While it is certainly encouraging that the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington (Vaad) has approved Rabbi Levi Shemtov to become a member (“Chabad rabbi joins D.C.’s Vaad,” WJW, Nov. 6), it is my hope that this is just the beginning of significant reform to the organization.
Unlike most Vaads, the D.C. Vaad is a member’s only club. There are nine congregations listed in their website as “affiliated congregations.” There are many Orthodox congregations not included on this list. While some never have applied to be a member, others have been outright rejected by the Vaad.
The Vaad has lacked any transparency in its operations, and has never explained why certain congregations were rejected. The Vaad has always been able to make arbitrary decisions for many issues including membership and kashrut without any accountability to the community.
The DC Vaad is a stark contrast to most Vaads including the Star-K in Baltimore, which are independent organizations that serve their entire communities. Most Vaads have no concept of affiliated and non-affiliated congregations. The members only, nontransparent, no accountability system of the D.C. Vaad is divisive and sends the wrong message to the community which it is supposed to be serving. When it comes to important community functions including kashrut, beit din and divorce, any community member regardless of what congregation they attend should be comfortable obtaining Vaad services.
With the inclusion of Rabbi Shemtov, the Vaad now has an opportunity to restructure itself in a way to be transparent and inclusive. The Vaad should also include lay leader involvement to help facilitate positive change. It is my hope that the Vaad will seize this opportunity to create positive change.