem that certain communal Orthodox Rabbis have been blacklisted. Is the American Rabbinical organization involved in choosing which Orthodox community Rabbis are recognized by the Chief Rabbinate?
If certain communal Rabbis aren't worthy of verifying someone is Jewish, someone should stand up and explain why. Let the Rabbis – and the many Jews affected by their decisions - understand the playing field. Under whose watch, and on whose authority were the letters of Orthodox Rabbis rejected by the Chief Rabbinate? What's the line? Who are the people deciding?
The immediate past President of RCA, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J. supported the Oslo peace process. Rabbi Moshe Tendler criticized Goldin and said it was a “desecration of God’s name for an Orthodox rabbi to present a position that is contrary to Torah law.” Tendler accused Goldin of being “in denial of a fundamental axiom of Judaism: You cannot sacrifice a Jew today in order to save many Jews tomorrow.” Should Goldin’s ability to verify Jews as Jewish also be taken away?
Rabbi Hershel Schachter is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University's rabbinical school, a RCA leader, and one of two American rabbis authorized to decide which rabbis cannot do conversions per an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Can he explain the criteria?
There is nothing kosher about secret rabbinical doctrines. Will Rabbis of modern communities like Englewood, White Plains, and Forest Hills allow a process which is private, without established rules, or clear decision makers to continue? Are neo-Hareidi viewpoints dividing the Orthodox community?
I find it hard to believe that the Chief Rabbinate is making decisions about which communal Rabbi in America to disallow.
Rabbi Avi Weiss has said, “A spirit of openness will make Orthodoxy more attractive.” Nameless and faceless punishments against community Rabbis are harmful and wrong. If indeed Rabbi Weiss or other Rabbis are not recognized, then it should be explained in a public forum.
If the largest and most successful Jewish organization in the world, Chabad, can invite Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs to their annual Kinus, then surely the RCA should call and communicate directly with Rabbi Avi Weiss and any other Orthodox Rabbis who have been blackballed.