January 3, 2014 -- New York -- AJC, responding to the Chief Rabbinate’s latest assault on Rabbi Avi Weiss, has issued an open letter to the Chief Rabbinate. The unwarranted attack on an American Orthodox rabbi will “only distance American Jewry from Israel given that the Chief Rabbinate is an official organ of the Jewish state,” write Dov S. Zakheim, Chairman, and Steven Bayme, Director, AJC’s William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Commission.
The full text of the letter follows:
Open Letter to Chief Rabbinate of Israel
We write as leaders of AJC, the global Jewish organization long engaged in advocacy on behalf of Israel's well-being and the enduring partnership between the Jewish state and world Jewry.
We are deeply concerned by the Chief Rabbinate’s explanation that Rabbi Avi Weiss’s affirmations concerning the Jewishness and marriageability of a couple he has known well has been challenged by the Chief Rabbinate because his status as an Orthodox rabbi is now in question.
We are concerned about this action for three distinct reasons:
Rabbi Weiss is a long-standing Orthodox rabbi who has built over many years a strong and vital congregation while indefatigably toiling on behalf of the Jewish people. At a time when Jewish leaders are understandably concerned about the extent of assimilation here in the United States, Rabbi Weiss stands as a shining example of how Orthodoxy may enhance the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide.
Witch hunts and heresy-hunting are inherently a dangerous business. For one thing, they lower the esteem of Judaism generally by awakening echoes of the Inquisition and book-burning. Second, they only invite further such inquisitorial activity. Is the Chief Rabbinate prepared, for example, to dismiss the reliability of Satmar testifying on marriage eligibility between two Satmar Hasidim? One could easily claim that they may well be agents of espionage given Satmar statements against the Jewish state.
This action goes well beyond a direct attack upon an American Orthodox rabbi, highly esteemed by his congregation and by the Jewish public, though such an attack is itself inexcusable. To begin with, the Chief Rabbinate is engaged in unwarranted meddling in the actions of an American rabbi on behalf of his own congregants. The Chief Rabbinate never engaged in such activities in the past. Second, extremist actions such as this only distance American Jewry from Israel given that the Chief Rabbinate is an official organ of the Jewish state. Such distancing in turn weakens a major pillar upholding the special U.S.-Israel relationship; namely, the conviction that a strong American Jewry wishes America to stand by Israel in the face of its enemies. Diminished American Jewish attachment to Israel, which actions of this sort severely aggravate, results in weakened American Jewish advocacy on behalf of Israel, thereby undermining the security of the Jewish state.
We sincerely hope that the Chief Rabbinate will recognize the folly of its action, the harm it has caused to the individuals involved, to Rabbi Weiss personally and to the State of Israel itself, of which it serves as the leading voice of Judaism in the Jewish state and withdraw from this pernicious and destructive path.
Dov S. Zakheim, Chairman
Steven Bayme, Director
AJC’s William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Commission (www.ajc.org).