In what can be termed a smokescreen serving a personal agenda, Rabbi Marc (Mordechai) Angel and Avi (Avraham) Weiss maligned the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and in effect called for its dismantling, in a recent opinion article in the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper.
Arutz Sheva posted my Hebrew critique of that article, while Makor Rishon settled only for a letter to the editor, placed among letters on other subjects, by an American Young Israel Rabbi who thoroughly attacked their presentation of gross misinformation.
I realize that this may sound harsh, but it is, sadly, the truth. Let’s take a look at the points presented by Rabbis Angel and Weiss and address each point with the facts.
But before doing so, some critical background is needed. This is far from the first time that Rabbis Angel and Weiss have publicly attacked the Rabbinate (and the Rabbinical Council of America, the RCA). In a 2014 New York Times article entitled Rein in Israel’s Rabbinate, Rabbi Weiss shared with the non-Jewish world his complaints against the Rabbinate, which had been hesitant at the time to accept a letter of attestation which Rabbi Weiss had written. Aside from the chillul Hashem, desecration, in attacking the Rabbinate in non-Jewish media, the article manifested Rabbi Weiss’ grinding of a personal ax; it was not an objective critique, but a personal gripe that Rabbi Weiss aired very publicly.
Why did the Rabbinate have trouble accepting Rabbi Weiss’ letter? Rabbi Weiss failed to disclose this in his attacks against the Rabbinate, but he (along with Rabbi Angel) is the founder of the “Open Orthodox” movement, which ordains women as rabbis, supports gay marriage, and has changed conversion standards.
The RCA, and all major Orthodox rabbinic organizations, do not accept graduates of Rabbi Weiss’ Open Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and they view the Open Orthodox movement as deviating from Orthodoxy and as a non-Orthodox denomination. A number of musmachim of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah have denied Torah Mi-Sinai, have indicated acceptance of intermarriage, and have been involved with many endeavors that contradict the Torah. Some rabbinic staff at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah have likewise been involved in very problematic matters, such as acceptance of the idea that the Torah’s narratives are not true, allowing women to read from the Torah and lead Selichot, and much more. Please see here.
Rabbi Angel has for years been a proponent of conversion without accepting the commandments, Kabbalat Ha-Mitzvot – even though Kabbalat Ha-Mitzvot is a most necessary and essential component of geirut according to the most preeminent poskim, including Rav Yosef Dov Ha-Levi, Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and all other mainstream halakhic authorities. Rabbi Angel has therefore spent the last two decades attacking the Rabbinate and the RCA for requiring full Kabbalat Ha-Mitzvot, and Rabbis Angel and Weiss in fact broke rank in 2007 to start their own rabbinic organization, International Rabbinic Fellowship/IRF, which includes male and female rabbis and which was designed to allow each rabbi to perform geirut, conversion, according to his own standards. Rabbi Angel has also written that married women do not have to cover their hair (see here), among many other problematic and controversial things.
The Rabbinate, with all major Orthodox organizations, has rejected the rabbinic credentials of Rabbis Angel’s and Weiss’ students (see here for a recent case in which the rabbi who was ordained by Rabbi Weiss’ Yeshivat Chovevei Torah had invited a Reform female rabbi to lead Kabbalat Shabbat at his synagogue, and had supported gay marriage).
Thus, Rabbis Angel and Weiss do not write objectively, but rather, with a very personal agenda, upset that the Rabbinate and the RCA do not accept Rabbi Weiss’ rabbinic graduates, musmachim, and frustrated that the Rabbinate and the RCA maintain traditional geirut standards, according to the accepted halakhic arbiters, poskei ha-dor, and have thus rejected the innovative and controversial standards and “rabbinic autonomy” (read “hefkeirut” of standards) that Rabbis Angel and Weiss have been lobbying for.
Rabbis Angel and Weiss disingenuously identify themselves to those unfamiliar with them as Modern Orthodox; this is not true. Rabbis Angel and Weiss are Open Orthodox – something very different than Modern Orthodox. This is Rabbi Weiss’ Open Orthodox manifesto, and this is Rabbi Weiss’ explanation of his actions, in which he declared the formation of the Open Orthodox denomination.
Now that we have the background – which is crucial, dispositive to the outcome, and was not disclosed by Rabbis Angel and Weiss in their article – we can proceed to address their points:
Rabbis Angel and Weiss argue that the Rabbinate has sown discord, abandoned its mandate of making Shalom, and alienated people due to its harsh standards.
1. The Rabbinate has not changed its standards. Rather, rabbis trained and ordained by Rabbis Angel and Weiss are the ones who have deviated from the traditional standards, giving the Rabbinate no choice but to reject them and others who have deviated in like manner. Kabbalat Ha-Mitzvot, and a Rav who oversees geirut being of unquestionable Orthodox bona fides, have always been a given; when the Rabbinate is now confronted with talmidim of Rabbis Angel and Weiss, and others, who do not adhere to traditional standards, the Rabbinate has a responsibility and a requirement to assure that standards are maintained.
The Rabbinate is not and cannot be primarily a Shalom organization when it comes to geirut and personal halakhic status; the Rabbinate’s mandate is quality control, and when quality is challenged, no one can blame the Rabbinate for verifying that only acceptable quality is allowed through. The blame here goes not to the Rabbinate, but to those who have sought to undermine normative halakhic standards.
2. Rabbis Angel and Weiss accuse the Rabbinate of wrongly maintaining a “blacklist” of rabbis whom it rejects.
The facts: As has been proven repeatedly, there is no blacklist, and the entire accusation is a hoax, that was started by Rabbi Seth Farber of the ITIM organization, who deceptively labeled a list of letters of attestation that were rejected by the Rabbinate for various reasons, including some of the letters’ authors being non-Orthodox, being deceased and not signing their names, as a “blacklist”. There is no blacklist; it is a hoax.
That said, the Rabbinate has a mandate of quality control, and when it encounters rabbis whose standards are unacceptable or questionable, the Rabbinate is not supposed to accept these rabbis without further research. Rabbis Angel and Weiss seek for all rabbis to be accepted, without serious review of standards or quality control. They seek to implement chaos. This is downright wrong and against Halakha.
3. Rabbis Angel and Weiss allege that the Rabbinate’s designation of only specific rabbinic courts (batei din) in the Diaspora as acceptable sows discord., destroys Shalom, and can adversely impact personal halakhic status; Rabbi Angel and Weiss call for RCA members to protest the RCA’s cooperation with this Rabbinate protocol.
The facts: Previously, dealing with batei din in the USA resembled the “Wild West” in American folklore, with unqualified batei din engaging in matters well above their qualifications, and with batei din who standards were well below par trying to get past the system and not being properly vetted. The system was broken, and people were at times later determined to have been converted, married or divorced not according to Halakha.
The results were disastrous. In order to protect the integrity of halakhic personal status and “Yuchsin” – and in order to protect people from being converted, married or divorced by batei din that were not following acceptable guidelines, in an effort to prevent such people from later suffering the harsh consequences – the Rabbinate engaged in a process of elaborate consultation with the greatest rabbinic figures, gedolei ha-poskim in the USA and vetted many batei din there, in order to assure that anyone getting converted, married or divorced would be guaranteed proper procedure and recognition by the Rabbinate, should they later make aliyah.
This was a wonderful development, and it is only those who reject the need for uniform standards and proper vetting who protest it. Their protest is obviously suspect and speaks volumes about their commitment to proper, unquestionable standards and to assuring that people are protected and secure in their halakhic status.
4. Rabbis Angel and Weiss decry the Rabbabut’s strict standards and insist on a democratic system, calling for all Jews to rise up and demand dismantling the current Rabbinate and replacing it with a Rabbinate of compassion and Shalom.
Halakha is a process of rigor and standards; as much as we seek and need Shalom, we cannot dispense with making sure that halakhic standards are unquestionably met, especially when dealing with serious issues, devarim chamurim ad me’od – Ishut and Geirut, personal halakhic status and conversion.
Of course, the Rabbinate needs to be compassionate and user-friendly, but standards cannot be diluted. Rabbis Angel and Weiss seek to create a Rabbinate and halakhic standards according to their own subjective views; this is wrong, and it is exactly what Rav Soloveitchik condemned in his writings on Parshat Korach.
May Hashem save us from rabbis who have a personal, highly compromised agenda, which they garb as a a war for the Torah, milchemet mitzvah; it is in truth a war against the Torah, milchemet aveirah.
Rabbi Gordimer is a member and previous Executive Committee member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and he is chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values. He is also a member of the New York Bar, and he is a frequent contributor to many online and print journals. The opinions in this article are solely those of Rabbi Gordimer.