Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Open Orthodox Launches Genteel War on Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington

Guest post by Joe Orlow

The Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington (RCW), also known as the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington famously bills itself as, "The only organization of Orthodox Rabbis in the Metropolitan Washington area that is responsible for kashrut supervision. (The Washington Vaad.) Maintains a Beth Din which deals with matters affecting Jewish Family Status, i.e. adoption in accordance with Jewish law, marriage, and divorce as well as with the adjudication and/or arbitration of financial disputes, and provides all services essential to the traditional Jewish community. Maintains the city-wide Chevrah Kadisha (provides services essential for the deceased)."

No more is this the whole story, if it ever was. A group of Rabbis and a Maharat, all closely affiliated with Rabbi Avi Weiss and his so-called Open Orthodox movement, have announced the formation of the Beltway Vaad. (The Beltway is a road that entirely encircles the Washington DC region, as a belt encircles a waist.)

This gang can claim some authority in as much as it includes Rabbi Joel Tessler. Rabbi Tessler was the Rabbi of one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Congregations in the DC region for many years. He was a member of the RCW before any of the current Rabbis joined the RCW. Interestingly, this Congregation, Beth Shalom, is listed as an affiliate of the RCW, although its current Rabbi is not. And there's the rub.

The Rabbis (aside from Rabbi Tessler) and Maharat of the Beltway Vaad are smarting from the fact that they have been excluded from "[t]he only organization of Orthodox Rabbis in the Metropolitan Washington area that is responsible for kashrut supervision...."

With the arrest of Rabbi Freundel, who was the Vice President of the Vaad, and the subsequent weakening of the Vaad from this scandal, the Open Orthodox clergy and lay people have seized the moment and made a push to become de facto leaders of Orthodoxy in the Greater Washington DC area. To become, in their words, the "Orthodox Leadership for the 21st Century."

 The Beltway Vaad is strongly positioned. They control Beth Shalom, the Congregation Rabbi Tessler headed. Shuls and schools closely connected to the RCW routinely have important events like fundraisers at Beth Shalom. Thus, the Beltway Vaad having their inaugural event at Beth Shalom is especially poignant. It should also be noted that Steven Lieberman, a vice-president of Beth Shalom, is chairman of the Yesivat Chovevei Torah, the Yeshiva Rabbi Avi Weiss started.

 This is the link to the press release about the new Vaad

This is a letter sent out by Maharat Ruth. Maharat Ruth is a full member of the Vaad. The reference in the letter to a Beit Din for conversion is critical. In the past, the RCW did not accept the conversions of some of the Rabbis who are now becoming part of the Beltway Vaad.

Dear friends, Rabbi Herzfeld and I wanted to share some exciting news with you. As some of you may know, we have been working with local Orthodox pulpit clergy on the formation of a new Vaad to serve the Greater Washington Orthodox Community. Today we officially launch the new "Beltway Vaad"!
In addition to Rabbi Herzfeld and me, The Beltway Vaad currently has the following members from area shuls:
Rabbi Nissan Antine - Beth Sholom Rabbi Joel Tessler - Beth Sholom Rabbi Uri Topolosky - Beth Joshua
Beltway Vaad Mission
The Beltway Vaad is a council of local, orthodox, pulpit clergy supporting one another as we serve the spiritual needs of our congregants and the larger community.
Guided by a set of shared core values, our Vaad aims to provide our communities with religious education, spiritual leadership, kosher supervision, and a Beit Din for conversion and other relevant matters. You can learn more about the specific goals of The Beltway Vaad on our website -
Why do we need another Vaad?
Some people might wonder why is it necessary for our community clergy to have a second Vaad if we already have The Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington (RCGW)
The answer to this question is that all of our members (with the exclusion of Rabbi Tessler) have not been granted admission into to the RCGW. We therefore feel that we cannot respond to the needs of our communities without a unified voice and a mechanism for collective action. We hope to have a very productive and collegial relationship with the RCGW and to work together with them for the benefit of the Washington Orthodox Community.
Lay Advisory Council
One very exciting aspect of the Beltway Vaad is that we will work in partnership with a Lay Advisory Council ("LAC"). The LAC will be a voice for communal concerns, its members will serve as ambassadors to the community and it will be a vehicle for accountability, transparency and an address for grievances against members of The Beltway Vaad. More information about the LAC can be found on the Beltway Vaad website.
Our Lay Advisory Council includes the following members:
Behnam Dayanim, Chair David Janus Bruce Wiener Tamar Zakheim Ahuva Orlofsky David Gillers Tovah Koplow Benjamin Neumann
Q and A session this Shabbat (Feb 14) - 15 minutes after Lunch There is obviously so much more information and not all of it can be communicated in an email. We know that some of you will have questions, concerns and suggestions. If you would like to learn more about The Beltway Vaad, please join Rabbi Herzfeld and me 15 minutes after lunch this Shabbat February 14 in the chapel. If you have specific questions, feel free to email them in advance to 
Beltway Vaad inaugural event on March 8 at Beth Sholom Finally, We would like to invite you to our inaugural event - a Yom Iyun on Sunday Morning March 8 at Beth Sholom. The Yom Iyun will be a chance for community members to study Torah with the members of the Vaad, learn about our goals and mission and have questions answered. Please see the flyer for more details! 
We look forward to our future work together! Maharat Ruth
-- Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue 1600 Jonquil Northwest Washington, DC 20012 847-722-8287


  1. Addendum:

    "The [Beltway] VAAD strongly adheres to the notion that local clergy should be empowered to do their own giyyur (conversion) without the need to work through a centralized rabbinic body, and each of our synagogues has its own conversion guidelines. Each of our standards are in full accordance with the demands of halakha, and in due consideration of what is best for the convert and for the Jewish people. Members of the VAAD consult on some of these halakhic issues, and serve on the Batei Din (religious courts) of the conversions. Furthermore, the VAAD functions in close consultation and partnership with national and international organizations." - from the Beltway Vaad press release

    The first line of this quote, "The [Beltway] VAAD strongly adheres to the notion that local clergy should be empowered to do their own giyyur (conversion)", taken with "Members of the VAAD...serve on the Batei Din (religious courts) of the conversions", indicates that Maharat Ruth would do conversions and sit on the conversion Beit Din. Reportedly, Maharat Ruth has said she will not be on the Beit Din. Yet, a plain reading of the press release indicates otherwise. She is "local clergy". She is a "member of the Vaad." Thus, it appears she would "sit on the...Beit Din."

    Whatever the case is, some members of the RCW are likely not going to accept some or all of the Beltway Vaad conversions. This could lead to havoc. Rabbi Uri Toploosky is the "first chair of 'The Beltway Vaad'". He is also Rav ha-Kehillah of the Hebrew Academy,mthr only Orthodox day school in the Greater Washington DC region with students from pre-school all the way through high school. It is conceivable that there will be Beltway Vaad Beit Din converts, or children of such converts, at the Hebrew Academy.

    What happens when a student from the Hebrew Academy invites a friend to his house for Shabbos, a friend whose mother had a Beltway Vaad Beit Din conversion? The student and his friend go to Shul on Shabbos morning and the Gabbai wants to honor the guest with an Aliya. The Gabbai consults with the Rabbi of the Shul, and the Gabbai learns that the guest is not Jewish according to the Rabbi.

    Over the years, a number graduates of the Hebrew Academy have married each other. What's going to happen when the mother of the Chason or Kallah had a Beltway Vaad Beit Din conversion?

    This new Beltway Vaad has put the nail in the coffin of the RCW. It also spells doom for efforts to curtail the creeping tentacles of Open Orthodoxy. To quote the ending of the classic 50's horror movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" about an insidious alien threat from within, the protagonist, on the verge of being committed to a mental institution, tells the psychiatrist, "Will you tell these fools I'm not crazy!...If you fail to understand, then the same incredible terror which is menacing me will strike at you."

  2. "Open Orthodox Launches Genteel War on Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington"
    Joe, hate to break it to you but anyone who has ever lived in or knows or has visited the Jewish community of Greater Washington DC which is basically mainly centered in and around Silver Spring, Maryland, knows that it does not have and has never had a real serious Orthodox Jewish community. There are basically no real Charedim to speak of (besides a few rabbis and a handful of folks tied in with them) and certainly no Chasidim (besides the Chabad Shluchim and Shluchos) in that community, one of North America's largest with supposedly around 300,000 Jews living in around the Greater Washington DC area. It's one of most the assimilated and anti-religious assimilated Jewish communities (meaning not just anti-Orthodox, but anti any kind of overt active Judaism!)

    It is in fact a great miracle that ANY Orthodox Jews take pride in their observances, be they very modern or traditional. The so-called "Open Orthodox" that you are worried about are just the same old Modern Orthodox.

    Even in the days of the late Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer ZT"L who built the Young Israel of Silver Spring community and those who came before him, they all worked within the framework that their core constituency were the local Modern Orthodox Jews. At most, they have had some connection with the fairly close Ner Israel Yeshiva in nearby Baltimore, MD which is the real hub and center of frum life in that part of the world!

    Greater Washington, with Silver Spring and the few other centers where the Modern Orthodox or basically modern yeshiva alumni live and work, mostly for the US Federal Government regard Baltimore as the real center of Yiddishkeit.

    A typical example and product of that mileu is the controversial MK Dov Lipman who grew up and was educated in Silver Spring and then went to Ner Israe; but it still did not stop him from becoming a very left-wing radical Orthodox rabbi (who was eventually disowned for going too far for joining Yair Lapid with advocating the views of the "Yesh Atid" party) by the Ner Israel Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aron Feldman who cut him out of the greater Ner Israel community. That should tell you something!!

    So sit back and relax, you are fighting a losing battle because in that neck of the woods, the Modern Orthodox are on top and it is no surprise that they are setting the agenda and they want their rabbis and maharats to be the leaders.

    The only thing a real frum person can do is to move to Baltimore, or New York or New Jersey some place and live among like-minded Charedi and Chasidic, or just feel comfortable being a frum American Aguda-type "black hat" balebos with a profession people and give your kids a real chance at becoming Torah-true Jews and not just Modern Orthodox kids who will see no problems with Rabbi Avi Weiss-like rabbis and maharats.

    Sort of like the test Lot faced in moving to Sedom and taking his chances when he left the good moral environment of Avrohom Avinu and Sraha Imeinu!!

  3. You're wrong. I'll have a little more time later I hope to show you, and any others who are interested, how wrong you are.

  4. Joe, the so-called Beltway Vaad has served notice that their primary agenda is imposing their fascist feminist agenda on the Orthodox community. That agenda includes unleashing the feminist police state on Orthodox Jewish men to crush their constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

    Its time for normal, self-respecting Jewish men to abandon the idolatrous Maharat temples. Let the temples count their "Maharats" for their "minyanim".

    "The Beltway Vaad encourages everyone to keep the plight of agunot at the center of their consciousness...The Beltway Vaad supports the passage of The Justice for Ex-Spouses Act...The bill aims to provide justice to ex-spouses whose ability to remarry is interfered with malicious conduct."

  5. fedupwithcorruptrabbisFebruary 11, 2015 at 4:04 PM

    As I stated in the past, it appears that modern day Rabbinate encroaches upon us as ISIS encroaches on their muslim brothers. Somehow they feel when Barry Freundel was unseated, that a VACUUM was created and they want to fill that space. Today you see many organizations who vow for power try to undermine and eliminate the competition.This occurs in Hashgocho matters as well as other situations. This is why you see many rabbis today speaking against Rabbi Abraham and Rabbi Gestetners Bais Dins in Monsey, Ny. These 2 Rabbis conduct their Bais Dins following strict Halocho without feminist inuendos or other political pressures. Their actions seriously jeopardizes the other rabbis standing in Halocho, hence they have been ostracized by the masses. NOBODY HAS OUTDONE RABBI GESTETNER in Halocho, yet they toss him out of the gittin equation as if he was a goy. In the meantime he is publishing a 600 page sefer on the topic of gittin. Therefore I am not surprised that others will wage battle to "GAIN TURF" in the Jewish world for the sake of moneys to be earned.

  6. I used to get annoyed by these kinds of things but I've moved on.
    After all, if you don't think the Open Otrhodox can put out a good hechser you don't have to eat their food. If you don't like the way they let women lead services and have aliyos then you don't go to their synagogues. Unless they're the only game in town there are always other options for the serious Torah-observant Jew.
    As for the giyur stuff, yes it's troubling but
    a) it wouldn't be an issue if there wasn't so much corruption and scandal involved
    b) it just means one will have to do background checks on self-proclaimed Orthodox Jews from now on.

  7. Odds are good that the pseudo-Vaad will promote shaky conversions.

  8. Joseph Orlow said "You're wrong. I'll have a little more time later I hope to show you, and any others who are interested, how wrong you are."

    Take your time and looking forward to your response because just saying "you're wrong" is meaningless and proves nothing unless you can engage in a logical debate based on basic accepted facts that are commonly known. Thanks again!

  9. RaP, what a perverse diatribe against the Washington community and Modern Orthodoxy in general. The incredible שנאת חינם you display is beneath contempt.

    That you mention Rabbi Anemer זצ״ל in your post defies belief. I doubt you ever knew him. The love he had for the community -- while fully aware of its modern leanings -- is in all likelihood THE reason why Orthodoxy still exists there today.

    If the contempt you spew for your fellow Jews is an indication of your 'serious' Yeshiva education, I'm going to spend a few moments after this post thanking the רבש״ע for helping me to avoid such an education by letting me be raised in the very community you have slandered.

    אפרה לפומיה. Feh, you may have earned the title of most contemptible post of the year.

  10. RaP, when was the last time you actually visited Silver Spring? From your comments, it seems like if you ever were there, it was 25 years ago.

  11. Your comment about DC was so bizarre and lacking contact with reality that it hardly deserves a reply beyond noting it's wrong.

    However, I defer to your longevity on this blog, and thought that instead of my refuting you point-by-point with a complete history of Jewish life in the DC area, that I would instead engage you in a question-and-answer format discussion, starting at the beginning.

    As you have set yourself up as knowledgeable, please inform our readers about the formation of the Washington Vaad, the challenge to the Vaad's claim to primacy being the subject of this post. How many Jews were living in DC in the early part of the twentieth century? What was the affiliation of most Jews then? Where did they live? Who was the Rabbi who started the Vaad? What year did he come to the DC area? What year did he start the Vaad? What was his motivation for starting the Vaad?

    After you answer these questions which deal with the foundation of the Orthodox community in the DC area, we will proceed from there to more recent history.

  12. Ok. That's good to know. Some of us follow Rabbis who keep the old time Torah. That means wives don't necessarily get a divorce simply because they want a divorce. That means we don't recognize the Beltway Vaad conversions. That means we follow the Shulchan Aruch without the caveat "as long as it's 'moral'". We don't appreciate people reaching out to the government to use the power of the law to coerce us to do things against our what our Our Rabbis tell us to do. I hope there would be a way to get this message across to the members of the Vaad. I would hope the Vaad is not considering shtick like pushing a version of Justice for Ex-Spouses Act in Maryland. I would hope that the Vaad will counsel its converts that we don't consider the converts to be Jewish according to Halacha. It would be nice if the Vaad acknowledged that we have a Tradition unchanged going back to Mt. Sinai that our Torah is the Will of G-d.

    I can't emphasize enough that my druthers are that, being we're in America, there should be a live and let live approach. Yet my friend was told by his Rav not to give a Get. Instead of Rabbi Herzfeld agreeing to disagree in this regard, he chose to publicly call on my friend's boss, a prominent Congressman, to fire my friend. My friend confided in me that Hill staffers apparently perceived Rabbi Herzfeld's behavior as outrageous. Some staffers have less than sterling domestic behavior records, and there's an unwritten law that family matters are off-limits for public debate. Thus, Rabbi Herzfeld's well meaning, from his perspective, attempt to force a Get, led to a public desecration. Being that Rabbi Herzfeld broke no law, the ramifications were less pronounced than with Rabbi Freundel's stepping over the line.

    But that's in the past.

    What's important now is that the Beltway Vaad is starting anew, and so I an going to throw the chips on my shoulder into the fire, and wish you, and everyone working with you, much Help from Heaven, and success in the good things you do, and may you have protection and health in the merit of faithfully serving the Community!

  13. Rabbi Heinemann is a recognized leader of the Jewish Community in Baltimore MD. He is the Rabbinic Administrator of the Star-K.

    Here is the link to Rabbi Heinemann's ORA Kashrus letter

  14. I met a woman through my work that I wanted to introduce to a friend. I found out that she was a convert. Her conversion was done by a Beit Din consisting of three Rabbis who are now members of the new Beltway Vaad.

    After a lot of research, I came to the conclusion that the woman's conversion was not acceptable. This story is what is behind much of my involvement decrying this new Bais Din.

    To his credit, the Rabbi overseeing her conversion told the woman her conversion would not be acceptable to some Rabbis. The woman was given the option of having a conversion done by the Bais Din of America, with this Rabbi, who has ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, sponsoring the conversion.

    The woman declined to pursue this path. For all intents and purposes she is considered Jewish by many Orthodox Rabbis. Admittedly, as Rabbi Freundel pointed out to me at the time, her conversion will not be accepted as far as the State of Israel; but that may not still be the case in the near future.

  15. Other than your wild and vile character assassination attempt of proven poster, what is it you are trying to say?

  16. How about you read the 'proven poster's comments on an established community of Orthodox Jews?

    I didn't need to character assassinate. For this 'proven poster' to be so condescending of a community speaks for itself.


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