Attorney Alan Dershowitz is asking President Shimon Peres to intervene in the case of the apparent blacklisting of Rabbi Avi Weiss by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
The Rabbinate recently rejected a letter by Weiss vouching for the Jewish credentials of an American couple seeking to wed in Israel (the Rabbinate requires a letter from an Orthodox rabbi certifying one’s Jewish identity in cases of non-Israelis seeking to immigrate or marry in Israel).
Weiss, the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, has been the subject of controversy in recent years for pushing the envelope when it comes to ordaining Orthodox women as clergy.
After learning that his credentials were being challenged by the Rabbinate, Weiss penned an opinion article in the Jerusalem Post on November 5 calling on Israel to end the Rabbinate’s “monopoly on religious dictates of the state.”
Here’s what Dershowitz, a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer, wrote to Peres on Monday:
Rabbi Weiss is one of the foremost Modern Open Orthodox rabbis in America and one of the strongest advocates anywhere for the State of Israel. As a person – I am deeply saddened by the pubic shaming of my friend, Rabbi Avraham Weiss, the leader of a flagship Orthodox congregation.
As a Jew – I understand that today more than ever before there is a chasm between the Jews of the United States and the religious institutions in Israel. This is clearly expressed in the rejection of the most elementary and fundamental testimonies and confirmations.
I am disturbed by this, and by its ramifications, and call upon the leaders of Israel to first understand that there is a serious problem which demands attention, and to understand that they mustn’t bend to baseless religious tyranny.
As a lawyer – I am forced to see yet again how basic rights, such as the right to marriage, the right to self-definition and the right of religion, are trampled by none other than the Israeli democracy we value so. This is yet another result of the rather unsuccessful fusion of Religious law and Israeli law, and the problem seems to only intensify over time.
I turn to you, Mr. President, knowing that you have always been a voice of moral courage – to intervene in this matter.
The Rabbinate has denied that it blacklists rabbis, saying it does not keep a list of rabbis whose testimony it accepts as authoritative in clarifying a person's Jewish or marital status.
Responding to a request made in September by the Tzohar rabbinical organization to see such a list, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate told The Jerusalem Post that “no list exists either hidden or public."
According to the report, which appeared Monday, the spokesman said every request made for clarification of Jewish and marital status “is examined individually and thoroughly."
Tzohar says an increasing number of Jewish couples from North America have had difficulty in registering upcoming marriages with the Chief Rabbinate because the testimony of their community's rabbis was not recognized.