Modern Orthodoxy is Always at the Crossroads


By Michael Broyde

[Editor’s Note: Rabbi Broyde penned and submitted an eloquent reaction to my piece in Ami Magazine regarding the dilemma that Modern Orthodoxy faces in regard to the Far Left. It is a more than worthwhile read, for cogently capturing a very different point of view. Rabbi Broyde and I have been fast friends for years. Despite the fact that we very rarely agree about important matters, we both sense that we share far more than we disagree about. I do not regard him as a member of the Far Left, especially because of our shared passion for serious Torah learning – even though we frequently disagree about pshat in the passages before us. We are friends neither in spite of our differences, nor because of them. We are simply friends.

Needless to say, I disagree with both my friend’s analysis of the differences between the Far Left and mainstream Orthodoxy, as well as his recommendations for action. I am hoping that readers will do much of the heavy lifting in reacting to this piece, saving me from having to write a detailed response. – YA]

I. Introduction

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s brilliantly written essay “Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads” is, like everything else Rabbi Adlerstein has written, full of his erudite insights into community. However, ultimately, both his diagnosis of the problem and his explanation of the solution are, I think, wrong: Modern Orthodoxy is always at the crossroads – no more now than yesterday or tomorrow. Furthermore, he fundamentally misunderstands the Modern Orthodox ethos and condition – Modern Orthodoxy will always be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews than many are comfortable with as our boundaries are determined more by the historical parameters of halacha than by current gedolim. Modern Orthodoxy will always be more open to all Orthodox Jews.

At its core, Rabbi Adlerstein’s essay is an attempt to delegitimize what he call the Orthodox “Far Left,” a term he does not define or characterize, but is used throughout in his essay. Allow me to give it a definition: the Orthodox “Far Left” is a group within the Orthodox community which is attempting to discard many aspects of minhag yisrael on matters of women’s issues and perhaps will come to adopt the same approach to other issues as well. Yet it seems that at least in intent (if not in effect, to borrow Lawrence Summer’s term), they are not seeking to leave the halachic community at all. They are, instead, seeking to expand the borders of customary practice with innovative readings of sources, some grounded in classical insights, some grounded in innovation and some grounded in social change that they perceive as present. Furthermore, and this might be the crux of the issue, they steadfastly refuse to defer to the judgments of the gedolim who dominate the community that Rabbi Adlerstein comes from and instead either put forward their own gedolim or deny the need for sanction from gedolim to make the changes they recommend.

Rabbi Adlerstein’s view is that the RCA must expel the “Far Left” and without such an expulsion, the cooperation with the Charedi community will be jeopardized. Both of these conclusions are wrong – indeed, I think that the RCA should welcome as members those whom Rabbi Adlerstein thinks is the “Far Left” with open hands; the Orthodox center and right are all better with the Orthodox “Far Left” present, and much more importantly, the Orthodox “Far Left” is better served in a community with the rest of Orthodoxy. Each will moderate and temper the other. The parts are weaker than the whole. Modern Orthodoxy has to be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews. Furthermore, if we exclude the halachic “Far Left” from our community, we will have no say in what they do and how they do it.

II. Halacha First: A Modern Orthodox Credo

First and foremost, Rabbi Adlerstein’s plea for expulsion is completely unconvincing to me. Anyone who really understands what Modern Orthodoxy ought to be, understands that after we are finished expelling the “Far Left”, there will be a new far left to expel. In this regard, the Rav’s z.t.l approach to Rabbi Rackman was correct – wrong halachic ideas are criticized and sometimes even delegitimatized – but people are not normally expelled for advocating ideas that are within the halachic universe but simply not proper or normative.

(But this is not enough of a vision for the Modern Orthodox community – as we have to decide what idea and conduct are outside of these parameters. Our tent needs to have walls – otherwise, what kind of tent is it? More on this in the next section)

Second, and most importantly, Modern Orthodoxy is – as its name suggests – an attempt to meld the classical rabbinic tradition with the best of the modern world, and it requires, indeed even mandates, that the modern world be examined to determine what is in it that ought to be part of the Orthodox community. This can be found in the rabbinic idiom that “The best of the house of Yefet should reside in the house of Shem” – the best of western culture should be part of the Jewish community.

To implement this requires two things, one obvious and one less so. It requires that we examine western culture faithfully and diligently to determine that which is best and ought to be incorporated. More subtly, it requires that we recognize that there are things missing from our own tent, so that we ought to acquire them from the outside: the recognition that there are things missing from our own tent is a central point of the Modern Orthodox mindset.

Here is the Modern Orthodox difficulty: we sometimes argue about what is missing from our own tent that ought to be incorporated. For example, some of us think that greater egalitarianism is needed, and others think that egalitarianism is not a virtue. Some think that Messianic Zionism ought to be incorporated — and others think that Messianic Zionism is a vice. Some welcome a university which is a yeshiva — others do not. Some of us think that Talmudic rabbis can err about scientific fact — and others do not. Modernity has brought many changes, not all of them good – but not all of them bad, either. Modern Orthodoxy is itself uncertain about these issues and most of us believe that each of these ideas (and many other modern ideas) has brought both positive and negative changes. Equal pay for men and women performing the same jobs, and communal action to prevent domestic abuse and marital rape are two clear examples of a positive impact of feminism. The unbridled use of unwarranted abortions and immodest dress, on the other hand, are clear examples of a negative impact. As with other contemporary values, such as democracy, the halakhic community must determine which values within a given contemporary ideology are worthy of incorporation. Most topics are rarely questions of black and white, and require a careful analysis of the halakhic sources as well as meta-halakhic factors at stake. Truth resides typically between the polar ideals of a complex situation.

How are we to solve this basic problem? I suggest Modern Orthodoxy both cannot and should not. Instead, we should allow experimentation within the Orthodox community to allow time to help us discern what is and what is not missing from our tent and to incorporate external virtues into our community gradually.

Finally, and related, until the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin, we need to achieve unity and not uniformity, enabling a reality of diversity without divisiveness. This is the appropriate historical lesson of the terrible schism within European Orthodox Jewry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The vicious fights between religious groups (Chasidim versus Misnagdim, Zionists versus anti-Zionists and many others) and the many polemical disputes about the details of ritual life (sermons in the vernacular, the placement of the bimah, etc…) with their delegitimizing tone strike one, with the wisdom of hindsight, as unwise. The fratricidal fighting did not help our community or Judaism as a whole, and appears particularly misguided in light of how we have come over time to live with these differences. Modern Orthodoxy – recognizing the difficulty of the task of melding the best of western culture with classical Orthodox Judaism – will be more embracing of all Orthodox Jews than those movements who see no value in this task.

This same motto of “unity without uniformity, diversity without divisiveness” should also apply to the range of opinions regarding women’s issues, and in particular, the role of women as students and teachers of Torah. Clearly, there exists a wide spectrum of opinions on this matter, ranging from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s opinion that Talmud study ought to be a routine part of women’s education, to Rabbi Teitelbaum’s approach that women may only be taught the Written Torah without even Rashi’s commentary. Many others fall out between these two poles, again recognizing that all remain a part of the Orthodox community.

III: Where Should the Walls of Our Tent Be?

But, of course there have to be walls to our big tent. These walls should be the wide historical walls of classical Orthodox halacha and haskafa and not the contemporary walls that bind our community in America or Israel. The Modern Orthodox community, and the RCA specifically, ought to welcome into its tent anyone who professes loyalty to the theology of Jewish belief endorsed by Rishonim and Aharonim as historically and halachically understood, and whose conduct is governed by classical Jewish law, even if that conduct is inconsistent with the current norms as put forward by the gedolim that Rabbi Adlerstein admires and expects fidelity to.
Let me add that Modern Orthodoxy by its very nature – incorporating the best of western culture into the rabbinic tradition – will be less traditional than other Orthodox communities which do not look at the world around them in any positive way. And that is not a problem. The Nodah beYehuda observes (correctly in my view) in OC 2:18 that when there is a clear minhag yisrael to do something (in his case, to have 12 windows in a shul), but that minhag is an obstacle to serious religious growth, then if the minhag is not grounded in halacha, we ought to abandon the minhag in that particular case. Most of us in the Modern Orthodox think that the Noda beYehuda’s formulation is correct, and if that is true, then all arguments of minhag without any serious reference to halacha will not really persuade anyone who is not already persuaded. They will always respond in reference to the Nodah beYehuda: non-halachic minhagim need to change as the reality of life changes. To really set limits on our community, we need to speak the language of halacha first and foremost.

Let’s focus on the example Rabbi Adlerstein focuses on most closely – Rabbi Kanefsky’s proposal to abolish the recitation of the bracha shelo asani isha, and replace it with the bracha she-asani Yehudi. (I will speak about the tone of Rabbi Kanefsky’s essay in the penultimate section.) Anyone who has read the halachic literature on this topic sees that such a proposal is grounded in the halachic literature, although very far from the current practice. A strong case can be made that the Rema endorsed the saying of the bracha of she-asani yehudi (see, for example, the Machon Yerushalayim Tur OC 46 note 12*), the Gra is widely quoted as endorsing such (see Sedai Chemed, Maarerchet Cherufin, Asifat dinim 5 sv umedi vedri on page 174) and so is the Rosh. It is not hard to find teshuvot on the Bar Ilan CD endorsing such a proposal as a matter of historical halacha.

I see no reason to exclude someone from Orthodoxy because they advocate a view that is far from normative now, when it has a fine rabbinic pedigree, even if it is unpopular with the giants of our contemporary times and untraditional. Let me add the obvious – even as I oppose this proposed change, I do not think that one who proposes it is outside of Orthodoxy.

Modern Orthodox tent walls need to exclude people and rabbis who advocate ideas outside the halachic box, but we should not exclude people who defy the current Orthodox convention. The way it is now is not the way it always was and we need not be convinced that it will always be the same. Exclusion should be limited to people who halacha lemaaseh endorse practices that are outside the confines of historical Orthodoxy, no matter what the current norm is.

IV. What then, Really, is at Stake?

So what is really at stake in the current controversy about the “Far Left”? Here, I think Rabbi Adlerstein again sees the world through his wonderful but focused eyes. He writes that the real reason the “Far Left” has to be excluded from Orthodoxy is:

Firstly, the impact upon areas of Orthodox cooperation will be enormous. If the Far Left grows stronger in untethering itself from both traditional hashkafos and accepted protocols of determining halacha, there will almost certainly be a reaction in the rest of the Orthodox world. Lemegdar milsa, to draw clear lines of differentiation, the traditional community will move in the opposite direction to oppose changes it sees as dangerous and illegitimate. We will drift even further apart. Cooperation in many areas – education, kashrus, kiruv, gerus, political advocacy – will be jeopardized or eliminated. Much of the right will argue that if Modern Orthodoxy can tolerate such aberrations in its midst rather than expelling it, than they cannot trust or continue to deal with the Modern Orthodox – especially if a YCT presence becomes mingled with the Modern Orthodox representation in common enterprises. Cooperation that took decades to accomplish may quickly unravel.

There is no “secondly” in the essay, a surprising breach of linguistic protocol for such a wonderful writer (and a member of Phi Beta Kappa) but this small linguistic faux pas reflects the fact that there is no other value present, really, in his calculus.

Let me be plain spoken here, because Rabbi Adlerstein is so honest. What he says might be true – the Charedi community might cooperate less with the Modern Orthodox community if we allow voices in our community that are repugnant to the Charedi mindset, and that is a political reason to remove the “Far Left.” I understand that rationale. I just do not favor these witch hunts; witch hunts never end – they just find more witches to hunt for, until the hunters consume themselves.

The threat is clear and the promise obvious. The Charedi community, Rabbi Adlerstein tell us, will not cooperate with the Modern Orthodox community unless we agree that there have to be clear limits and those clear limits will have to be determined by the gedolim approved by the Charedi community. Here, I think that no real reply is needed, but we should not substantively change our policies in light of this political truth, any more than the Rav zt”l did not respond to the cherem against participating in the Synagogue Council of America many decades ago – but he did not direct the RCA to withdraw from the SCA either. The Charedi community will have to accept Modern Orthodoxy on its own terms – or not – but I know that progress forward is not possible in any community if one has to look over one’s left or right shoulder all the time.

The same fatal flaw is found in Rabbi Adlerstein’s quoting of Rabbi Balk’s proposal to create a narrow based Modern Orthodox Moetzet gedolai Torah. Rabbi Adlerstein writes:

With the stakes so high, only one recourse suggests itself. The question of keeping YCT or defining it out of contemporary Orthodoxy should be put to the three talmidei chachamim within the American Modern Orthodox world that are most respected for their halachic ability: Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Gedalia Schwartz, and Mordechai Willig. The RCA should be prepared to abide by whatever decision these three come up with.

The decision to leave Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Norman Lamm off this list, speaks volumes about what is wrong with this proposal and where its biases reside. I favor, truth be told, a Modern Orthodox moetzet – but Modern Orthodoxy needs to pick its own broad based leadership and I suspect that a Modern Orthodox moetzet needs to (like other mo’atzot) have many more than these three Torah giants as its voices in making such important decisions.

V. A Word to the “Far Left”

Having said all of this, the reader might think that I am an defender of the “Far Left”, so I end this essay with words of loving direct rebuke of that community.

The tone of much that is written from the leadership of the “Far Left” community leaves much to be desired; not only is their writing careless, but imprudent and haphazard planning of change has jeopardized the progress achieved on many levels within the Modern Orthodox world and brought our small community to the cusp of schism for no good reason.

So too, the “Far Left” community has proven bad at drawing lines in its sand and having walls in its tents. Nothing was said when the chair of the YCT attacked Rabbi Willig and Rabbi Schachter at a public event years ago; nothing was said when a YCT rabbi issued a gay friendly Haggadah featured in a YCT publication; nothing was said when Sarah Hurwitz was ordained rabba, and nothing was said when a women led kabbalat Shabbat at a prominent shul. Silence is not the way to define the walls of the tent – since people do not know which conduct was genuinely reflective of ideals, and which simply a mistake — and the sounds of silence are defining who the Far Left is. The same can be said for the tone of the initial article written by my good friend Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky (a “wonderful human being,” as Rabbi Adlerstein notes who I have known for more than 35 years) that provoked this current firestorm.

Everyone – left, right, and center – needs to be careful before they speak or write or do in public.

VI. The Path Forward

If Orthodox is to stay together – clearly a virtue that Rabbi Adlerstein and I share – it has to be because people are sensitive to what rocks the boat, and we all need to hesitate to the rock the boat without forethought and a great deal of planning. I turn again to the wise counsel of Rabbi Norman Lamm שליט”א Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He stated:

There are certain things that are acceptable only in the long run. I approve of the idea of increasing the role of women in religious life and think it is an important one….. At the same time, things have to be done gradually. To have a woman learn Gemara a generation or two ago like women learn Gemara today would have been too revolutionary. But with time, things change; time answers a lot of questions, erodes discomfort, and helps.

Orthodoxy – left, right and center – should take note of Rabbi Lamm’s reservations and hesitations regarding the future and recognize that the pace of change is a central measure of the likelihood of success. His nuanced formulation addresses well the question of change in minhag yisrael. Minhag yisrael does evolve over time, and yet slowly. Slow and careful change facilitates greater insight, feedback, and development, and could be a good motto for Orthodoxy in this area. The “Far Left” community has caused this crisis because they have adopted a pace of chance that is neither planed out nor thought out nor shared.

Lew me suggest a metaphor: change in Orthodoxy is a lot like orthodontics. To move teeth, you have to apply small amounts of pressure over great periods of time. Lots of pressure over small periods of time do not move teeth but break them. So too with the Orthodox community. Slow change produces positive developments, while large movements break us apart. There is also a natural limit to just how far teeth can move.

VII. Concluding Thoughts

Modern Orthodoxy, by its very nature, is always at the crossroads. As the modern world changes, Modern Orthodoxy must change as well, while remaining open to all Orthodox Jews. Responses that worked at a different time, no longer work, so the Modern Orthodox community has to craft new response to a new modernity. We understand that this is frustrating to our brothers on the right who are achecha bemitzvot, but who are less modern; we also understand that this is frustrating to the community to the left of us who are still waiting for us to incorporate the full impact of modernity. We sense that Modern Orthodoxy is a full blown lechatchela approach to the world that we live in, so long as we journey with care and deliberate speed — it incorporates two central values that we cannot live without: Halacha and the best of western culture. The question is whether we can still work together united if in fact we are all loyal to halacha. Modern Orthodoxy is happy to – but each community needs to do so on our own terms.

Rabbi Michael Broyde is a professor of law and the academic director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University. He was the Founding Rabbi of Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, and a dayan for Beth Din of America

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84 Responses

  1. Barry Dolinger says:

    Dear All,
    I’m a Rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, RI. Just started there and received semicha this summer from RIETS. I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot, and have one point to add. I feel that modern orthodoxy has often brought important ethical issues to the forefront, but not precisely and that the response concerns one of process, and is equally imprecise. For example, A Rabbi could say, “the bracha of shelo asani isha is unethical,” and the response would go, “it’s heretical or at best influenced by feminism.” The modern Rabbi in my argument not explain what exactly is unethical (in this case, it is probably the inherent notion that thanking God for not being a woman implies being a man is not only different but better) and the respondent did not say why feminism is bad or why this particular heresy is incorrect. I realize the case is a little simplistic, but the debate sometimes sounds like this to me. I think we need to have a more serious debate on the merits of an actual ethical issue, without bringing process and other concerns into the equation. Thoughts?

  2. Daniel says:

    “R Broyde, and all of the subsequent posters in their guest threads IMO should be able to agree on a very simple but profound issue-who is the halachic and hashkafic address for a committed MO, and who is considered the same by the vast majority of MO, aside from the LWMO?”

    Really? Why should they be able to agree on that? In fact, why should they want to agree on that?

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    R Broyde, and all of the subsequent posters in their guest threads IMO should be able to agree on a very simple but profound issue-who is the halachic and hashkafic address for a committed MO, and who is considered the same by the vast majority of MO, aside from the LWMO?

  4. ARW says:

    Meir Goldberg,
    I believe that there may be a strong case to be made that the issues associated with the far left and the problems you see in your day-to-day work on campus may be much more closely connected than you think. In my view two of the things that bedevils the MO world are priorities and boundaries. Either explicitly or implicitly most MO kids are taught that secular acheivment is more important than Torah. They are also given no boundary as to how far they can delve into the secular world. Yeshivish (and right wing MO) kids are taught, “Your anchor is Torah it comes first, bring in no more of the outside world than you need.” Now, “no more than you need” may be quite a bit, especially depending on what parnassa a person chooses. However, in the end it is emphasized that this is secondary to Torah, regardless of the quantity. Any delving into the secular world is done with the knowledge that Torah comes first and that great caution must be mused in the process of exploring the non-Torah world.

    What Avi Weiss and his compatriots on the far left are saying is that view is wrong. They are saying that the de facto view that Western knowledge is superior to the Torah in the MO world is actually de jure and fully justified. It reverses the location of the anchor and puts it on the secular side and says “be careful what you take from the Torah, some of it may be outdated and inapproriate for our times.” This attitude is only going to accelerate the rate at which MO kids leave the fold by justifying to these kids, God forbid, that the Torah is not for their times and sensibilities.

    In short the battle must be fought on both fronts, on a personal level at the campuses and at a philosphical level among the leaders of MO so that they can provide a proper anchor for their children.

  5. yitzchok says:

    Rabbi Broyde cites the teshuva of R. Yaakov Emden regarding pilegesh as an example of an opinion which is “wrong” but not heretical. I think Rabbi Broyde has opened the door to the dangers of the very approach that he asserts is at the core of Modern Orthodoxy. Pilagshus is not part of normative halachic tradition despite having substantial basis in classic halachic writing. (I am not sure on what basis R. Broyde dismissed an opinion well grounded in Rishonim and Talmudic sources as “wrong” but that is another matter) We live in a society in which pilagshus is the norm for perhaps the majority of couples who are involved in serious relationships.The abstinence alternative has the potential for serious halachic consequences. Would Modern Orthodoxy allow the reintroduction of a practice-not merely grounded in traditional Rabbinic sources but one that was actually practiced- not as a conformity to current societal norms but as a means of preventing more serious halachic problems? Of course the potential hashkafic concerns of kedusha, etc. are non halachic “Daas Torah” issues about which reasonable authorities could differ.

  6. Meir Goldberg says:

    Rav Adlerstein and Rav Broyde, firstly, I want to apologize if my comment was too strong or disrespectful. My frustration comes from meeting dozens of students from (left wing) Modox homes who are at Rutgers and hate G-d and Yiddishkeit. My larger point was that we expend so much energy on the Avi Weiss issues, while the real threat to Modox is the fact that they cannot retain significant portions of their youth. (In the American Chareidi world, 5% – 10% go off but according to R’ Ronnie Greenwald 80% of them come back. The same cannot be said for the Modox world – many more slip away)
    Most left wing Modox parents scoff at YU and consider it close minded(as a Lakewood guy, I find that somewhat ironic since I always assumed we had the honor of that title) or too expensive. They insist on sending their kids to secular schools.
    While the OU has placed 9 Rabbis on campus, they often work with the more motivated students, but the hundreds of less motivated students are not reached. The campus mekarvim often can reach them since their job description is motivating the unmotivated, but most mekarvim are afraid to mix them with their group since their attitude to yiddishkeit is toxic.

    We need to figure out a way how to not totally turn these kids off in High School and how to convince the campus mekarvim to reach out to them in University. I am trying to do the latter, but it is an uphill battle.

    This merits at least as much energy and focus as trying to figure out how far the Modox tent extends.

    Meir Goldberg, Rutgers Jewish Xperience

  7. Daniel says:

    Rabbi Broyde,

    I see now.
    I understood from your original critique of the “far-left”, where you chided them for being, “bad at drawing lines in its sand and having walls in its tents…” that you were referring to lines, walls, and tents, in the same way you noted that your own walls were “walls should be the wide historical walls of classical Orthodox halacha and haskafa”; that is, the walls of your community. Thus, I assumed you were claiming that the far-left had failed to draw lines, walls, and tents, at the “historical walls of halacha”- by failing to criticize Avi Weiss for ordaining a rabbah, among other things. Thus, I understood that you felt ordaining a rabba was outside the historical walls of halacha.

    I think I now understand that you do not think it is outside the walls of halacha, and is only unwise. However, you think the far-left should draw lines and walls by at least criticizing these unwise acts, as you yourself criticize them. (Thus, you do not mean “walls” in the same way you mean the “walls” of your community.)

    Thank you for clarifying.

  8. Michael Broyde says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is 100% correct, of course. The Rama and Gra (and some others) on OC 46:4 are speaking about whether the proper text of the first bracha is sheasani yisrael (yehudi) or shelo asani goy. The idea that the proper text of the first of the three brachot spoken about in SA OC 46:4 is sheasani yehudi (or yisrael) (and not shelo asani goy) is, in my view, well within the rabbinic tradition, although it is certainly far – very far – from the current minhag (and I do not advocate changing the minhag). It is also clear to me that once a person says sheasani yehudi (or yisrael), as his first of these three brachot, he should not recite the next two of shelo asani eved or shelo asani isha, as the Mishnah Berurah notes in 46:15. As to what was the true girsa of the Rama, this is a complex matter beyond this note that I hope to write on at some point and it addresses halacha lemaseh the question of what bracha a convert should make also, with many poskim thinking that a convert should make the blessing sheasany yehudi (yisrael). See the new edition of the Shulchan Aruch OC 46 hagahot veheorot 33 on page 267 which notes that the edition of the Shulchan Aruch that the Rama first published his haga’ot on had the girsa of sheasani yehudi. By this understanding, a convert should make the bracha of sheasani yehudi (yisrael) and then, as the Mishnah Berurah notes, should skip the next two brachot. Chida 46:9 and Levush 46:5 also both note that a convert can say Sheasani yehudi (yisrael) (after which the Mishnah Berurah rules, no other bracha can be said). It is worth adding, against everything that I have just stated that the Birur Halakha of Rav Binyomin Zilber quotes the Shlah (Page 14, left column, bottom half to the top of p. 15) that the Hagahot of the Rema is, in this case, a fake. But, most achronim adopt a contrary view, even as this hagah is missing from the Mantuba edition of the Shulchan Aruch. This matter requires more analysis than a comment on Cross Currents allows.

  9. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    So that there be no misunderstanding, the Rema and Gra cited by my friend Rabbi Broyde do not in any manner or form address the issue of shelo asani ishah. This could not have been his intent, and I hope that people will not jump and say “Gotcha!”

    There is much discussion about the original and/or correct nusach of the bracha “shelo asani goy.” Some of the discussion deals with other, older girsa’os that are extant and are presumed to have been tampered with by Church censors. Other parts of the discussion deal with the propriety of thanking Hashem for not having made each of us a “goy,” when the term goy is used over 60 times in Tanach in reference to the Jewish people.

    It is in that context that the Machon Yerushalaym Tur opines that the Rema’s girsa was “she’asani Yisrael,” even though the editors argue that the weigh of halachic evidence points to the original, correct, and halachically dispositive nusach being exactly what we have: shelo asani goy.

    The Sdei Chemed does cites Zera Yehosef, who calls she’asani Yisrael the girsa of the Gra. Personally, I’m not convinced. I would see the Gra (Be’ur HaGra to OC siman 46) as simply stating that the girsa of Shulchan Aruch (shelo asani goy) is supported by the Yerushalmi and the Tosefta, but not by Shas Bavli, where Menachos has it as she’asani Yisrael. He is not necessarily siding with it. (Otzer Hatefilos reports that the seforim that the Gra had personal access to where often corrupt texts.)

    Interestingly, the same Machon Yerushalayim publishes a Shulcan Aruch, not only a Tur. Regarding this Gra, it comments that the earlier girsa in Menachos was shelo asani goy, and thus fully accords with Shulchan Aruch!

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    “Lots of people on the right find much in parts of the MO world that they value and support. A reader had to be blind not to detect multiple themes in my Ami piece.”

    I thought Ami was open for publishing your piece; my first thought when reading it was that this is how criticism, if it needs to be done, should be written(despite R. Ginzberg’s response, which I thought was valid).

    I was adding that most, if not every idea of “Open Orthodoxy” is something that all of Orthodoxy relates to, or needs to relate to, and is separate from the question of the overall motives of the “Far Left” and the question of delegitimizing the ideology. You referred as well to these two separate aspects in a response to a comment to your original essay:

    “And in time, the arguments must be offered if the battle is to be won…Our first priority is to let people know that the work of the Far Left is treif and fraudulent, and that they should stay away if they are at all interested in Mesorah. Later there will be time for scholarly papers”

    I suppose it’s possible that there were some cathartic element in my comment :)

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    I can put myself in the shoes of those in YCT. In July, 2006, a YCT educator published in the Jewish Press(“The Emergence, Role, and Closing of Edah”) seven principles of Modern Orthodoxy and how Edah successfully affected the larger community; to some extent, all of Orthodoxy deals with those points. More recently on a different issue, a YCT musmach dismissed discussion regarding “shlo asaini ishah” as apologetics and wrote that “unfortunately, this strategy does not seem to work well in the Open Orthodox community as a whole…”(Shelo Assani Isha”–A Critique of Contemporary “Bloggic” Discourse”, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, 8/16/11). I disagree with the author, but the point remains that even after drawing lines in the sand regarding a movement or regarding people, the ideas will still remain up for discussion.

    Even putting myself in the shoes of people in the YCT axis, as above, they need to do the same for others! They need to understand the effect of their actions on the community, which they presumably wish to be a part of, and should take responsibility. Perhaps the difference is a more open discussion of issues, but a little more sensitivity for being part of the community of others on their Right, and also for the term “Mesorah”.

    Perhaps the issue of exclusion should also be framed in terms of laying down certain ground rules which organizations uphold, as opposed to excluding some from the rest of the Orthodox community. If it comes to a certain point and is deemed necessary, the OU could say that a requirement of membership is that a synagogue not have a “Mahrat” or a “Rabbah”, etc. Similarly, the RCA can institute a requirement for rabbis to sign a document regarding certain hashkafic ideas as they did regarding Chabad messiansim, and similar to what Young Israel did. This is still different from ruling on the “gavra” and directly excluding people.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      This approach has been discussed for quite some time within the RCA. There are still people in the RCA unwilling to adopt any measure that will lead to the Far Left leaving.

  12. Yitzchok Feldman says:

    I apologize if this post repeats any post from before.

    I thank R’ Broyde for moving this discussion forward.

    I thought there was one glaring failure, however, in the section of loving Tochacha. If one is going to cite, over and over, the Rav, Ztz’l’s, unwillingness to expel R’ Rackman, z’l, from the RCA, one also has to be ready to emulate his willingness to blast and ridicule positions which he found odious. You are an exceedingly humble leader, and by nature I think you lack the Soloveitchik capacity for harsh formulations. But the Rav began his discussion of R’ Rackman’s positions with a true statement about his usual forbearance and nevertheless delivered an unsparing repudiation. I don’t think the leaders of the Far Left, and/or R’ Kanefsky, are open to criticism by most members of the RCA. They have had their fill of sometimes bombastic and ill-considered vituperative. You are one of the few people to whom they might care to listen. I think that creates a Chiyuv, Midei Pa’am, to deliver the goods with something more than “careless” or “imprudent.” This won’t do.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      I have been saving days-worth of comments for a larger piece I hope to get to in the next few days, but I couldn’t let this go without a quick comment. I too wish R Broyde would be a bit more demanding of those whom he defends. I believe that R Broyde should be more aware of trends and strategies on the Far Left, and not treat all matters so academically. I have to point out, however, that he has been there in the clutch, where the rest of us would not be listened to because we are seen as denizens of a different universe. (Big Tent is an issue only for the RCA’s gentlemen’s club; the tent of the Far Left long ago excluded members of the right-wing MO, and certainly everyone in the haredi camp as far as voices whose views ought to be taken seriously). He was there – in some cases in person – to argue against the Rackman beis din for hafka’as kiddushin, as well as against the ordination of women.

  13. Michael Broyde says:

    To Daniel: I confess that I have no idea what you are speaking about when you write that you think Rabbi Avi Weiss’s theology is not halachic Judaism. I have disagreed many times with specific psakim of Rabbi Weiss and I have even noted that one was “rabbinic malpractice” (see my piece on hirhurim.blogspot about geirim serving on a beit din for conversion) but I have yet to see any broad general theology written, never mind that I think is heretical. Rather there are particular psakim, some of which I think are wrong, and some of which I think are right. But, a wrong psak does not make one “non-Orthodox” either practically or theologically, it just makes one wrong on this particular matter. I have no problem with line drawing when needed, but as a general matter we need to have a category called “wrong” which is not the same as the category called heretical. Consider how to respond to Shelat Yavetz 2:15 concering pelegish. I do not view Rabbi Emden as correct — indeed, he is wrong — but that does not make him outside of halachic Judaism, just wrong on this matter. That is enough.
    To Yehoshua K. You are completely correct that responding to comments is not my primary priority and if I write with haste here it is because I am vastly overworked in my rabbinic life and I do not view replies to comments as publications worthy of very tight editing. We can have a more detailed conversation in private. My email is [email protected]. On one foot, however, what I intended to say is that MO brought to the table much greater sensativities to these values that Orthodoxy previously had driven by our engagement with the outside world. Orthodoxy is still in a somewhat experimental mode with regard to how to live in a liberal democracy with not all of its brances equally adept at obediance to secular law or even to the idea of its obediance. Indeed, the Spinka Rebbe stated this in his sentencing request to his judge, as we all — sadly — know. The second half of your posting is to complex for a detailed reply, but I do not agree with your social read of the facts. We can speak more if you wish in private.

  14. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I don’t want to try to speak for Meir Goldberg, but I’ll write what bothers me about this whole debate about who is in our tent and who is out. There is so much internal work we all have to do, spiritually, that it almost seems ludicrously irrelevant to have these kinds of debates about who we should reject from our camp. That is why I liked Rav Broyde’s article very much – because it gives a positive definition of what we believe. That is also why I did not care much for the article that Rav Broyde was responding to – because I think issues should be discussed on their own merits, without this constant undertone of what is and is not beyond the pale of Orthodoxy. If Rabbi Kanefsky is wrong, I would rather see a discussion of why he was wrong, not whether he should be kicked out of Orthodox Judaism. I’m not familiar with what goes on in today’s college campuses, but I am aware of an enormous number of young people going off the derech in both the haredi and dati leumi worlds in Israel today. All of this infighting and delegitimization of other groups may not be the primary cause of this, but it ceratinly doesn’t help.

  15. Meir Goldberg says:

    This entire debate between Rabbis Adlerstein and Broyde drives me crazy. To paraphrase Rav Hirsch, “these men carve little wooden trinkets while the Gauls lay siege to Rome.” While the Avi Chai study concludes that a quarter of all Orthodox students entering college will not remain so upon completion I and any campus Rabbi can tell you that probably close to another quarter will not remain shomer Shabbos even if they affiliate orthodox.

    Don’t they realize that close to 50% of Modox students who enter secular university will not remain be shomer Shabbos upon completion? Anyone who works at Rutgers, U of Maryland, Penn, Brandeis or in the Ivy’s knows this. Ravs Adlerstein and Broyde – You argue about who to keep in the tent, but that tent is quickly collapsing.

    Meir Goldberg
    Rutgers Jewish Xperience

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      I’m not sure I understand the relevance of this. You want those of us on the right to give up the battle to preserve the Mesorah and get to work on college campuses? You want the Modern Orthodox community to realize the great danger to its kids on campuses? (Forget Avi Chai. The report that woke up MO parents to the danger was the Perl and Weinstein report of years ago.)

      Despite the questionable relevance, the point of the comment is valuable enough that we’ll let it through.

      If the point, however, is that Modern Orthodoxy, faced with the dismal stats from the college front, should concede defeat, I think that there are different conclusions that might be more reasonable to expect. When I first began teaching in a MO high school, straight out of a yeshivish background, parents were not interested in YU and Stern. It was the Ivies or bust. As a teacher of seniors, I wasn’t interested in those schools either. After many years of watching where too many MO kids wind up when they leave home, I’ve become a huge booster of both YU and Stern. Moreover, I’ve seen many parents who snubbed YU for their first children turn around and become champions. Pushing attendance at YU and Touro would seem to me a more reasonable response to the crisis than getting MO as a whole to issue some mea culpas.

  16. Daniel says:

    Rabbi Broyde:
    I agree, not every wrong excludes an individual. (For example, you think I am wrong, but I hope you don’t exclude me from your community.)
    But, I think it is appropriate to exclude an institution, when the institution stands for ideas which are outside halachic Judaism; and to exclude an individual in his official capacity.
    And also, I think it is important to call an individual’s ideas what they are. So even if Avi Weiss can remain part of my community, I think it is important to declare: “He is not simply wrong on particular issues; his theology is not halachic Judaism.”

    And I may still be “confused”, but I expect (based on your article) that you would agree with my assessment of his theology, even if you don’t see the need to proclaim it from the rooftops.

  17. lacosta says:

    one question maybe to be asked is does anyone lose if the tents are drawn smaller .
    haredi judaism writes out anything to its left including MO from normativity [ ie it is ‘krum’]— yet that doesnt keep them from teaching in MO schools, collecting MO money trying to mekarev the MO kids etc … the average yosi on teh street probably could care less, maybe it’sonly teh MO rabbis who have any ax to grind in the derision in which they are, and always will be, held. to the haredi Daas Tora what difference is there between MO or LWMO or farleftMO ? — ham, bacon, and shrimp are equally treif….

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Since I know you, I will attribute your comments to some cathartic letting off steam. Surely you do not believe what you write. You know very well that there is nuance in both the RWMO and haredi worlds. Lots of people on the right find much in parts of the MO world that they value and support. A reader had to be blind not to detect multiple themes in my Ami piece. It aimed to instruct not only in the problems created by the Far Left, but to correct mistakes on the right about all the positive elememts of MO. The fact that Ami – which tries to be open, but whose readership is still largely haredi – had no problem publishing it should show at least a little glimmer of daylight, no? You can try shutting the door on it, if you want, but I doubt if that is really your intention.

  18. Josh says:

    Rav Adlerstein, do you I understand you correctly? Are you openly calling Open/Left Wing/Whatever Orthodoxy “Conservative” and “Reform”? Even if you are merely ‘passing along other’s comments’, can you imagine the reaction if someone here ‘passed along’ other’s comments in such an insensitive manner?

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Was there any indication that I called it that? Any whatsoever? Or are you simply doing what others have accused us of doing – trying to shut down discussion?

      As far as sensitivity, it was not meant to offend. However, the identities of multiple prominent talmidei chachamim and roshei yeshiva – in both the Modern Orthodox and yeshiva worlds – who do openly call the Far Left “Conservative” are very much in the public domain. No secret; nothing new. I deliberately did NOT choose to use that label in my Ami piece

      Readers – please read more carefully before you comment. This should be an object lesson in why CC is a moderated forum, and we turn down many, many letters.

  19. Yehoshua K says:

    Rabbi Broyde,

    I’m both touched and honored that you took the time to respond to my post, and appreciative that you took the final lines with the sincere affection and respect with which they were intended. I must admit that your response troubles me deeply. I will divide my explanation into 2 parts. One will deal with the structure of your response more than content, and the second will address the specific examples you raised.

    1. Your original claim about MO to which I responded offered that MO is open to taking ideas and values from the modern/secular world and incorporate them into our Jewish hashkafic system, when they will enhance our core value system or move us in a positive direction. (I’m paraphrasing, but not with any intent to misrepresent, nor do I think I have.) I take as a given that what you DO NOT mean is that we prioritize modern/secular ethos or ideas over ours as a starting point, nor do you mean that there exists, institutionally, a desire to “fit in” with the secular world or “be accepted” by them. I hope you would agree that such attitudes would lead a community in a terribly negative direction, with little in the way of internal controls to prevent a rapid decline in religious engagement. You mean something far more subtle and profound. In the same vein of “chachma baGoyim,” you are advocating an engagement in that world and system of thinking, with the desire to cull from it those diamonds of wisdom which either did not exist within Torah, or which we might not have seen with the same clarity as we do through these new eyes. (this is a topic for a different, albeit very interesting discussion).

    I guess where I’m confused is that I don’t see the application of that principal in your example.
    Dina Dimalchuta: What secular value informed the increased sensitivity towards not violating American law? Isn’t the halacha clear that one should be makpid in this area? You’re not saying that we should create a new, expanded and enhanced version of the halacha, just that the MO community has a greater sensitivity towards it (the legitimacy of this claim I will explore below). I’m unclear how this example actually evidences your premise. It sounds like it evidences our rejected claim that “we want to fit in with the Americans” or something of that nature.
    Scientific Truth: Again, here I need your assistance to understand the value the MO community has culled from the modern world. Is the value “Emes?” We don’t need to go outside of Torah to find an unyielding and unwavering commitment to Emes do we? You don’t actually mean to claim that the scientific world as a whole has a greater bakashas haEmes than do Chazal do you? Neither would I assume that you mean to imply an across the board preferring of secular, scientific claims to Emes over the Torah’s version. So do you mean to imply that we should treat scientific claims with respect and seriousness? Or that we should observe and understand the scientific revelations concerning our physical world as a vehicle for informing and inspiring our religious life? Is there any major segment of the community that completely disregards any engagement with the study or the discussions of scientific inquiry? If there is, I’m not aware of what community that may be – it’s certainly not the Yeshiva/Right-Wing Orthodox community.
    Eretz Yisrael: I’m similarly confused. My total disagreement with your claim of a MO superiority with regard to love or commitment to Eretz Yisroel notwithstanding (again, to be dealt with below), what secular value has been mined that has created this growth-spurt in the MO community. And what are the evidences of such growth and increased religious desire? Do you mean that nationalism, as a goal in and of itself, is a value that the MO community has seen fit to adopt as a Jewish value? That would be an interesting dialogue to have. I’m not convinced that’s what you intend, but I truly don’t “get” what you are evidencing with your example of Eretz Yisrael.

    Now, to the legitimacy of the actual claims you are making. I’ll be melamed zchus that responding to endless anonymous posts on CC is not your primary priority and, as such, you can be excused for resorting to cliches and stereotypes in your comments. But I must admit to being truly hurt by of the (unintended) insinuations your examples implied.
    Dina D’malchusa – do you actually have evidence that MO ppl speed less? litter less? go to jury duty more? or commit less petty crime? Or are you making a not-so-subtle reference to media stereotypes about chareidi tax violations (the essential prevalence of, and the greater occurrence of in the Chareidi community as opposed to the MO community totally unproven)? What exactly do you mean by this?
    Eretz Yisroel – This one was really, truly upsetting… this is hard to see as anything other than a misrepresentation of the facts on the ground. On this there is no doubt—prior to Nefesh B’Nefesh, there was a dramatically disproportionate number of chareidi couples moving to EY over their MO counterparts. I would imagine that gap has narrowed now that it’s more convenient to move, but what does that say about one community’s commitment or love for Israel, when they’re only willing to go when it’s made easier and free? The reality is, that smacks much more like a POLITICAL statement that is being portayed as RELIGION. As further proof of that, I will offer the following challenge. If, in fact, this value that the MO community has discovered, has driven them to a greater love for Eretz Yisrael, wouldn’t we see that in more than participation in the NY Israel Parade or Simchas Torah parties at the LaRomme Hotel (I’m dating myself, I know)? Wouldn’t we expect to see that ahavas haAretz in this communities enanced hakpada in mitzvos hataluyos ba’Aretz, Shmitta, kedushas haAretz etc? Please provide some specific examples of where you see a greater religious ferver for Eretz Yisrael from the MO community, beyond some vague reference like “we support the Medina more.”
    Science – I suppose I might have to grant you this one. If you consider the selling-out of Emunah and Mesorah to the current whims of the scientific world without any compunction towards critical thinking to be an advancement of the religious life of the MO community, you’re welcome to it. There are plenty of frum scientists, and plenty of willingness for open dialogue on these issues within the chareidi community. But when the starting point of the MO community is a belief that basic tenets of Emuna can be willy-nilly thrown into the fire without any thought, so long as we don’t have to sit even for a moment in conflict with the most recent edition of “Nature” or “Scientific America” (despite the fact that history shows that these ideas may change by the next edition), that’s not advancement of religious identity in any way I’m interested in being a part of. So, again I ask, what is the value here that is advancing the religious growth of the community and increasing avodas HaShem?

    I come back to where I started. I deeply appreciate your willingness to engage in this conversation, and I look forward to understanding your perspective on a deeper and clearer level.

  20. Michael Broyde says:

    To Daniel: I think your vocabulary is lacking. I think that a person can merely be wrong on a matter without being outside of the of the Orthodox community generally or outside of Halachic Judaism. Not every error excludes a person from the community.

  21. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein

    To me, there is a semantic difference between a self-described term like “Open Orthodoxy” and one of “Far Left”, ascribed by others. “Far Left” connotes a position on a continuum and as such, its being on the border, might be construed as a pejorative–especially since the other side of that border is another denomination. (not to mention the phenomenon of human nature that self-ascribed labels are always more welcome than those coined by outsiders.)

    I would say that in the context of outreach, most Kiruv professionals (in the Chareidi world) worth their snuff would agree that “Open Orthodoxy” is a necessary posture to take (at least put out the façade of tolerance within parameters dictated by their mentors). To a large extent, there is a common denominator between the Chareidi Kiruv Professional community (as well as Chabad) and YCT Musmachim out in the field—despite the fact that they fundamentally differ in their intended end-game. So, while professionals and amateurs might not use that formal tag-line, they have to also be “open” towards their constituency.

    So much for my comments on language and branding. Moving forward, I would recommend that in addition to you and Rabbi Broyde filing ongoing comments, it would be productive for Rabbi Kanefsky and colleagues to also join this thread (beyond a discussion of semantics) to clarify and/or defend their stated positions on their merits.

  22. Reb Yid says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    Have not other authors and commenters on this blog voiced strenuous objections to the term “Ultra-Orthodox”? Is that how you would like others to describe you, your colleagues, your worldview and your arguments?

    It is disingenuous of you to claim that “these phrases–self-descriptions and depictions of others–are meant neither to shut down discussion, nor to stimulate”. Quite the opposite–while your response should give Rabbis Kanefsky and Weiss food for thought on how to better characterize their worldview, it also justifies a different characterization on your part as well.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      Actually, I haven’t. Primarily because I can’t offer journalists anything else that works. So I live with it. The only other labels that I regularly hear applied to this group and ideology are “Conservative” and “Reform.” Do you think either would be better?

  23. Daniel says:

    One final point, which touches on many comments. Excluding someone from the community is a much more drastic step than rebuking them or noting loudly that they are wrong. Rabbi Adlerstein proposed removing large numbers of people. I “merely” favor rebuking many of those who Rabbi Adlerstein wants to expel. I have a larger membership tent than he does and more patience for rebuke.

    Presumably you are responding to the questions of why you do not remove Avi Weiss from your camp, even after you criticize the far-left for not calling him out. To this you say that he is wrong, but you have patience for rebuke.

    Sure, you can disagree over whether it is wiser to expel or rebuke- and that is a large part of the thesis of your article. But, do we agree that Avi Weiss is not Orthodox? (Because if he is, I don’t know why you want the far-left to rebuke him). Or, if we don’t want to call him names, do we agree that his theology is not Halachic Judaism?

  24. Michael Broyde says:

    To Michael Berger: Thank you for your insight, which is certainly true and interesting. History plays a role, and it is hard exactly to examine when a view is outside of historical Orthodoxy. Is the age of the world out? I think no. Is the absence of Moshiach? Yes. Is the view that on RH we recite the YT mussaf silently and only the repetition is 9 brachot? I think it is out. Furthermore, it is true that there is an enormous social connection between heresy and being merely wrong, but not out of the camp. Consider the following fine example I recently heard. The Ba’al ha-maor is able to suspect one who do not prepare chamin on shabbat (through hatmanah) of being a heretic simply because he lived among some Karaites who insisted that any warm food on shabbat was assur. No one would say that today. I confess that drawing an exact line will prove hard and I do not think anything post chatimat hatalmud is mere minhag – but I think that the historical line is far beyond the contemporary gedolim of the last century.
    To Yehoshua K: I very much appreciate your last few sentences. You asked for “one instance of a secular value that, once brought into Modern Orthodoxy, have strengthened yiras shamayim, mitzvah observance, ahavas HaShem, or even (and I knew you were waiting for this one) mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro” and I confess that I find many. Fidelity to dina demalchuta is one. Sensitivity to the relationship between scientific truth and halacha is another, and religious Zionist values are another. My decision to be part of a Modern Orthodox community is driven by my deeply held view that Modern Orthodoxy is closer to the ideal avodat hashem than any other broad general communal ideal in the real world. It is far from perfect, as you point out, and I work every day to make it better – but I was unpersuaded the basic thrust of your comment that such is not the case. Nor do I live in an Ivory tower, as you point out, although I confess that when I do go to the Ivory tower every once in a while, it is a valuable criticism of Modern Orthodoxy that is looks much better in the Ivory Tower than on the ground! But, there are many criticisms on the ground to be voiced of every community, some in Choshen Mishpat matters, some in Even Haezer matters, some in Yoreh Deah matters and some in Orach Chaim matters. I am un-persuaded that when all four chalakim of Shulchan Aruch are weighed, Modern Orthodoxy is any less loyal, warts and all.
    One final point, which touches on many comments. Excluding someone from the community is a much more drastic step than rebuking them or noting loudly that they are wrong. Rabbi Adlerstein proposed removing large numbers of people. I “merely” favor rebuking many of those who Rabbi Adlerstein wants to expel. I have a larger membership tent than he does and more patience for rebuke.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    R Broyde-WADR to R D Lamm’s great leadership and scholarship, as well as the appointment of many new RY in RIETS , the decline of JSS, the near closings of BRGS and MTA, and the rise of influence of a Board that had many non Shomrei Torah UMitzvos all occurred during RD Lamm’s reign.