Civil War At Orthodox Union

It’s a soap opera. The infighting among board members led to R. Weil being forced out last spring and then getting back in this fall. It led to R. Burg being elevated last spring and then forced out this fall.

It’s a power struggle. R. Berg bet on a new head of board to replace Simcha Katz, Katz found out and fired him, Weil was on his way out to be replaced by Berg. Now the people who liked Berg and hate Katz are trying to get revenge.

Weil was on his way out, and Berg was taking his place. Berg quit his position in NCSY, and then bet on the wrong guy, he seems to have thought that he could stack the board with his guys and make his job easier. He failed.
Weil had been a disappointment, therefore Glasser was brought in to do the “heavy lifting”. When the board take-over failed, Katz destroyed Berg (he had been an early supporter) attacked him in front of the board for things he told berg to do…of course there was no paper trail – Berg trusted Katz and then tried to get rid of him, Katz was basically like – “I created you – I can destroy you”
others standing on the side know something real bad happened and now want Katz’s head.
Berg who quit NCSY for the promise of Weil’s job was fired (can say he quit) took a job which will require him to raise real money.
Weil still has a truncated job, and has to have his eyes open – maybe he thinks Richard Joel will be forced out of YU.
So to answer your question the starting point was Weil’s lack of performance in raising money and in being a team-player, and he probably got some people upset with him.

The battle now appears to be between supporters of R. Steven Weil and supporters of Paul Glasser who essentially took over Weil’s CEO (executive vice-president) position. For years there has been a low grade war between the rabbis in the Kashrut division and the rest of the OU staff.

What difference will all of this have to Modern Orthodoxy in America? None. The OU is a club for a few rich guys.

Mark* emails (and the following has been edited):

Luke,

Funny to see Paul Glasser’s name mentioned among the cast of characters in the OU soap opera. He worked at Beth Jacob in the 1980s as its Executive Vice President. Cantor was the position he had originally applied for. He instituted BJ’s current practice of having prayer leaders in the auxiliary services do so as volunteers; they had formerly been paid honorary sums that recognized their professionalism.

A few years ago, toward the end of Weil’s tenure at BJ, Glasser visited and led services.

Once R. Weil fulfills his relocation/residency requirements, he may move back to SoCal, where he might become the rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He’s not a fan of cantorial music, so it will be interesting to see how it goes when he and Netanel Baram are re-united in the same city where, for a short time, they last served as co-clergy.

Failed Messiah had some interesting coverage a few days back. He linked it to a statement that the OU had posted, applauding the conviction of a Chasidic child molester, but then the OU pulled the statement from its site. FM seems to think there’s a feud between the people who stand on principle (and wanted the statement to remain posted) and those who don’t want to upset the wider Orthodox political applecart. Interesting take, but I’m not sure if it’s accurate.

The Jewish Journal reports:

The leadership of the world’s largest provider of kosher certification, the Orthodox Union, is in disarray.

Sources on Monday confirmed massive infighting among the O.U. leadership and a slew of managerial changes as members of the board of directors vie for control.

The situation at the O.U. was first reported last week in The New York Jewish Week.

Harvey Blitz, the chairman of the O.U.’s kashrut commission, reportedly is challenging Simcha Katz for the presidency of the group. Meanwhile, the group’s executive vice president, Rabbi Steven Weil, has retained his title and an office at headquarters despite being stripped of any executive responsibility.

Rabbi Steven Burg, the former head of the O.U.’s youth group, NCSY, had been made temporary caretaker of the group last year but recently departed.

Michael Cohen, the former New York state political director hired less than a year ago, also has left abruptly.

With its logo appearing on more than 500,000 consumer products, the O.U. is the largest kosher supervision agency in the world. The total revenue from the operation — a closely guarded institutional secret — is used to fund an array of religious services and communal operations, including a public affairs office in Washington, a publishing house and a congregational umbrella group for synagogues.

Jack* emails:

Luke,

You are again projecting your own very limited perspective, and adulation for unworthy mediocre suburban LA Rabbis, with reality.

No one except for you has suggested there is a battle between Weil’s supporters and others at the OU. Weil has no supporters at all… But you are still stuck in an emotional time void of seeking his approval to enter Beth Jacob, and actually admiring his “inside information on Israeli war strategies” that he used to pronounce from the pulpit…

Weill keeps his office without responsibility because of a clause in his contract as part of the relocation back east that must be fulfilled until he can convince some congregation to hire him…

Sorry to strip away the gloss for you, but it is important for your readership to comprehend how limited your understanding of the orthodox community remains to this day, and how significantly you permit your own emotional experiences with present and former suburban LA pulpit Rabbis to skew your perspective of how they are actually perceived within the greater community. You know just enough to reach wildly wrong conclusions and analyses.

The Young Israel movement has been shaken to its core in scandal this past year, and will never recover.

Yeshiva U is first being shaken, and soon other cases will come out that will make these oversights seem a Sunday stroll in the park — and this is after they lost $100 million of endowment by simply ignoring all rules that were on the books.

The RCA is embroiled in litigation and investigations of judicial impropriety that a million dollar marketing budget cannot mask.

The Federation (not only in LA, but nationally)is a well documented disaster of fundraising machine for the sale of fundraising, mired in corruption and jaw dropping magnitudes of waste. Today, significant numbers of Jews simply won’t deal with the Federations at all, despite multi-million dollars marketing campaigns to maintain the power structure.

In short, modern orthodoxy in the US is hitting the limits of fundamentally corrupt and anachronistic, that went the way of most near monopolies in both Jewish history and recent archdiocese, for lack of a better term, history in the United States.

As Twain notes, it is easy to fool the masses, but very difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that they have been played for such fools. Eventually, however, the realization occurs that these organizations are too corrupt to the core for repair or remedy, despite the best efforts of those in power or profit, and that the community’s interests are better served through the creation of entirely new organizations and the creative destruction of the anachronistic and corrupt long standing organizations. This was the purpose of Touro Lander, YCT and many other recently created entities.

Society forgets that 50-75 years ago, YU, REITS, the RCA and RCC, the OU, Beth Jacob, the Federation, Young Israel and countless other “eternal pillars of modern orthodoxy” were newly established precisely as responses to the irreparable corruption and anachronism of the organizations that existed at the time — including some now considered simply quaint, such as an official Chief Rabbi of New York City, which at the time was the Great Battle in Judaism, difficult as that might be to imagine today.

In Israel this process is much further along, both in the demise of “eternal” political parties and the demise of the Chief Rabbinate itself.

In Israel, when Weil’s dear friend and colleague Motti Elon was stripped of the right to hold a pulpit, he openly asked what the Ethics Committee expected him to do now to support his family (like Weil, the minor detail of vast family wealth notwithstanding). Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, this great Rosh Yeshiva of Gush Etzion and son in law of The Rav, a member of the Committee, publicly replied that perhaps he should consider going into construction.

Judaism, and modern orthodoxy in particular, has reached another point in time when anachronistic and corrupt major Jewish organizations can no longer be repaired and need be replaced with new ones with entirely new leadership, painful a transition as that might prove to be.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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