We suppose everyone pretty much agrees, despite their politics, that the deliberate jamming of the George Washington Bridge for a week that included the first day of school and the anniversary of 9/11 turned people off to the powers that be, whoever they were. The perpetrators certainly did not endear the Port Authority to folks who had to wait as much as three hours to cross the busiest bridge in the world…a trip that at most would take about an hour, short of an emergency—like a leaking gas tanker that causes total closure. Jamming the bridge was dangerous, made no sense and riled up the grassroots—including those folks heading to work and school at YU, MTA, Stern, SAR, etc., not to mention doctors and lawyers and hedge fund managers…and out of the 300,000 who cross the bridge every day, many didn’t care about politics—until now.
That reaction is pretty much the way our community and others reacted when they found out that a number of rabbis, among them Rabbi Avi Weiss, had been rejected by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and could no longer testify as to the Jewishness of his congregants if they were marrying in Israel. Rabbi Weiss has affected the lives of thousands of people around the world, from Moscow to Riverdale, from Jerusalem to Warsaw, and brought them to Judaism. That includes one local Modern Orthodox mother who asked, “If this is what they are doing to the rabbi who converted me, what happens to me and my children? Are we no longer considered Jews?”
Most Jewish people weren’t even aware that such an issue could exist, and it did not help when American Jews found out he was not the only one on the rabbinate’s list…there are at least ten other rabbis who chose to stay under the radar and didn’t go public. But the case raised a hue and cry over a non-issue issue—the best people to certify the Jewishness of a couple are their grandparents and great-grandparents—for which smicha is not required.
One New York Congressman, Elliot Engel, was moved to write to PM Netanyahu to ask why Israeli rabbis would want to alienate their best friends. If the Israeli Chief Rabbinate does that to the American Jews who support them, imagine how it looks to the rest of the Jewish community.
While everyone is still figuring out the whys and the wherefores of the original decision, we are very happy that the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Chief Rabbinate have reached an agreement and that the RCA will now be the official “clearing house” for letters attesting to the Jewishness of couples who want to marry in Israel. The couples’ rabbis write the letters, send them to the RCA, and the RCA sends them to the appropriate rabbis. This gives the RCA back its power, stops the rabbinate in Israel from discriminating against the Modern Orthodox, and promotes a bit of shalom bayit under the tent of Yiddishkeit. Kol haKavod to both parties for crossing the bridge!