The Rabbanut and Rabbi Weiss: It’s Not Just A Power Struggle

Believe whatever you want about the Israeli Rabbinate’s rejection of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ testimonial letters, the principle behind the invalidation is sound and important. It applies – and is in fact used – against people on the right in the very same manner. What may be the most important function of the Rabbanut – the protection of yuchsin – is stronger because of it.

A major power struggle rages on before us. On the one hand, the Rabbinate came clean and acknowledged that they had indeed spurned Rabbi Weiss’ declarations of the Jewishness of people known to him, on the basis of what other US rabbis told them about his halachic innovations. On the other are Rabbi Weiss’ natural allies on the left – Open Orthodoxy, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, and YCT in the US, and Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, Maale Gilboa and (surprisingly, at least to me,) Tzohar in Israel. Many of them would like to topple the Rabbinate altogether, seeing it as too right-wing, and replace it with a more user-friendly (sounds good) and halachically liberal (sounds fraught) rabbinate.

Some of the charges are contradictory. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters claim that it is charedim who are out to get him, and that this episode is a charedi hatchet job aimed at the entire Modern Orthodox world. But they go on to criticize members of the non-charedi RCA for taking part in a campaign to impugn Rabbi Weiss’ reputation. So which camp is out to get him?

Some of the charges are actually understated. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters revealed a few days ago that the Rabbinate had blackballed not only Rabbi Weiss, but eleven US rabbis. I would be very surprised if the real number was that modest. We have known for years that the Rabbanut kept a list of those it considered reliable and those it didn’t. My understanding was that the list of those that the Rabbanut will not rely upon is extensive. This list is blind to affiliation. It has lots of members with long beards and frocks. It is certainly not a list of “modern” rabbis.

Here’s why. The Rabbanut must make all kinds of determinations about personal status, passing judgment upon conversions, marriages, divorces. There are all kinds of rabbis. Appearances tell you very little. There are charlatans, ignoramuses, and con-artists. There are would-be poskim who shoot from the hip, and people who are just plain sloppy. I’ve met many of them; I have friends and acquaintances whose gittin I would not rely upon to act as a mesader kiddushin for the remarriage of the divorced woman. They are found all over the world, including Bnei Brak. After the Rabbanut encounters the blunders of certain people a few times, it simply refuses to deal with them. This, I believe, is to their credit. The price paid in inconvenience is a pittance compared to the consequences of accepting gittin or geirus that are challenged down the line.

You would think that the case at hand is different. Rabbi Weiss was simply testifying to the Jewishness of a congregant. Virtually anyone who nominally adheres to halacha should be suitable for that, you would think.

Think again. Here is a slice of life from an American beis din. A person asks the court for certification that he is Jewish, and allowed to marry according to halacha. As evidence, he submits letters from two people in the community who attest to his Jewishness. (Neither of them are even remotely connected to OO.) The Av Beis Din looks at the application, and notices that the names of the candidate’s parents are distinctly non-Jewish. Both of them. In contemporary times, such a finding is not dispositive, but cause for concern. He asks the candidate for more paperwork. The candidate responds by filing an application for conversion!

What happened here? There are several possible explanations. Here is one that is instructive, even if it was not the actual reason behind two people attesting to someone’s Jewishness when they had no right to. It illustrates the problem with accepting the testimony of the halachically unsophisticated.

For many years, British royal births had to be witnessed by members of the court. No one wanted to take any chances with someone placing the wrong baby in the line of succession. Halacha doesn’t demand this kind of evidence. But it does require some sort of demonstration of Jewishness. Not everyone comes into beis din with a Jewish mother. And how would the beis din know that the woman is actually the mother – or that she is Jewish?

There are sugyos that deal with these issues. And there are disputes, as well as decisions. Sometimes, a bit of knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance. My guess is that the two gentlemen who signed the testimonials once heard a shiur in which someone spoke of a Tosafos in Yevamos that states that there is a presumption that whoever calls himself Jewish is in fact Jewish. Presto – no need for any more evidence.

Like any other presumption, it has to be delimited. Responsible decisors use this chazakah, but understand that there are offsets to it, like coming from a country in which there were few or no Jews, or presenting names of parents that are very un-Jewish. When that happens, more sleuthing is necessary. People who don’t know that will simply report that someone claims to be Jewish and has davened in the neighborhood for a month, and can now be accepted as Jewish.

That would amount to a mistake born of ignorance. There are other mistakes, however, that are results of ideology. Some people are critical of batei din that insist on too much checking. They are correct – but their solution is just as bad as the problem. They insist on using Tosafos as a halachic “solution” to the “problem” of the harshness of halachic process. They use it as a way of sticking their heads in the sand, of creating a Jewish “don’t ask-don’t tell” standard. Anyone who declares himself or herself as Jewish – is! This is a savaging of halachic process, born most often of either ignorance, or a lack of seriousness about halacha, or both.

The Rabbanut has every right and duty to be suspicious. It should only accept testimony that is reliable, i.e. not tainted by the suspicion of agendized manipulation of halachic process, or a host of other grounds for dismissal. (A good example of reason to suspect ideological manipulation is a beis din announcing in advance that it will be able to cure 99% of all agunah cases, as a newly-formed beis din announced recently.)

It may be so that Rabbi Weiss can be relied upon. I am not here to judge that. But it is certainly the case that the Rabbanut has reason to be cautious, given the many times that Rabbi Weiss has overstepped accepted boundaries. One cannot proclaim oneself a fearless innovator without regard for what others say, and ask for recognition at the same time as a perfectly mainstream figure.

Ironically, the people taking much of the heat in this battle are the ones with a modus vivendi that could work. Much of the problem is created by geographical distance. From afar, the Rabbanut has to err on the side of caution. Before Rabbi Weiss’ supporters decided to turn the incident into a war against the Rabbanut (enlisting even Alan Dershowitz, a musmach of the famed Harvard Law School Yeshiva), the RCA was involved in negotiations with the Rabbanut. It proposed that the RCA would be able to better examine the bona fides of its own members. People in the RCA are working to develop fixed protocols to be followed, so that even rabbis who are not so strong in their textual background can be relied upon.

The Rabbanut is not and should not be free from criticism. However, that criticism should be directed at their missteps. When they follow standard protocols to help individuals gain mainstream acceptance, they must not be accused of political agendas. The Rabbanut should not be used as a tool for personal rabbinic acceptance and political legitimation. Indeed, doing so bespeaks a mistaken notion of the role of the Rabbanut in unifying Klal Yisrael by maintaining a professional and unbiased process.

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46 comments to The Rabbanut and Rabbi Weiss: It’s Not Just A Power Struggle

  • Ben Waxman

    This list is blind to affiliation. It has lots of members with long beards and frocks. It is certainly not a list of “modern” rabbis.

    Where is this list? Who compiled it? On the basis of what? Can people challenge the list? In short, is the rabbinate working on the basis of transparency, as required in today’s world?

    [YA – Required? By whom? Are meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff transparent? How about meetings in the Senate Cloak Room? Or the board room at GM? Or ANYWHERE in Israel? ‘Fraid not. Some decisions have to be made on a discretionary basis – discretely!]

  • mycroft

    “Some of the charges are actually understated. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters revealed a few days ago that the Rabbinate had blackballed not only Rabbi Weiss, but eleven US rabbis. I would be very surprised if the real number was that modest.”

    I treat Rabbi Weiss as a red herring in the controversy. Standard gerus done for over half a century by Orthodox Rabbis -who were members of the RCA and not subject to controversy such as Rabbi Weiss is- have had the gerus that they were involved in not accepted by the Israeli CR. This despite the fact that at the time the Israeli CR accepted conversions by standard RCA members.

  • DF

    This post gets it exactly right. “Tolerance”, the religion preached by our friends on the left, is another word for “no backbone.” It would be easy for the Rabbanut to accept anything from anybody. That it does not do so is to its credit. R. Weiss has chosen to be the type of rabbi he is, and has chosen for himself his own way in life. Presumably he is secure in his personal convictions that he’s done the right thing, and that’s great. However, he cannot expect everybody else to go along for the ride with him.

    The post is also right about Tzohar. That they have beefs with the rabbinate is understandable. [Just like, should they ever get the rabbinate, people will have beefs with them.] But here they are backing the wrong horse. That to do so they have made common cause with essentially neo-conservatives [ie, the newest conservative movement, as it appeared in its infancy] displays a lack of shikul ha’daas.

  • Reb Yid

    This was the subject of this week’s shul drash.

    Suffice it to say that the communications to the Rabbanut did not come from the RCA. They have no issue, nor should they, with Rav Weiss’s neemanut.

  • Jeffrey R. Woolf

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    With all due respect, and in full cognizance of the serious of yuhsin,
    I believe that you are giving the Rabbanut too much credit. There are literally
    Hundreds of cases where established rabbis, talmidei hakhamim, had their
    letters rejected, or their baaale bayit humiliated, because if incompetence.
    The Rabbanut is manned by an army of low level bureaucrats, most of whom have
    Not a clue as to life in the diaspora (such as the rabbi who declared that it is not
    Possible that there is serious Torah study in the United States). Furthermore, this legion of
    Functionaries also has been voiding gittin ex post facto for years. The system
    cares neither for the Herem of Rabbenu Tam, or the collegiality of courts that is required
    For the Torah to function.

    [YA All of this is true. If I didn’t know it myself, I would call you for your assessment! Still, with all the warts and flaws, it is light-years ahead of the absolute chaos and hefker regnant in the US. The Rabbanut at the moment is the ONLY safeguard against outrages against yuchsin operating in the world. It influences (positively) standards in the US. The GPS geirus protocols now operating in the US came into being only because the Rabbanut began wholesale questioning of US standards. (Here too, they were clued in by other Orthodox rabbonim of all camps that something was rotten in the state of US Orthodox geirus.)

    People I know – in the MO camp, not the haredi! – are mildly optimistic that R Lau can effect change, and address the issues you raise. That’s what we need – not the dismantling of the Rabbanut, and not c”v following the suggestion of R Weiss that the State recognize Reform and Conservative geirus and weddings.]

  • Barry Dolinger

    One correction: The court that promised to cure 99% of the agunah cases has nothing to do with the IRF. It was endorsed by HaRav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, is led by Rabbi Simcha Krauss, a respected Maggid Shiur at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi and community Rabbi in the US for decades, and has Rabbi Yosef Blau (Mashgiach Ruchani at YU) and Rabbi Joseph Pollak (a noted scholar and the Av Beis Din of the KVH in Boston). None of these people are affiliated with the IRF, and most are centrist figures or even right wing figures.

    The idea that optimism in resolving the agunah crisis is a left wing fringe issue is wrong, and should be one all segments of Judaism can unite behind, especially with such talented talmidei chachamim and public servants on this particular Beis Din. Making this an IRF thing is inaccurate, and we should all pray for its success.

    [YA – Optimism about finding solutions is good; making commitments in advance of the trying of individual cases is an aberration of halachic process and ziyuf ha-Torah.]

  • CNS

    In an ideal world, maybe. Given the accusations (and oftentimes more than that) of nepotism, bribery, extortion, money laundering and other great middos that emanated have out of the CR’s office,(and no, its not just Metzger) I find this hard to take.

    [YA – Surely you would not invalidate everyone in the Rabbanut, and everything they do with one broad stroke? The stories are horrible; the incompetence deep-seated; they still do a great deal of good. Particularly in yuchsin. ]

  • DS

    This is not fair. Rabbi Adlerstein conflates all liberal orthodoxy into one group for his own convenience ignoring nuance. The IRF beit din did nothing of the sort, it was Rabbi Simcha Kraus who made that announcement for his new Beit Din, he is not even a meber of the IRF! Rabbi Adlerstein, please correct this (and publish this comment) or your own neemanut becomes highly suspect.

    [YA – You are correct; I stand corrected; the correction has been made! Thank you – and a few others who called attention to the error. Interestingly, because of the importance of the piece I had three people review it before releasing it – and no one caught the error!}

  • Mr. Cohen

    Shmuly Yanklowitz was ordained as a Rabbi by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT),
    which was founded and directed by Avi Weiss.

    Shmuly Yanklowitz recently publicly announced his support for “gay marriage”:

  • Joe Hill

    You shouldn’t have been surprised about Tzohar. They fall in the same category as YCT.

  • Sender

    Actually, Dershowitz is a musmach of Yale Law School, class of ’62.

  • LD

    Why would you ask us not to invalidate everyone in the rabbanut in one broad stroke when that is exactly what you do with YCT!?!

    [YA – 1) I have never refused to accept a teudat Yahadut from YCT. So what have I invalidated? 2) More seriously, I would not “invalidate” individuals associated with YCT, but will continue to argue together with what I believe to be the vast majority of the Orthodox world that several shitos of YCT are unacceptable.]

  • dr. bill

    The centralization of rabbinic authority by a political process and remoteness from the American scene both are reasons (among many) to question the ability of the Israeli CR’s organization in these matters. While I do not believe that perfect solutions exist, better ones than the CRs of Israel deciding certainly do exist and it takes little imagination to outline such alternatives.

    [YA Then I must suffer from a dearth of imagination. My only basis for comparison is the good ‘ol US of A, where all beis din matters are hefker. The Rabbanut system is, at times, corrupt, inefficient, and demeaning. And it is still an improvement over what we have here!]

  • Tuvia Berman

    Thank you for correcting the error about the beis din for agunot. HaRav Simcha Krauss is not affiliated with any major organization besides the RCA and Mizrachi. He is an well recognized Talmid Chacham who is extremely careful and is working on developing a consensus for the beis din. He is working with the Rabbanute in Israel and many major talmidei chachamim to make the process easier for all parties. Many talmidei chachamim have give explicit approval.

  • Nachum

    Joe Hill: Please. Tzohar is a very conservative and (unlike some of the others) doesn’t want to destroy the Rabbinate. If I had to guess, they’re defending him here as part of a long view on qualifications in general.

  • Reb Yid

    The RCA is not a governing body, hence it doesn’t tend to take positions on the propriety of its members’ activities. I’m sure many RCA members agree with the rabbanut’s assessment and many disagree. Partly as a result, the RCA itself is not in a position to comment.

  • Reb Yid

    To the “Anderer” Reb Yid who goes by my nom de guerre:

    Au contraire. Do a quick Google search for all sorts of positions the RCA has taken in the past regarding activities of certain members. Or better yet, check out their own website.

  • L. Oberstein

    I have written numerous letters over the years attesting that people known personally to me are born of a Jewish mother. To the best of my knowledge these have been accepted in Israel. I think there is a difference between that and officiating at a get. You don’t have to be a gaon if you actually know the person to be born of a Jewish mother. Now, if the person is a convert, and you testify that you know that she was converted, the court may want to know more details, but in a simple case of who is the mother, why do you need to look for exclusivity> Say what you will about Rav Avi, and many have much to say, he is an honest person and is not known as a lier. He may be known as someone who tests the limits of halacha and you may not want to rely on his conversions or his gittin, perhaps, without making sure it is up to your standards as currently required in Israel, but to say the man’s mother was Jewish, come on!

    [YA – Think again. I have submitted many such letters. Never did I know the mother of the applicant.]

  • Josh

    I think we both know that the Beth Din of America will occasionally accept sub-optimal evidence of Jewishness in order to issue a Te’udat Yahadut. (Memories of a maternal grandmother making matzo balls, for example, often serve as acceptable circumstantial evidence, although they are not sufficient by themselves to justify issuance of the te’udah.) My problem with your post is that you make beit din procedures appear far more inflexible than they really are.

    [YA – That was not my intent. Nor would I call knowledge of Jewish practice sub-optimal – at least not when it is used properly in conjunction with Tosafos – which does not apply under all circumstances.]

  • Yitzy Blaustein

    “The Rabbanut and Rabbi Weiss: It’s Not Just A Power Struggle”

    But as the title of the piece implies, it clearly is a power struggle.

  • Raymond

    Not being a Rabbi, I obviously do not know much about the specific issues being discussed here. And yet I have to wonder about anybody who tries to push the limits of Orthodox Judaism. I would think that Judaism is itself such a satisfying, challenging, deepening experience in and of itself, without feeling the need to essentially behave like a child, testing authority, and then expecting to be respected for doing that. Then again, far be it for me to be so judgmental about such things.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    In a world, an Israel, where the Rabbinate was a revered, respected, impartial, irreproachable, organ that worked tirelessly to fulfill its original mandate of allowing the state of Israel to function within normative halchic bounderies, then your insightful thesis and essay would have validity. But that is not the case. The Rabbinate is none of those things, and thus cannot be trusted to adjudicate this or pretty much any issue. As such, the Rabbinate must be fought tenaciously, on many fronts, until it either returns to its intended path or is disbanded. As it is now, it is doing far much more harm than good.

  • MJ

    The issue is simply that if the Rabbanut impugns someone’s ne’emanut for very basic question of Jewishness not involving a conversion (not his psak) then it should explain why in a manner that is clear and transparent. The fact that some mid-level functionary heard something about someone is not sufficient.

    It is very simple for the rabbanut to avoid this whole mess: instead of a secret blacklist, just publicize the names of 200 rabbis across the country whose letters it will accept. Considering the number of adults making aliya (not including their kids) this should not result in that much of a burden on them.

  • aharon

    I think what’s missing here is a recognition that the entities being paskened on are humans not chickens. You need to acknowledge that to achieve the gains you admire, the rabbanut is torturing numerous Gerim, divorcees etc. They are a modern chofni upinchas.
    Also, if the rabbanut operated in a free transparent context most of the criticism would be lifted. If they published a list online of trusted rabbis and made a commitment that they’d follow their own list in the future, prospective gerim would know where they stand.
    Finally, if they operated on a voluntary basis and without coercive power of the state it would be different. The root of the evil is in their unilateral state granted power to determine people’s lives.
    It is foolish to yearn for implememtation of such a system in America. Why do you assume it would be frum rabbonim enforcing yiddishkeit? It would be the US government baptizing your precious meyuchasdik Jews and forcing them to follow the rules of Christianity. Still think freedom of religion isn’t important?
    You can’t support abusive authority just because it gets the outcome you like in one case.
    BTW I have smicha from the rabbanut and perform orthodox weddings in Israel. I don’t advocate overthrowing halacha. But I think you have an incredibly narrow vision about this.

  • Bob Miller

    There are times when imperfect (aren’t we all?) but properly constituted authorities need to bring down the hammer for the common good.

  • J Hecht

    The time has come for the MO community, including R Adlerstein, to call a spade a spade and a heretic a heretic–similar to what Ami Magazine has recently done. So long as upstanding people continue to cuddle up to Avi Weiss, and to engage in double speak about his movement, we continue to empower his reformist ambitions.

  • Steve Brizel

    Once again, inflammatory rhetoric is blinding us to the key issue, which R Adlerstein stated rather clearly:

    “A major power struggle rages on before us. On the one hand, the Rabbinate came clean and acknowledged that they had indeed spurned Rabbi Weiss’ declarations of the Jewishness of people known to him, on the basis of what other US rabbis told them about his halachic innovations. On the other are Rabbi Weiss’ natural allies on the left – Open Orthodoxy, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, and YCT in the US, and Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, Maale Gilboa and (surprisingly, at least to me,) Tzohar in Israel. Many of them would like to topple the Rabbinate altogether, seeing it as too right-wing, and replace it with a more user-friendly (sounds good) and halachically liberal (sounds fraught) rabbinate.

    Some of the charges are contradictory. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters claim that it is charedim who are out to get him, and that this episode is a charedi hatchet job aimed at the entire Modern Orthodox world. But they go on to criticize members of the non-charedi RCA for taking part in a campaign to impugn Rabbi Weiss’ reputation. So which camp is out to get him?

    Some of the charges are actually understated. Rabbi Weiss’ supporters revealed a few days ago that the Rabbinate had blackballed not only Rabbi Weiss, but eleven US rabbis. I would be very surprised if the real number was that modest. We have known for years that the Rabbanut kept a list of those it considered reliable and those it didn’t. My understanding was that the list of those that the Rabbanut will not rely upon is extensive. This list is blind to affiliation. It has lots of members with long beards and frocks. It is certainly not a list of “modern” rabbis.

    Here’s why. The Rabbanut must make all kinds of determinations about personal status, passing judgment upon conversions, marriages, divorces. There are all kinds of rabbis. Appearances tell you very little. There are charlatans, ignoramuses, and con-artists. There are would-be poskim who shoot from the hip, and people who are just plain sloppy. I’ve met many of them; I have friends and acquaintances whose gittin I would not rely upon to act as a mesader kiddushin for the remarriage of the divorced woman. They are found all over the world, including Bnei Brak. After the Rabbanut encounters the blunders of certain people a few times, it simply refuses to deal with them. This, I believe, is to their credit. The price paid in inconvenience is a pittance compared to the consequences of accepting gittin or geirus that are challenged down the line.

    There are sugyos that deal with these issues. And there are disputes, as well as decisions. Sometimes, a bit of knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance. My guess is that the two gentlemen who signed the testimonials once heard a shiur in which someone spoke of a Tosafos in Yevamos that states that there is a presumption that whoever calls himself Jewish is in fact Jewish. Presto – no need for any more evidence.

    Like any other presumption, it has to be delimited. Responsible decisors use this chazakah, but understand that there are offsets to it, like coming from a country in which there were few or no Jews, or presenting names of parents that are very un-Jewish. When that happens, more sleuthing is necessary. People who don’t know that will simply report that someone claims to be Jewish and has davened in the neighborhood for a month, and can now be accepted as Jewish.

    That would amount to a mistake born of ignorance. There are other mistakes, however, that are results of ideology. Some people are critical of batei din that insist on too much checking. They are correct – but their solution is just as bad as the problem. They insist on using Tosafos as a halachic “solution” to the “problem” of the harshness of halachic process. They use it as a way of sticking their heads in the sand, of creating a Jewish “don’t ask-don’t tell” standard. Anyone who declares himself or herself as Jewish – is! This is a savaging of halachic process, born most often of either ignorance, or a lack of seriousness about halacha, or both”

    Given what what we know about OO, and the views of its adherents, why would any serious Beth Din take its halachic views on Gerus , Gittin and Yichusin seriously?

  • L. Oberstein

    Now that Sharansky has gotten into the thick of this argument and it is only a question of time until Netanyahu gets involved too, I think this will be more explosive that some first thought. Avi Weiss is no paper tiger, to say the least. Pick on him and expect him to call in all his troops, this includes many wealthy donors to Israel and others who are aggrieved by the present make up of the Rabbanut. Gary Rosenblatt made it front page news. This is different from a small town rabbi, they actually said that they were told not to trust him.That is a declaration of war and Rav Avi is a tested warrior. The issue here is who is an Orthodox Rabbi. There is so much pent up rage over “pluralism” that this gives all of those who feel disenfranchised a leg to stand on. If the Rabbanut fights back, expect it to get more explosive before it is settled, if ever. That is what I think.

  • Reb Yid

    From the Jewish Week, the “reason” why Scot Berman’s neemanut for the basic question of Jewishness was turned down:

    “The Chief Rabbinate said he lacked the tools and skills of a congregational rabbi.”

    In that case, perhaps the Chief Rabbinate would like to look at the list of signees in the recent Haaretz opinion piece against Open Orthodoxy. Relatively few of them have a congregational pulpit, either. Others once had them but were unable to hold onto them. Perhaps Yitzchak Adlerstein will be so bold as to suggest why he and his fellow signees should have their neemanut on this question accepted and others arbitrarily dismissed.

    [YA 1) Do you really believe that the Rabbanut is stating their actual reason for invalidating any given person? Isn’t that a bit naive? They have their reasons. They don’t trust someone, based on what people they trust have told them. Terrible system. Imperfect. Fraught with problems. And still better than anything else I have heard – other than making a serious attempt to clean up the Rabbanut from within. People I know say that Rabbi Lau wants to do it, and give it even odds. 2) What makes you think that some of us are not on the bad list? If I am, I will not fight it. I will gladly suffer the assault on my ego to prevent the kind of hekfeirus that reigned in the US for decades.]

  • Seth (Avi) Kadish

    “The Rabbanut system is, at times, corrupt, inefficient, and demeaning. And it is still an improvement over what we have here!”

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I think that this value judgement (“it is still an improvement over what we have here”) is deeply wrong, and is surely at the very root of your disagreement with those protesting the Rabbanut.

    There are people here in Israel who have been working for decades to bring the grassroots, community based Torah life of North America to Israel (and not to American olim but to other Israelis). It is sorely lacking here, and largely because of the negative and pervasive influence of the Rabbanut (which manifests itself in so many direct and indirect ways that cannot be described in a simple comment). The fact that the RCA entered an agreement with a body whose very nature is so opposed to their deepest values is a tragedy, and truly felt like an act of betrayal to those of us who are trying to do the same kind of work in Israel.

    The most ironic thing about the Rabbanut, however, is that this is one topic where the charedim got it absolutely right: Not today’s charedim, but classical charedi ideology, which claimed that no government institution can deny Torah Jews the right to choose their own rabbanim and Torah leaders. That is why the charedim classically rejected the very idea of the State rabbanut. They were absolutely right, as was Rav Soloveitchik zt”l who agreed with the point. You don’t live in Israel and so you may not see this firsthand, but please realize that what ultimately makes the rabbanut dysfunctional and irrelevant to the Israeli populace is not the big issues you read about in the paper (like the Chief Rabbis and Rav Avi Weiss), but rather Israelis who have zero allegiance or respect for their local rabbis, simply because they have no direct say in choosing such rabbis. So it’s not my rabbi, its a government functionary.

    That the RCA joined forces with this system, and “cherishes” its relationship with it, is an absolute shame. A true rabbinic world bowed to a sham.

    [YA – We have headed straight to apples and oranges territory. There are two issues here. One is the narrower one of preserving kedushas Yisrael through proper application of halacha to the area of yuchsin. That is the only area I’ve commented on. Having some sort of central control, with its flaws, is better than a free for all. The RCA has recognized that, and has improved on what was there before by making the Israeli control more predictable and less arbitrary. It did that through the GPS system for geirus, and is now heading for a similar system regarding identifying the Jewishness of American applicants. The system will have halachic guidelines, but will have Americans do the evaluation, not rabbinic functionaries thousands of miles away. The RCA ought to be commended rather than attacked for this improvement.

    The second, broader issue is how to make the Rabbanut less of a coercive bureaucracy, and more of something that the average citizen appreciates as a genuine public service. (Anyone who has lived in Israel for more than a week knows that there are many areas of Israeli life that are in need of the same transformation.) You can’t blame the Rabbanut for not resigning en masse, and proclaiming to the country, “Look here, we’ve been a bunch of corrupt, inefficient bureaucrats (sometimes. Surely not always), and we are now going to unilaterally force Knesset to make the Rabbanut answerable to the public.” The Rabbanut functions according to the mandate given to it by Law. If you don’t like it, change the law. You can’t – and that has more to do with some of the essential flaws in the basic conduct of governance in Israel.

    Want to do the next best thing? Keep up the pressure to make the Rabbanut more responsive and user-friendly. People I know (who share your view on how the Rabbanut is perceived by the man in the street) believe that R Lau has a shot at it, and has the ability and background to do it.

    In any event, your goal (the second area we’ve discussed) should not become an opportunity to dismantle the accomplishment of the first.]

  • Hoffa Fingerbergstein

    Menachem Lipkin: “As it is now, it is doing far much more harm than good.”

    No, by doing this it is doing good and they got this right. Sorry, just because you are (knee-jerk) anti-Chareidi shouldn’t blind you to the real dangers of OO and what it represents for such issues as conversion, divorces, and changes to liturgy and the shul. They have changed more in a few years than Convservative Judaism did over a few decades.

    Anyway, you may have your wish about getting rid if the Rabbanut in many areas if R’ Avi Weiss has his way, since soon Reform and Conservative conversions will be recognized if he is listened to. Is that what we really want? The disaster of heterodox movements in NA coming to EY? Come on, think for a minute….

  • DF

    1. All of the accusations and allegations of corruptions in the Israeli rabbinate can be levied against any institution. The corruption in the U.S. Government is at least 100 times worse, if such things can be measured. So should that too be dismantled?

    2. As a labor lawyer who frequently puts on arbitrations, I can tell you that arbitrators who are seen as pro-union or pro-management never get selected to hear cases, because their names will be stricken by either the union or the company. The same is true with bottei din (who, in fact, when both sides formally agree, have the legal status as arbitrators.) I know people with prenups who did not list the Beis Din of America as the arbiter in the event of divorce, because of their reputation of overly favoring the female in such proceedings. (This is despite their otherwise good reputation for purely business disputes.) Thus, the impact they can have in marital disputes is minimal, and will continue to shrink as word spreads and alternatives open up.

    Same is true with a beis din that says, in advance, it will “fix 99% of agunah cases.” One can claim that this should be a non-partisan aspiration, and of course at its core it is, but everyone recognizes such statements for what they really mean, which is an accomodationist mentality to feminist groups. A beis din that speaks like that will find itself, like overly one-sided arbitrators, out of work.

  • YM Goldstein

    Perhaps this will require that the RCA either purge itself of those who don’t toe the halachic line, or coversely, to admit that a Rabbi doesn’t have to be Orthodox to be in the RCA as long as he has smicha from the right yeshiva.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Hoffa Fingerbergstein: “Sorry, just because you are (knee-jerk) anti-Chareidi”.

    Why do people feel the need to trot out nonsense like this? It completely undermines any point they try to make. Maybe people actually have varying viewpoints without being “blinded” by anything.

    “Anyway, you may have your wish about getting rid if the Rabbanut in many areas if R’ Avi Weiss has his way”

    Actually, it has little to do with Rabbi Weiss. Growing numbers of people here, across religious spectrum, are fed up with the coercive and capricious way in which the Rabbinate has been acting. These people are not concerned about fanciful predictions of “heterodox disasters” coming here as we’re dealing with a real disaster of the Rabbinate driving people away from Yiddishkeit here and now.

  • dr. bill

    There is something between the hefker world that existed (where geirut was performed by a wide set of rabbis of every stripe in the US,) and a centralized CR in Israel. With only those alternatives, I too would opt for a centralized group. However, there are alternates. I can imagine a list of various US based approved rabbis and a method to expand the list and/or a set of US bodies that is able to certify a particular rabbi. Either and many others are preferable to a centralized Israeli body, and hardly represent ongoing hefker. Perhaps the RCA will come up with this or a similar alternative.

    [YA This is in fact, Dr. Bill, what the RCA is working on.]

  • Steve Brizel

    I wrote elsewhere here:

    “R Gordimer has done an admirable in exposing the halachic and hashkafic equivalent of quicksand that Open Orthodody finds itself as a result of the zealotry of Open Orthodoxy’s advocates to jettison halachic and hashkafic norms when the same stand in the way of the raison de etre of contemporary society, culture and intellectual trends. The issue remains -how much actual power and leverage do Open Orthodoxy and its advocates have in the strongest MO communities? I suspect that Open Orthodoxy’s spokesmen, except in the far LW of MO, are not viewed as the halachic and hashkafic addresses for most of the MO world. That would be a fact that should be noted by anyone unfamiliar with the nuances of the MO world, unless someone was intent on conflating Open Orthodoxy and its spokesmen with the Roshei Yeshiva of RIETS-an equation that can and should be easily rejected by anyone with knowledge of the facts on the ground, or with the interest in determiming the facts.”

  • lacosta

    >>>The time has come for the MO community, including R Adlerstein

    though RYA may be M and is definitely O , i don’t think it’s fair to categorize him as ‘MO’ …

    this website of his co-creation is davka supposed to represent opinion to the right of MO, as a pseudo-aguda line, if such a thing can be said to exist….

    [YA Thank you so much for rewriting our mission statement! Some of us, however, would prefer the one that we have actually been using, which is to provide a forum for the consideration of the intersection between Torah and current affairs. Watching the comments come in (the ones we publish and ones we don’t), we seem to have a pretty healthy mix of readers across the spectrum of Orthodoxy, certainly not limited to the “pseudo-Agudah” crowd, whatever that is. Our writers disagree with each other as much as they disagree, and don’t represent one party line. We all try to be hospitable to the bnei and bnos Torah of the charedi world; some of us try to be more inclusive. I would like to think that my own writing aims mostly for those living in the wide expanse between typical MO and typical charedi. That allows people from both the left and the right to be upset with some of what I write, but pleases the group in between, whose numbers continue to grow. Chances are that you, too , will join our ranks…]

  • Mike S.

    I would find Rav Adlerstein’s argument more credible if the suspicions he mentions were applied equally against those who push the envelope from the right. Say those who think “lo sa’amod” doesn’t apply to protecting children from abuse, or those who justify stealing from those who are considered “nisht unzerer” by claiming the Shulchan Aruch only says what it does for fear of the censors.

    [YA – I think I can meet you half way. I have heard plenty over the years of the Rabbanut blacklisting people on the right. Their “sins” were not the ones you mention here, perhaps for good halachic reason. The people spurned were those who were irresponsible in their meeting of accepted practice in their discharging of responsibilities as mesadrei gitin, or overseeing conversions. While the sins you mention are egregious, they do not go along with treating other areas of halacha likely. This is both a truism, as well as an ugly social phenomenon that we have not made much headway in figuring out. (By “we” I mean the editors of Klal Perspectives, of which I am one. We were looking to devoting an issue to the problem, and still hope to. But we did run into a problem in trying to account for this very phenomenon. Of the many people we spoke to, we were left with just as many theories. This was confusing. Maybe they are all correct.) But it happens to be true that there are some not particularly nice people who do a good job in their ma’asei beis din. With OO, we have some particularly nice people who are suspected by the Rabbanut of being halachic lightweight.]

  • Mike S.

    But the issue with R. Weiss’s letter, as far as I know, involved neither gittin nor geirut. And the issues I mentioned on the right are not merely people falling short of the Torah’s demands, which almost all of us (I believe the gemara lists 4 exceptions) do from time to time, but problematic halachic rulings. And I think neither R. Weiss nor those on the right issue these rulings because they treat halacha lightly. Rather, their judgement is influenced by hashkafot that push them too far toward one side or the other in balancing the particularist and universalist elements of the Torah.

  • Steve Brizel

    Mike S wrote in relevant part:

    “With OO, we have some particularly nice people who are suspected by the Rabbanut of being halachic lightweight”

    Based upon what we have seen from those associated with OO,that is an understatement, to use a very charitable phrase.

  • mb

    “though RYA may be M and is definitely O , i don’t think it’s fair to categorize him as ‘MO’”

    I think it’s very fair.

  • Tzvi Grossman

    Rabbi Adlerstien “But it happens to be true that there are some not particularly nice people who do a good job in their ma’asei beis din. With OO, we have some particularly nice people who are suspected by the Rabbanut of being halachic lightweight”

    This is very well worded but just highlights the problem that the Rabbanut (and disappointingly, even you) view people who are over on Lo samod and gezeila as not being halachically lightweight.

  • Steve Brizel

    LW MO proponents of ritual change for women dimiss the element of “Lishmah” or motivation. IMO, this is a highly relevant factor-the would be proponent can and should be evaluated by her degree of Shemiras HaMitzvos, her attire, and Hashkafa. In the era of social media, these factors, as well as whether the student is rooted in CJ but is attending a LW MO school for reasons of social convenience,are easy to evaluate.

    The issue of Guf Naki with respect to Tefilin is a black and white Halacha as quoted in SA and in such Poskim as the AS. I find the argument as comparable to a male who must wear a colostomy bag , temporary or permanent or a catheter, forced, simply because the permissibility for use of Tefilin by a man, whose Torah obligation has already been minimized by the factors of Guf Naki and the lack of Kavanah, is permitted to don Tefilin solely because the colostomy bag or catheter is not visible. That was the basis of the heter that I received when due to life threatening surgery I had no choice but to wear a temporary bag that B’H was reversed months later. I would suggest that such a heter is rooted in the desire not to render a man devoid of the Mitzvah of Tefilin and its power , symbolism and importance-none of which have anything to do with a woman’s Avodas HaShem.

  • Steve Brizel

    This week, we read about Naaaseh V Nishmah-Naaseh v Nishmah neither means Charedi triumphalistic and revisionist rhetoric that views the views of RYBS and RAYHK as unattractive to BTs nor feminist fetishes in which certain Mitzvos and Minhagim are selectively adopted Shleo Lishmah as a means of engaging in intellectual self gratification .

  • Steve Brizel

    The latest discussion re the donning of Tefilin and YCT’s founder establishing a separate “conversion board” and an article in a Charedi weekly that views Charedi based kiruv as somehow inherently more “authentic” both miss the boat-Kabalas Ol Malchus Shamayim means neither Charedi trumphalistic rhetoric that denigrates the Gadlus of non Charedi Gdolim nor selectively adoppting mitzvos as a means of intellectual self gratification.

  • Steve Brizel

    Halevai that the principals of the schools who allowed female students to don Tefilin, could state that 100% of the male students put on Tefilin every day and that their entire student body were Shomrei Torah Umitzvos.