Rabbi Ari Weiss, Teaching Modern Orthodox community about social justice.


Rabbi Ari Weiss, 32

Twitter: @AriWeiss, @uriltzedek

During a lull in a local kosher restaurant’s schedule one day last year, Rabbi Ari Weiss, a frequent customer, approached the owner. Rabbi Weiss, executive director of the Uri L’Tzedek Orthodox social justice organization, suggested that the owner join Uri L’Tzedek’s Tav HaYosher “ethical seal” program.

The rabbi explained the requirements: fair pay, fair working hours, and a safe working environment.

The restaurant, Rabbi Weiss says, had paid its employees wages that if not beneath minimum wage, were “close to it.”

The owner agreed, before the rabbi left the restaurant that day, to become one of the 100 kosher establishments now in the Tav HaYosher program.

Rabbi Weiss’ duties at Uri L’Tzedek — he’s worked there since shortly after his ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2007 — include such face-to-face lobbying, as well as fund-raising, public speaking, leadership training and editing organization publications. All the endeavors have a common purpose: advancing such social justice issues as health care, domestic violence and “ethical consumption,” and spreading the word that Orthodox involvement in social justice is “mainstream Judaism.”

“The Torah is replete with stories of social justice,” he says.

A resident of the Upper West Side, Rabbi Weiss says he has seen growing acceptance of Uri L’Tzedek’s message since joining the staff — like the restaurant that started posting the Tav HaYosher certification last year.

“This is a success story,” he says.

Avid reader: Rabbi Weiss ranks “Elizabeth Costello,” the 2003 novel by South Africa’s Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee, about a writer’s lectures that mirror stages of her life, among his favorite books. It discusses “the limits of empathy,” he says. Roughing it: The rabbi spent a month helping to build latrines in rural Ghana, under the auspices of American Jewish World Service. “I learned what it’s like to live in the developing world.”