Thursday, October 06, 2022

To the Editor:

I would like to thank the Jewish Link for showcasing the Jewish community of Paramus. I would also like to point out a few things that were overlooked in the article: KAJ of Paramus has operated a vibrant nursery school for over 30 years and offers several popular shiurim/classes, including Daf Yomi, Gemorah, and Pirkei Avos.

In addition, the article erroneously noted that KAJ was a branch of Breuers. It has never been a branch of Breuers. Finally, besides the many attributes mentioned in the article, the town of Paramus also offers great services and low taxes.

Sam Lichter

To the Editor:

I admire Dr. Mark Levie’s passionate defense of the policies and practices of his father-in-law, Rabbi Avi Weiss. (All sons-in-law should be like that!) On that basis alone, I would have seen fit to overlook the attacks on me in his letter of February 6. I would, except that I cannot let the invective and mischaracterizations remain uncontested in the public domain.

First, I do not “rant.” I write. On occasion those whose politically correct agendas are usually unchallenged in the media—including this forum—perceive it as a rant. But my case is stated calmly, without personal attacks of any sort, and with a multitude of facts.

Second, facts are stubborn things. Despite Dr. Levie’s contentions, Rabbi Weiss did ordain women as rabbis. Call them what you wish, but the semantic game is the one I choose not to play. Neither does Rabbi Weiss. In his interview on WABC’s religion program before the recent ordination ceremony, he repeatedly referred to his ordainees as “rabbis.” And if they weren’t, why would the “Maharat” ceremony feature as honored guests the first women rabbis of the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements?

Rabbi Weiss did have a female chazanit lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service at his shul in July 2010. It has not been repeated only because he was threatened with sanctions by a denominational organization. And there has been a dilution of conversion standards in cases of which Dr. Levie may not be aware.

And there is annually a male/female church choir that performs at Rabbi Weiss’ shul. That point is conceded by Dr. Levie without acknowledging the sharp break with tradition that represents. To me—and almost all his colleagues—it matters little whether the concert is celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Martin Luther, Dean Martin or Nat King Cole. It is prohibited by Jewish law for sundry and obvious reasons.

Dr. Levie makes a compelling point that almost every yeshiva has had ordainees that have “strayed from our primary beliefs” (certainly, and clearly, RIETS has had several). The broader question then becomes how does the yeshiva react to those who wander off the reservation? Never did I suggest that we should “excommunicate” homosexuals; indeed, all Jews are welcome in our shul. But if a disciple of mine suggested celebrating in his shul the pending nuptials of two men, even offering them a cake at a Kiddush (!), I would repudiate that disciple, not extol his sensitivity. Jews can acknowledge that we are all sinners, but first we may accept that certain actions remain sins, despite the conflict that presents to modern sensibilities.

The recent controversy with Israel’s Rabbinate remains somewhat murky. The Rabbinate, for understandable reasons, has never publicly stated the grounds for rejecting Rabbi Weiss’ attestation letters. We have only heard one side. Nor do we know the grounds for the Rabbinate rejecting “many letters sent to them by American Orthodox rabbis,” as Dr. Levie alleges, or whether in fact that happened. After almost 30 years in the American rabbinate, I can state with regret that not every “American Orthodox rabbi” has the requisite credibility to attest to matters of personal status. That was the very reason why the Rabbinical Council of America adopted its GPS (Gerut Policies and Standards) in the mid-2000s to standardize procedures and weed out those rabbis whose practices were sub-standard. I served on the committee that drafted the policies and was intimately involved in every decision. The contentions that this was forced on the RCA by the Israeli Rabbinate or that the Israeli Rabbinate played a role in the GPS guidelines are completely false, notwithstanding their incessant repetition.

Suffice it to say, every single one of my statements was completely accurate, but I do not at all begrudge Dr. Levie’s spirited defense of his father-in-law. I would add, though, that in the ensuing weeks since my original article was published, something even more ominous occurred. Despite the resolution between Rabbi Weiss and the Rabbinate, Rabbi Weiss saw fit after the agreement to nonetheless launch a public attack against the Chief Rabbinate (and by extension, the Israeli government) on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times. In the rabbinical world, in Israel, and even among supporters of Rabbi Weiss, the inappropriateness of the condemnation and the forum in which he chose to express it left people aghast. The PLO even tweeted Rabbi Weiss’s article as a sign of the venality of the Israeli government! Bringing aid and comfort to the enemy is surely no way to spread love of Israel or Jews, and I remain shocked and disheartened over what was likely a miscalculation and an unfortunate overreach. I struggle for a way to judge that favorably.

But I also remain one with deep respect for many of Rabbi Weiss’ accomplishments, and grateful for the influence he has had on my life. I also have zero interest in debating personalities; issues interest me far more, and this too is Talmud Torah. I wish names could be deleted to avoid the unseemliness of the whole discussion. Nevertheless, no one gets a pass for distorting the mesorah, for public breaches of Jewish tradition, or for creating a Neo-Conservative movement that has created a schism with the Torah world. It’s a free country, but truth-in-advertising is also a pre-eminent value. Those remain stubborn facts, notwithstanding the well-deserved love and support of his children.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

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