The Chief Rabbinate of Israel will accept letters confirming individuals’ Judaism from Avi Weiss, a New York liberal Orthodox rabbi, but that’s not quite enough for Rabbi Weiss and his colleagues, according to a statement.
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.
In October, the Rabbinate rejected such a letter from Weiss, pending an investigation into Weiss’ adherence to traditional Jewish law.
“While we celebrate, we need to continue to insist that the Rabbanut of the Jewish State recognize all Orthodox rabbis in America,” wrote Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Rabbi Weiss’ successor at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah the liberal Orthodox rabbinical seminary he founded.
Rabbi Lopatin also said the Rabbinate should begin to reach out to rabbis of all denominations. The Israeli Rabbinate has never recognized the authority of Reform, Conservative or other progressive Jewish denominations for purposes of Jewish status.
Their move against Rabbi Weiss sparked outrage because he is a longtime synagogue leader in New York who had vouched for the Jewishness of many Israeli immigrants in the past.
JTA has also learned that 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 importace based on the potential negative impact it could have on Israel-Diaspora relations.
Rabbi Weiss has pioneered a number of controversial innovations in the Orthodox world, most recently 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, who negotiated with the Rabbinate as a representative of religious pluralism organization Ne’emanei Torah v’Avoda, told JTA.
Helen Chernikoff contributed to this report.