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February 6, 2014 4:50 pm

Ban Orthodox Rabbinic Pedophiles – Not Rabbi Avi Weiss

avatar by Ronn Torossian

Rabbi Avi Weiss. Photo: Drew Kaplan.

There’s an ongoing debate within the Jewish Modern Orthodox community about where its parameters lie. The most recent flare-up occurred after the Israeli Chief Rabbinate decided to stop accepting letters from Rabbi Avi Weiss (and a number of other Orthodox Rabbis) vouching for his congregants’ Jewishness, which is required for marriage in Israel.

Many people’s connection to Judaism would be so much stronger if those who purport to judge what is holy in the Orthodox community recognized that while tradition is vital, perhaps what is even more important is decency. So many sages for whom we have universal respect, such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch who espoused “Torah im Derech Eretz” (Torah with respect), or Rabbi Hillel who instructed us that the essence of Jewish law is to treat others as we expect to be treated, are being ignored by some of today’s leaders.

Rabbinical “leaders” from the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) and other umbrella organizations put effort into fighting about “Open Orthodoxy,” – Rabbi Weiss’s concept that views halakha (Jewish law) as being more flexible and open to innovation – when in the grand scheme of things, they have very minimal influence over what Modern Orthodox Jews do.

Open Orthodoxy is a movement embraced by many, and the reality is that it cannot be shut out by an Israeli Chief Rabbinate which dictates to other traditional Jews how to act. And with the Chief Rabbinate now coordinating its actions with the RCA, it’s as if Jews have a Vatican of their own.

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The Jewish Press wrote a strong editorial this week commenting on Yeshiva SAR’s decision to allow two girls to don tefillin (phylacteries), which stated that the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the deans of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the flagships of Modern Orthodoxy, as they put it, should halt the movement’s seeming leftward drift. The mere fact that the Jewish Press appeals to the RCA, the OU, and Yeshiva University, tells us that there is no single source for advice on Jewish law, and history has shown that these three institutions often disagree on many issues.

While surely Rabbi Pruzansky didn’t intend for me to use it for this purpose, he proved my point in a recent blog, when he said, “Once again, what passes for psak in the Modern Orthodox world is little more than cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation of a rabbinic opinion in order to permit what it wants to permit or prohibit what it wants to prohibit.” Indeed, the rules are being interpreted differently by many, and there is no central rabbinical presence or figure who speaks for a majority of Orthodox Jews today (as those in Satmar and other Charedi movements would remind us).

While there is plenty of discussion in press releases and on Orthodox discussion boards about Open Orthodoxy, there’s little if any about the many crooks and pedophiles who have been discovered within the Orthodox Rabbinate. How is it that rabbinic leaders become more concerned with a woman chooses to take on an extra mitzvah (commandment) than with those who choose to violate laws and actually harm other people, particularly children? They are more concerned with making decisions that concern free-thinking Jews than reining their own supposed followers in. If they want to start banning Orthodox rabbis, there are plenty of evil and bad ones to begin with.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on kiruv (outreach), and issues that can be agreed upon rather than those that divide us?

Ronn Torossian is a New York based entrepreneur, author and philanthropist.

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