Published On: Thu, Jul 2nd, 2015

Rabbi Avi Weiss Quits RCA

The always boisterous and sometimes controversial Rabbi Avi Weiss has resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox rabbinical association of North America. He did so due to the RCA’s refusal to admit Rabbis who were ordained by Rabbi Weiss into the organization.

The Rabbi has been known for his very vocal and unabashed support of Israel over the years as well as leading protests on behalf of freedom for Soviet Jewry during the Cold Way. But he is also known for being a liberal on issues concerning women’s equality. Rabbi Weiss has now begun offering rabbinical ordination to women at his school, Chovevei Torah Yeshiva, which he founded in 2000. Rabbi Weiss has been the Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx since 1973.

In order to become an orthodox rabbi, a student must have the ordination conferred upon him by a current rabbi after the student completes the required amount of study. The current rabbis touches the head of the newly ordained rabbi. This is called “Smicha” in Hebrew which comes from the word which means to lean on someone or something because the conferring rabbi touches the new rabbi.

In a statement published in The Jewish Week, Rabbi Weiss said, “In recent years … I have struggled with many positions the RCA has taken. To name several: its centralization of rabbinic authority vis-a-vis conversion; its opposition to women’s semicha; its failure to issue a public statement on behalf of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his recent brouhaha with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.” The latter is a reference to the Chief Rabbinate’s recent implied threat to decertify Rabbi Riskin as Chief Rabbi of Efrat for his liberal positions on several religious issues.”

“But the primary reason I am leaving is the Chovevei issue, ” Rabbi Weiss wrote. “With almost 100 rabbis in the field, in major synagogues, Hillels, and day schools all over the world … one would imagine that the RCA would proactively visit Chovevei to help facilitate its entry into their rabbinical association. Tragically, that has not happened — and it’s the RCA’s great loss.”

“The vast majority of institutional semicha programs approved by the RCA are haredi and non-Zionist … It seems that the RCA tent is wide enough for the haredi right, but there is no place for the only rabbinic school that proudly identifies itself as modern Orthodox – YCT.”

The RCA did not comment. But the mainstream Orthodox world would certainly counter that Rabbi Weiss has diverged from them by agreeing to ordain women. This is why the RCA not recognize the rabbis whom he has ordained.

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