Criticism of rabbi was unfair


To the editor:

(re: “Weiss never speaks for me, but Bowman often does,” April 29)

We write out of deep disappointment in the journalistic integrity of The Riverdale Press in printing the Point of View piece by Josh Eisen, and out of a sense of indignation about the defamation of our teacher, Rabbi Avi Weiss. Our critique is focused on the superfluous, ad hominem and inaccurate attacks on Rabbi Weiss within this opinion piece.

We are the leaders of the Orthodox Jewish institutions Rabbi Weiss founded and continues to powerfully impact: the major synagogue and spiritual community he built, and the two rabbinical schools he dreamed into existence. We represent thousands of constituents and stakeholders for whom he is a treasured leader, mentor and role model in countless ways.

And each of us, the signatories to this letter, personally count him as a teacher and spiritual guide whose lives have been touched by his wisdom, kindness, integrity and leadership.

Rabbi Weiss doesn’t need us to speak for him except that, in his humility, he would never write a letter on his own behalf. However, his deed and actions as a rabbinic leader speak for themselves. His knowledge of Jewish text is evident in the scores upon scores of students who attend his weekly classes, the hundreds who gather for his special Torah lectures, the network of his students who teach his teachings to thousands and thousands around the world in the dozens upon dozens of communities whose leaders are his students, and the countless more whose spiritual lives have been shaped by his multiple books on Torah and leadership.

To call him irrelevant in true Torah circles is to dismiss the thousands of Orthodox Jews who follow his teaching and his vision.

Mr. Eisen implies that Rabbi Weiss does not feel the pain of Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have borne witness to Rabbi Weiss’ deep humanity and care for all peoples, his sensitivity to those who suffer. When Palestinians have been victimized or terrorized, he has called that out.

He has spoken for victims of the Darfur genocide, police brutality, and countless other issues impacting communities of all kinds.

“Avi Weiss is a follower, par excellence.” The only “following” Rav Avi does is following Jewish law, the Torah’s moral conscience, and following the hearts of his community members with deep compassion and love. He is a leader’s leader, sought by rabbis and community leaders around the world for his counsel and wisdom in leadership, and he listens and learns from them.

We have never heard anyone utter the words “my students are my teachers” more than he.

To accuse Rabbi Weiss of being motivated by media attention or self-promotion is to completely misunderstand the greatness of Rav Avi. We all bear witness from our deep personal relationships with him that what inspires him is nothing but the causes he has championed, from Soviet Jewry to women’s spiritual leadership, to Israel activism, to human rights.

His countless actions of kindness and leadership that have never been in the public eye attest to his pure motivations.

Mr. Eisen, Rabbi Weiss doesn’t have to “speak for you,” but please do not distort the truth of who he is for the thousands of us for whom he is a shining guide and role model, rabbi and leader par excellence, or for the readership of this publication.

The Riverdale Press should not print a piece like this without removing or addressing its unfounded claims and inaccurate attacks. It causes undue harm not just to Rabbi Weiss, but to all of us and our local institutions, to the Riverdale community, and far beyond that has benefited so deeply from Rabbi Weiss’ presence, and to the integrity of this publication.

Steven Exler, Gillian Steinberg, Sara Hurwitz, Dov Linzer

Steven Exler is senior rabbi for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale-The Bayit, while Gillian Steinberg is its president. Sara Hurwitz is the president of Maharat, and a rabba with HIR. Dov Linzer is president and dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.

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