NY Congressman Engel Stands by Rabbi Avi Weiss in Letter to Netanyahu

Israeli Chief Rabbi Rejects Jewish Status Letters from Weiss

By JTA

Published January 12, 2014.
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New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel sent a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern over the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Jewish status letters written by Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in the letter to Israel’s prime minister dated Jan. 10 that: “This trend of rejecting status letters written by Rabbi Weiss and others undermines the bond between Diaspora communities and the state of Israel, and I fear, may ultimately lead to the wholesale prohibition on community rabbis in the Diaspora from participating in the religious life of Jewish people in Israel.”

Weiss is one of Engel’s constituents. Both the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, which Weiss led for nearly 40 years, and the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, which Weiss founded, also are located in Engel’s congressional district.

Late last year, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel rejected a letter vouching for the Jewishness of an American couple marrying in Israel written by well-known Weiss, as well as the letters of at least 10 rabbis in other cases.

A letter vouching for a couple’s Jewishness and singlehood has been required for decades from every couple wishing to marry in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate decided several years ago that it would no longer automatically recognize conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, and agreed to accept those of a limited number of approved rabbinical courts, or batei din.

Engel said he is concerned that the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject Weiss’ letter “is simply the latest instance of the broader marginalization of the many diverse streams of Judaism in Israel. If Rabbi Weiss’ credentials are rejected – an Orthodox leader with decades of experience – what does that portend for other strands of American Judaism?”

Engel wrote that it is “profoundly inappropriate for the Chief Rabbinate to cast aspersions on any individual’s commitment to Jewish traditions simply because of differing religious customs and practices.”

Engel left for Israel Sunday as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s delegation to the funeral for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


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