April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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The following letter was sent to the Chief Rabbis of Israel by the President, past presidents and the executive committee of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where Rabbi Avi Weiss has been the manhig ruchani for 41 years.

As the lay leadership of an Orthodox synagogue that serves several hundred families under the spiritual guidance of Rabbi Avraham Weiss, we respectfully write in the spirit of ahavat Yisrael to express our tremendous sorrow and disappointment with the decision of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and our great love and support for our Morah D’Atra.

During the 41 years that he has served as the Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Rabbi Weiss has taught us by example through his commitment to halacha, Orthodox practice, and great love for Israel and all Jews. He has inspired and taught hundreds, if not thousands, of baaleit’shuva individuals and families, helping them seek out and ultimately embrace a halachic way of life. With Rabbi Weiss’s encouragement, mentoring and emotional support, more than 100 families from the synagogue (including his own daughter and her family) have made aliyah.

Rabbi Weiss has made our synagogue a makom Torah and a model of how a place of worship can become a spiritual home that is open and welcoming to all. Through his teaching and by example, Rabbi Weiss has strengthened our commitments to halacha and Orthodoxy; commitments that we proudly note are evidenced by the fact that the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale is an Orthodox Union synagogue.

Given Rabbi Weiss’s and our synagogue’s credentials and absolute commitment to halacha and Orthodoxy, we were shocked that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel would refuse to accept Rabbi Weiss’s letters attesting to the Jewish identity of our fellow congregants. This refusal adversely impacts all of our members and challenges the legitimacy of our entire kehilla. Moreover, it calls into question the Orthodox credentials of every rabbi and challenges the legitimacy of the Orthodox kehillot that they lead and serve.

For the Chief Rabbinate to reach this conclusion based upon the undisclosed allegations of a few unnamed rabbis and without citation to any traditional halachic authority suggests a political rather than religious basis for this decision. We ask that you name those who have questioned Rabbi Weiss’s Orthodoxy and provide citations to the applicable sections of the Shulchan

Aruch to support your claim that Rabbi Weiss’s halachic opinions “cast doubt on the level of his commitment to the customary and acceptable Jewish halacha.” We also ask the Chief Rabbinate to share with us the clear and objective criteria by which it determined from which Rabbis itwould accept letters when evaluating personal status issues.

We request that you reconsider your position and immediately reverse your decision regarding our Rav. Furthermore, we understand that you have similarly rejected letters from rabbis of other Orthodox communities in the U.S. attesting to the Jewish identity of their members. We urge you to reverse your position in all these cases, and rely exclusively on the legitimacy and trustworthiness vested in these Rabbanim by their Orthodox kehillot, since their local communities know them best.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

The President and Executive Committee of the
Hebrew Institute of Riverdale—the Bayit, together with Past Presidents

To the Editor:

The Pew statistics are devastating. More than one in five Jews, 22%, now say they have no religion; for young adults, the figure is 32%. Approximately 90% of Jews are not Orthodox and do not keep the Torah and mitzvos. A majority of Jews, 55%, say they are Jews by ancestry or culture rather than religion. A majority of Jews of no religion (secular and cultural Jews) are not connected to any Jewish organization and two-thirds are not raising their children as Jewish. Some 60% of Jews who have married since 2000, have married non-Jews. The Rambam writes that the Messiah will come, that we will be redeemed, when there is a massive tshuvah of our people. Do we do mitzvos only to get reward in the next world or do we care about the ultimate redemption in this world?

Before you skip this letter, every Jew is obligated to do whatever he/she can to influence non-religious Jews to live more Jewishly. Here is what you can do.

Let me start immediately. Call your favorite charity and ask to be sent 50 tzedakah boxes. In a warm and friendly way, give one to every non-frum friend, neighbor, cousin, co-worker and tell them to teach their children to put a few coins in the box every Friday. This Jewish box will remind them who they are.

When giving a gift for a newborn, a bas/bar mitzvah, Sweet 16, engagement or wedding, give a meaningful Jewish book or a mezuzah along with a cash gift.

Every shul must have a kippah box for those who walk in to say Kaddish or to a bris who don’t bring their own. Every shul, even Haredi, must have chumashim and siddurim with English translations. Remember what Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald of the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) always says, “For the price of a chicken you can save a Jew.”

Invite Jews to your home for a Shabbos meal and to a Pesach Seder. Let them experience the beauty of our meaningful lives. On Purim, give Shalach Manos not to your friends, but to non-frum co-workers and neighbors and briefly explain to them the story of Purim and tell them here is a gift as a sign of unity, brotherhood and fellow responsibility.

Every yeshiva, even the most Haredi, must allow non-Orthodox children to attend. They must not be afraid that a mother will come to the yeshiva with uncovered hair, or the father will come without a kippah, or the child will influence the frum children to become less religious. We have lost a generation of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews who immigrated to Brooklyn, the largest Orthodox community in the world, but the yeshivas were closed to them. If we have neighbors with children, tell them about the Bergen County High School for Jewish Studies; if they are college age, recommend BirthRight Israel; if they are younger, recommend the Jewish Youth Encounter Program (JYEP). Tell your neighbors about the Jewish Learning Experience.

Remember, now is not a time for hand wringing, paralysis and crying to God, “Gevalt, what to do?!” like the Zikeinim, the elders, did during the very first outbreak of intermarriage and assimilation in the story of Pinchas.

I recently sent this e-mail to a rabbi of a Fort Lee shul, a community with thousands of assimilated Jews:

Dear Rabbi:

I was saddened by the recent Pew study regarding the continuing deterioration of our people due to assimilation. Is there any way that we can set up a program where I could teach Basic Judaism and Beginners Chumash and set up a monthly program for singles, “Turn Friday Night into Shabbat,” a beginners service followed by Shabbos dinners. I would do this at no salary and I would pay for all advertising and publicity.

Martin Polack

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