Israel rabbinate to accept Avi Weiss’s testimony

Religious Services Minister Bennett has been meeting with Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and local rabbinate to resolve crisis

American Rabbi Avi Weiss had a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an Israeli immigrant couple rejected by the country’s Chief Rabbinate. (photo credit: JTA)
American Rabbi Avi Weiss had a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an Israeli immigrant couple rejected by the country’s Chief Rabbinate. (photo credit: JTA)

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel will accept letters confirming individuals’ Judaism from Avi Weiss, a New York liberal Orthodox rabbi.

The Rabbinate sent a letter Wednesday to Weiss’ attorney in Israel, Assaf Benmelech, affirming that it will accept all letters from Weiss confirming the Judaism of couples who want to wed in Israel.

Weiss expressed relief at the change in the Rabbinate’s policy, saying he’s thankful “this injustice has been corrected and am deeply grateful for the overwhelming support I received from all over the world.”

“This is a first step because this was never about me personally. I will continue to speak out until all rabbis of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), will be formally recognized for this purpose,” he said.

In October, the rabbinate rejected such a letter from Weiss, pending an investigation into Weiss’ adherence to traditional Jewish law.

The move sparked widespread outrage that Weiss, a longtime synagogue leader in New York who had vouched for the Jewishness of many Israeli immigrants in the past, was suddenly having his reliability called into question.

Naftali Bennett, who serves both as Israel’s religious services minister and Diaspora affairs minister, has been meeting since November with officials from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the rabbinate to resolve the issue.

Bennett reportedly sees the issue as one of prime importance based on the potential negative impact it could have on Israel-Diaspora relations.

Weiss founded liberal Orthodox rabbinical seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and has pioneered a number of controversial innovations in the Orthodox world, most recently with his decision to ordain women as clergy through a new religious seminary called Yeshivat Maharat.

“In the decision of the Chief Rabbinate, one can see recognition of the life work of Rabbi Avi Weiss in Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, and of the halachic legitimacy of Open Orthodox rabbis, who are contending with the challenges of our generation within the limits of the halacha,” Benmelech told JTA.

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