From Openness to Heresy

By Avrohom Gordimer

Outright heresy is emanating from the heart of the YCT rabbinic world. No, this time we are not dealing with Open Orthodoxy (as YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss refers to his movement) innovating novel practices that can sort of be reconciled with minority or exotic halachic opinions, nor are we dealing with Open Orthodoxy promoting yet another new brand of controversial inclusiveness or further blazing socio-religious trails that mainstream Orthodoxy and its halachic leadership deem as beyond the pale. This time, we are dealing with denial of the singular Divine authorship of the Torah – heresy of the highest order – publicly espoused in writing by one of Open Orthodoxy’s most prominent rabbinic leaders. And we are also dealing with the rest of Open Orthodox rabbinic leadership refusing to condemn this heresy in its midst.

Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD., who holds Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin semicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, is coordinator of the Vaad Hagiyur of International Rabbinic Fellowship and is an IRF board member, and is an Advisory Board member of Yeshivat Maharat. Rabbi Farber recently published a brief article entitled “The Opening Of Devarim: A Recounting Or Different Version Of The Wilderness Experience?” in which he addresses textual differences between the events recounted in Parshas Devarim and the presentation of these events in earlier parts of the Torah. (For example, the Torah in Sefer Shemos refers to Mount Sinai as “Sinai” and in Sefer Devarim, the mountain is termed “Chorev”; the court system in Sefer Shemos is presented as Yisro’s idea, whereas in Sefer Devarim, it seems to be presented as Moshe’s idea, as it is not attributed there to Yisro; Sefer Bamidbar presents the dispatching of scouts to explore Eretz Yisroel as Hashem’s idea, whereas in Sefer Devarim, Moshe attributes this endeavor to the people; Sefer Bamidbar describes the confrontation with Edom following B’nei Yisroel’s request to pass through Edom’s territory, whereas Sefer Devarim omits mention of this confrontation; in Sefer Devarim, Moshe states that Hashem commanded him to fight Sichon, whereas this command is absent in Sefer Bamidbar, where it appears that the battle with Sichon was a consequence of his own belligerence; etc.) A typical Orthodox Jew would reconcile these apparent differences by working within the system, realizing that these differences are not contradictions, and turning for elaboration to the Meforshim, who address these issues. Furthermore, Sefer Devarim is Mishneh Torah – Restatement of the Torah – and as such, by definition is somewhat of an interpretation and an elucidation of events, geared to a different generation and emphasizing certain things while omitting others. However, Rabbi Farber adopts what he terms the “academic approach” to understand the above differences. He shockingly writes:

The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience.

Then, after presenting a two-paragraph synopsis of the narrative of Parshas Devarim, Rabbi Farber concludes with his “Summary” section:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there is no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. Whether it be the description of the scout story, the reaction of the Edomites and Moabites to Israel’s request, or the legitimacy of dwelling in the Transjordan, the two versions work with contradictory assumptions.

Rabbi Farber writes that the Torah was penned by at least two different authors, and that its sections are irreconcilably contradictory. This is heresy of the highest order. (Rabbi Farber, in another exposition about Parshas Devarim further demonstrates his approach of denial of the singular Divine authorship of the Torah, writing that the Torah reflects a “multivocality of a work redacted from disparate sources”. Very, very problematic.)

While it is a grave sin and a tragedy for any Jew to espouse heresy, especially if he is a rabbi, it is important to realize that Rabbi Farber is the most accomplished, high-ranking and showcased YCT graduate out there: he is the only person ever to have been ordained by YCT with Yadin Yadin semicha, qualifying him as a dayan; he regularly publishes articles in Open Orthodoxy’s journals and is a staff writer for Morethodoxy, the Open Orthodox hashkafa website; his role as the head of the IRF geirus authority is extremely significant. Rabbi Farber, quite arguably YCT’s most scholarly and eminent rabbinic graduate, is Open Orthodoxy’s greatest “poster boy”, if one can employ such terminology.

For these reasons in particular, and in light of Rabbi Farber’s general high-profile and authoritative role in the Open Orthodox rabbinate and its IRF and Yeshivat Maharat affiliates, one would hope and expect that YCT and IRF leadership would condemn Rabbi Farber’s words in no uncertain terms and disassociate from the heresy espoused by Rabbi Farber that the Torah is a man-made document (“penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience”). The jarring reality is that YCT and IRF leadership have refused to speak up on the issue and condemn this open heresy in its midst, despite having been apprised of this heresy a week ago (and perhaps even prior) and despite the heresy being disseminated in a very public manner.

It is time for Open Orthodoxy’s leadership to reassess the direction of the movement and take strong steps to redirect it, for articles such as that of Rabbi Farber are way beyond being described as “Far Left” Orthodox or representing the “Reform branch of Orthodoxy”, as some have referred to Open Orthodoxy. (But see here and here.)

We have witnessed Open Orthodoxy break ground by welcoming the leadership of Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College as “honored guests” at YCT’s first chag ha-semicha, where these Reform and Conservative leaders danced in celebration with the YCT musmachim (YCT Newsletter Spring 2006), to engaging in interfaith activity that goes way beyond what Rav Soloveitchik permitted, as described here, here, and here; to devoting massive efforts to fighting “Homophobia” (going back to a shocking article about this in the 2005 YCT Newsletter, which featured a YCT campus rabbi’s extensive support of LGBT groups; (see also); to advocating changes in geirus requirements here and here,and here; to suggesting significantly modifying parts of the morning berachos here and here; to promoting the celebration of homosexual lifecycle events hereand here; to advocating recognition of “gay marriage” here and hereand here; to halachically rationalizing the homosexual act and encouraging gay relationships (and see here and here); to attacking statements in Tanach and Chazal and disparaging our liturgy here and here; to advocating for feminization of the synagogue and tefillah; to having women serve as chazzan for male-female services here and here; to ordaining women; to expressing discomfort and dismissive attitudes regarding Talmudic opinions that do not conform with modern liberal sensibilities here pg.36 of this; to slandering the character of the Avos and Imahos here and here and here; to somewhat celebrating intermarriage; to its most accomplished musmach now writing outright heresy that denies the singular Divine authorship of the Torah. The total degeneration of commitment to belief and tradition that took the Conservative movement well over a century to undergo is being accomplished by Open Orthodoxy in about one short decade.

How did this all happen? There appear to be two factors at play:

1. Agenda-driven Judaism: Rather than surrendering (to use Rav Soloveitchik’s terminology) to the yoke and objective directives of Halacha, Open Orthodoxy first set forth its goals (feminism, egalitarianism, etc.) and then tried to fit the Halacha into them. Picking and choosing opinions and authorities that meet a predetermined agenda rather than submitting to the Torah’s values and dictates regardless of what they state, leads one to Reform his Judaism and eventually craft (or “Reconstruct”) it as he sees fit. As the Rav homiletically commented, “Kavata itim l’Torah?” implies, “Did you make the values of the times fit into the values of the Torah, or did you try to fit the Torah into the values of the times?”
2. Mesorah-light Judaism: Many of the innovations of Open Orthodoxy have been defended and justified by Open Orthodox leadership due to these innovations not being technically codified in sifrei Halacha as prohibited or invalid; Open Orthodox leadership has consistently dismissed claims that its controversial innovations are problematic because they violate Mesorah, the uncodified part of Torah. (See here and here.) This cavalier approach, of denying that there is more to Halacha than one can find on a sefarim shelf and denying that deference to Torah tradition and to greater Torah authorities are part of the bricks and mortar of Orthodoxy, has led to a total disconnect and the spinning off a very foreign ideology under the term “Orthodox”. Without a sense of connection, fidelity and reverence toward the Ba’alei Ha-Mesorah and their methodology, Torah study and theology become a free-for-all, such that radical and heretical approaches emerge.

One can follow the paths of heresy and distortion of Torah straight to the door of Yeshivat Maharat. As Yeshivat Maharat’s graduates and students now begin to publish essays about women in the rabbinate and the role of women as halachic authorities (see, for example, and a whole collection of related writings), the very problematic message of personal subjectivity in Halacha rather than submission to the objective Divine halachic mandate is very clear. These Yeshivat Maharat writings approach Torah She-b’al Peh as a misogynistic, man-made body of laws that egregiously lack women’s input, arguing that women’s voices must contribute in order to (re)shape Halacha. Halacha is denigrated in this Yeshivat Maharat literature as an unfair system that needs female input in order to become equitable, with the Yeshivat Maharat literature glorifying the Maharat women as comparable to heroic abortionists fighting for women’s rights in an oppressive male-dominated society.

This halachic subjectivism, distorted understanding and disparagement of Torah She-b’al Peh are precisely what the Conservative movement has historically invoked in justifying its gradual abandonment of Halacha, and are extremely antithetical to Orthodox belief. Disparagement of the Chachmei Ha-Mesorah as misguided chauvinists, as the Yeshivat Maharat literature presents things, is outright heresy, as shown here in the thought of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, and here and undermines any sense of belief and real acceptance of Torah law.
Whither does Open Orthodoxy view itself headed? These words from Rabbi Asher Lopatin, incoming president of YCT, are quite foreboding:

But my dream is to have Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hadar, and Chovevei on one campus, to move in together. We’d each daven in our own ways, but it could transform the Upper West Side.

There is not much more to say. The path to total abandonment of Orthodoxy has been set in motion, and the ball is in the court of Open Orthodoxy’s leadership. Serious introspection and swift action are indeed needed.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and a member of the New York Bar.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: At some point between the time that the author completed his essay last evening on the East Coast and now, the text of one of the critical quotes in Rabbi Farber's piece changed. We present the new version in the interest of fairness. Readers can compare them. Rabbi Gordimer will react to the change in a forthcoming comment.

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there appears to be no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. The simplest literary approach is the academic one which posits multiple authors with multiple traditions. How such an approach meshes with traditionalist belief requires serious thought but it is necessary to start by recognizing the simplicity and straightforwardness of the academic approach.]

[AUTHOR'S ADDENDUM - Since the time I wrote my essay, new material has come to light that addresses the concerns of may commenters. They asked if Rabbi Farber’s position must be seen as different from that of others who dealt with difficulties in the chronology and style of different texts in novel ways, e.g. Ibn Ezra and R. Mordechai Breuer z”l. The following quote speaks for itself, and should obviate the need for longer responses (emphasis added):

Prophecy does not come as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but as a tapping into the divine flow. Even while channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape, the Deuteronomic prophet (i.e. the author of Deuteronomy) was still a human being, his scope remains limited by education and social context. The prophet could not reasonably be expected to work towards correcting faults he did not see.

Those who wish to see the quote in fuller context, and my understanding of it, should turn to a longer comment of mine in the Comments section.]

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57 comments to From Openness to Heresy

  • Chardal

    You quote the following part of the article: “The simplest literary approach is the academic one which posits multiple authors with multiple traditions.”

    But you leave out the next part: “How such an approach meshes with traditionalist belief requires serious thought but it is necessary to start by recognizing the simplicity and straightforwardness of the academic approach.
    Finally, it appears to me that being able to accept that there are contradictory perspectives expressed in the Torah allows us to offer meaningful interpretations of each and to address significant tensions in the text without feeling the need to create hollow apologetic explanations. Think of our other holy texts, the Mishna and the Talmud, for instance. They are filled with debates about Torah principles, and yet we say that eilu ve-eilu divrei Elokim chayim – each position is the word of the Living God. We are a religion that loves incongruity and debate and our Torah study thrives on the productive tension inherent in multivocality and conflicting perspectives.”

    All he seems to be saying is that the simplest explanation is the academic one but he does not accept it but rather say that tradition must respond to these interpretations. There is actually nothing new there but rather it seems to be a simple application of R’ Mordechai Breuer’s approach to parshanut. This approach has been around for a while and has created an entire school of orthodox parshanut that has also been around for a while. You can disagree with it, but you can not say it is some new level of “pushing the envelope” that did not exist before. It is rather an application of the approach of R’ Mordechai Breuer, possibly the greatest orthodox mefaresh of the past 50 years.

  • micha

    Um… The idea that Shemos tells the story in Hashem’s words and Devarim tells it in Hashem’s rendition of Moshe Rabbeinu’s words is quite old. The notion that Devarim is a different document told from a different perspective isn’t heretical. Nor would saying that derashah veers far from peshat even while embracing it as Torah sheBe’al Peh be heretical either. Nor does it disparage Chakhmei haMesorah to say their explanations are more midrashic than peshat.

    The Rashba pursued pure peshat and understood pesuqim differently than the gemara’s explanation. For an early and famous example, the gemara says “And it was evening, and it was morning, one day” shows that in halakhah, the day begins at sunset, with the evening. The Rashba explains the verse to mean that it was at the start of the morning that Hashem declared “one day”. It didn’t mean he denied Chazal. And of course the Rashba, a Tosafist after all, started Shabbos a little before sundown, just like everyone else. But he held that was al pi derashah, and it would be “unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts” (to quote Farber) to read the peshat that way.

    I do have problems with the willingness to write the quoted notion in a way that sounds like agreement with heresy without clarification that one has a line that is short of Conservative’s. And someone who writes the above and who does so much work with non-Orthodox clergy can’t plead ignorance of how they would take his message.

  • Daniel

    As Rabbi Alderstein wrote in this space:

    We recall the words of the Netziv in his introduction to Bereishis. He describes a generation of “chassidim, tzadikim and amalei Torah (righteous and learned people),” who nonetheless were not viewed as acceptable to Hashem, because “they treated anyone whose ways were not to their liking, as suspect of …heresy and through this, came to bloodshed and to all the evils of the world.”

    Kol hakavod to Rabbi Gordimer for providing a beautiful illustration to Rabbi Alderstein’s poignant words.

  • ben dov

    YCT is a new Conservative movement with a different name. The RCA has been wimpy with this matter, occasionally protesting YCT on single issues but to my knowledge never making clear that the movement as a whole is outside the Orthodox faith. The RCA has even expressed willingness to reconsider its policy that YCT rabbis cannot be RCA members.

  • Bob Miller

    Consumers are entitled to know what a product really is. This new development is part of a centuries-old pattern of religious consumer fraud.

  • Yona Baer

    We recall the words of the Netziv in his introduction to Bereishis. He describes a generation of “chassidim, tzadikim and amalei Torah (righteous and learned people),” who nonetheless were not viewed as acceptable to Hashem, because “they treated anyone whose ways were not to their liking, as suspect of …heresy and through this, came to bloodshed and to all the evils of the world.”

    Read more: http://www.cross-currents.com#ixzz2ZPFdzoAu
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  • lacosta

    res ipse loquitor

  • dr. bill

    Two points and an example.

    First, to appreciate rabbi Farber’s approach, one must read Pirkei Moadot, by Rabbi M. Breuer, ztl, who taught tanach at yeshivat har etzion for many years. His approach posited that the contradictory passages in the torah, are a sort of shtei dinim applied to the bible. For example, his masterful essay on the meraglim and the sin of Moshe, deal explicitly with the contradictions Rabbi Farber mentions. Rabbi Breuer’s approach drew strong criticism, but it relates to what rabbi Farber is suggesting. Note the authors of the three articles in footnote 4 in his second article.

    Second, you ought to quote his entire last paragraph; you omitted that key summary. Unlike your shortened citation, he did not stop there. He wrote:“Finally, it appears to me that being able to accept that there are contradictory perspectives expressed in the Torah allows us to offer meaningful interpretations of each and to address significant tensions in the text without feeling the need to create hollow apologetic explanations…. We are a religion that loves incongruity and debate and our Torah study thrives on the productive tension inherent in multivocality and conflicting perspectives.” IMHO many are so accustomed to the answers, the questions that troubled chazal are often forgotten. What rabbi Farber suggests is that one must recognize the very contradictions that often make the view of bible critics compelling to many and derive insightful answers.

    Let me give you an example. Last Shabbos, I spoke of the important lesson to learn from the torah recognizing multiple perspectives. Events are often seen from different perspectives. We all gain by recognizing there may well be multiple conflicting and legitimate perspectives. Often the question of whose idea was that – God or Bnai Yisroel, Bnai Reuvain or their intended chelek in Eretz Yisroel, Yitro or Moshe – may be more nuanced. Such views allow one to reduce sinat chinom not highlight it.

  • Joel Salomon

    The Summary section seems to have been updated. Its first paragraph now read thus:

    Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there appears to be no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. The simplest literary approach is the academic one which posits multiple authors with multiple traditions. How such an approach meshes with traditionalist belief requires serious thought but it is necessary to start by recognizing the simplicity and straightforwardness of the academic approach.

    (Emphasis added to indicate difference with the version Rabbi Gordimer quotes.)

  • Meir T

    R Gordimer, with Tisha’a B’Av still on my mind (as well as R Adlerstein’s recent post), i wanted to make a suggestion, though i do understand your perspective and why you felt the need to defend the true approach.

    To make your point (which is valid as the generally accepted Orthodox Jewish perspective), the Rebbe could have just said that we (the Orthodox community) disagree with R’ Farber’s suggestion and feel that this paragraph/concept is not in accordance with the Orthodox Torah perspective, and we ask that R Farber does not say things like that again as an Orthodox spokesman.

    But the Rebbe goes a little further than just attacking the specific incorrect Torah perspective, and uses it to deligitimize YCT and their whole group as a whole, which is unnecessary and incongruous with R Adlerstein’s point and the concept of engendering love and areivus amongst Jews (at the very least, those who do keep shabbos/mitzvos). There appears to be no need to paint broad brushes and use specific issues/mistakes by certain Rabbis as an attack against the “other side”, as they can (and sometimes do) make the same attacks about specific Right-wing Rabbi’s mistakes. I don’t think that will lead to less Tisha’a B’av’s.

  • TK

    The current zeitgiest of “equalitism” (in whatever form: Human Rights, Feminism, Social Justice (“Tikun Olam”) etc.) is premised on the moral spectrum of victim/oppressor only. The spectrum of thought starts with concern for “the oppressed” and ends with demonization of “the oppressors”. For example, the ultimate disparagement, currently, is to call a person “racist”, “sexist” etc. or, as a whole country, “aparthied”.

    Recent restrictions on circumcision and ritual slaughter are the logical end result, where religion is considered “oppressive” (in this case to the baby/animal). Gives refreshed insight on how restrictions in the days of Chanukah could have been justified (within their own zeitgeist).

    It should also not be a surprise that our brethren have bought into this system and are blinded to what they are doing, which is simply trying to distance themselves from the unenlightened “Old World”. If we change this or that (pick your oppression: “shelo asani isha”, “shelo asani goy”, “equality” at the Wall, etc., etc.), we’ll be accepted by the world.

    Been there, done that.

    At the end of the day, we are “Am Segula” (however you translate that term), “asher bachur banu m’kol ha’amim” and that means we are different, and will always be considered different.

    At the very end of the day (and it is fast approaching) our ‘own’ democratic, “progressive” nations will turn on us, under the guise of equalitism. We shouldn’t be caught off guard this time. We either rise to the standard of Am Segula or we try hide/obsfucate it. _All_ forms of Judaism need a fresh infusion of spirit, to focus on what we are as Am Segula, today, rather than the current trends of insularity to protect ‘the past’ on one end, and the slow (and not so slow) deconstruction of ‘the future’ on the other.

  • Doron

    “Rabbi Farber writes that the Torah was penned by at least two different authors”

    Where does he write this? As the most important deduction of this article, please can you quote where he says this?

  • Ben-tzion

    Amazing. I’ve seen “Dayan” Farber’s apikorsus before, but he and they are usually more subtle about it. (Yes, they call him Dayan Farber.)

  • shmuel

    Has either the author of the essay on the Torah’s “multiple authorship” or anyone else from YCT explained why either (1) they think such an idea is ok or (2) why they disagree with it but are tolerating someone who holds such an idea?

    What is the explanation?

  • Shades of Gray

    Re. “thetorah.com.”, I wonder how long it will last, how popular it will be, and whether it will add anything new to academic bible studies. I am not very familar with the subject, but I wonder what effect, if any, such popularization will have on “Non-Open” Orthodoxy dealing with this topic.

    Re. the response of YCT, perhaps they are waiting to see where this goes, or for R. Farber to explain his writings. In March, 2007, R. Nati Helfgot wrote regarding a Yated article, “here and there, there have also been formulations that I would consider have crossed some lines. Whether, when and how an institution should respond to such phenomena is a difficult issue touching on serious issues that include a whole panoply of considerations”. In October, 2008, Rabbis Weiss and Linzer spoke out about a non-halakhic beis din for conversion used by a graduate(“this violates the standards and principles of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and YCT categorically rejects this action”).

    “But my dream is to have Hebrew Union College…”

    The sentence before in the article was “I’ll sit down with the Satmar.” I had high hopes for R. Lopitan’s leadership to move YCT to the right, based on what I read in the JTA(September, 2012):

    “Without abandoning that approach, Lopatin says he wants to ground the students more firmly in Orthodoxy by exposing them to the “full Orthodox spectrum.” That includes, he said, exposure to and instruction from haredi Orthodox yeshiva leaders.”

    (Someone I told this to wryly reminded me of when R. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz exposed YTV talmidim in the 1930’s to the “full Orthodox spectrum” out of eclecticism, namely , to the “The Malach”, R. Levine. Those students completely adopted the latter’s ways to the extent that they were expelled from Torah Vodaas).

    In “Humility in Criticizing”( Morethodoxy 7/09), R. Lopatin wrote, “I am gratified that beyond the issues of Hilul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem, the invitation to Me’ah She’arim from USA Yated Neeman editor Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz was sincere, and we have been in touch, and I look forward to meeting with him, and eventually being in Me’ah She’arim together. This is a new relationship with a leader in the Yeshivishe world that I hope to foster, and I am grateful for it.” In the linked Tablet article, a classmate of R. Lopitan was quoted, that “he has mastered something no one else has mastered, which is that he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt”.

    Would that some אנשי שלומינו learn from that…

  • Sc

    You seem to ignore that rabbi Farber acknowledges that this simple approach of two authors is in conflict with the traditional approach. The fact rabbi Farber discusses the academic approach or that is provides a simple way to reconcile the differences in the text does not mean he endorsed it. You have judged him unfairly

  • Shades of Gray

    In case it wasn’t obvious, I wasn’t referring with אנשי שלומינו to R. Gordimer or his article( although I am of peace with him too) rather to any אנ״ש who uses over the top language.

  • David F.

    Since everyone here is always so keen on having Charedi rabbanim openly protest and disavow any and all Charedi acts of misbehavior, I would assume that they are equally keen on having the RCA and OU open distance themselves from YCT. After all, heresy and falsification of Torah is no small sin.
    So far, apart from Rabbi Gordimer, no one has risen up to protest and the RCA stills recognizes their rabbis. A real statement of protest would be when both Modern Orthodox rabbinical bodies [along with YI] expel all graduates of YCT just as they would never accept an HUC or HTS grad.
    Let’s see how quickly that happens.

  • sc

    Rabbi Gordimer – Are you being fair to Rabbi Farber by lumping him together with every objectionable statement made by YCT grads or teachers? I am sure that some RIETS musmachim of the past decade have made objectionable comments, (and one of the women invoking the abortion analogy is a Stern GPATS graduate,) but I wouldn’t impugn your semicha with them.

    More fundamentally, and I may be splitting hairs, Rabbi Farber refers to “The simplest literary approach…” Not the only approach, not the best approach, and not the true approach (if there is such a thing), but rather the simplest pshat. Were I teaching or writing the article I would not have let that approach stand unchallenged, but I wouldn’t castigate him for mentioning it.

  • Eliezer Eisenberg

    The day will come when the Hanhala of YCT will state unambiguously that a graduate of theirs has definitively moved away from Orthodox Judaism. Unfortunately, that day has not yet come.

  • A. Gordimer

    I appreciate R. Adlerstein posting the new version from R. Farber, which must have been posted by R. Farber in the past few hours.

    Unfortunately, rather than renounce the notion of a Torah by multiple human authors whose texts contradict one other, the emended R. Farber article still postulates the appeal of the “multiple human authors approach”, and merely states that one should think about how this approach “meshes with the traditionalist belief”.

    There is no dispositive change in R. Farber’s actual position here.

    I also must make it very clear that my intent was to not personalize this issue; it is the ideas, not the person, that are being challenged. No words of disrespect were uttered regarding the person, although the obligation to address the truth about the ideas at hand cannot be shunned.

    It was extremely painful to write this article; the article underwent more bedikos and scrutiny than one can imagine, and was written and published with great koved rosh, care and trepidation.

  • Ben-tzion

    Rabbi Gordimer is correct. The updated version is hardly better. If Farber wishes to retract, he should write something along the lines of: “While the notion of multiple authors is obviously incorrect and heresy, the questions raised by the apparent contradictions are interesting and work is needed to reconcile them within the tradition.”

  • Shades of Gray

    What about the larger issue of the website ?

    Maybe it’s a discussion for a different thread, because it does not excuse dubious/kefirah/over-the-line writings.

    It seems that they beat the Kiruv world to the idea of such concepts as “ask a bible scholar”(kiruv websites, though, do put resources into “ask a Rabbi”). As I previously commented, I don’t know the academic field as to what’s technically involved in making a “kosher” site, but the site quotes from Prof. Shnayer Z. Leiman and others about the need.

    The site says about values “to value Jewish practices and observances independently of the historical origin of the Torah and rabbinic law”. Why not just challenge R. Farber to set forth his beliefs on Torah min haShomayim and historicty of Mesorah, by means of analogy, like S. Rappoport asked Zechariah Frankel to clearly set forth his beliefs during the debate with RSRH, IIRC. If he says to “live with uncertainty and ambiguity even in important areas of religious thought and belief”(from the site) that in itself is not kefirah, although there is some challenge to say that in the role of a rabbinic leader(though Kiruv rabbis and others are allowed to say “I don’t know”).

  • Binyamin

    Is the heresy that he speaks of multiple authors or of multiple “human” authors? If he said that the different authors were both speaking binevuah would that be ok?

  • A. Gordimer

    David: Here is a list from the RCA website (public material) that features yeshivos whose graduates can qualify for RCA membership:

    http://www.rabbis.org/pdfs/ApprovedYeshivot.pdf

  • AryehS

    Reb Gordimer, how do you know what his “actual position” is? The fact that he explains the academic approach, and says that it needs to be appreciated for its simplicity in solution, and that its conflict with tradition needs to be addressed, does not mean that he necessarily agrees or disagrees with that approach. You have written an entire article that is based on very shaky assumptions.

  • Steve Brizel

    R Gordimer deserves a huge Yasher Koach for pointing out not just the very problematic nature of R D Farber’s views on Sefer Devarim, but also the overall trends and goals of YCT sponsored so-called “Open Orthodoxy” that is evident from a carefuul survey of the YCT website. Such an article underscores in bold the importance that not everything goes and that Apikorsus and Kefirah are halachic and hashkafic terms with meaning that cannot and should not be ignored as R”L intellectual relics.

  • DL

    RAG seems to throw two issues in together — Open Orthodoxy’s abandonment of the mesorah — embracing interfaith dialogues, women rabbis, etc — things that run against the spirit, but not, letter of the law. And Open Orthodoxy’s complete abandonment of objective halacha — heresy, acceptance of homosexuality, intermarriage, etc.

    I fundamentally agree with RAG’s overall point of Rabbi Farber’s work falling way beyond the pale, and his analysis of an, “Agenda-driven Judaism” fueling this movement. However, in fairness I don’t think he separated the issues carefully enough throughout the article.

  • Shades of Gray

    “Since everyone here is always so keen on having Charedi rabbanim openly protest and disavow any and all Charedi acts of misbehavior, I would assume that they are equally keen on having the RCA and OU open distance themselves from YCT”

    Regarding recent Charedi misbehavior, there is a question of a moral nexus to violence and an intolerance of “Other”(“Keep in mind that many people – especially our impressionable children and teenagers – do not make subtle distinctions”–Cross Currents). The equivalent is that YU and the RCA, by their silence, or embrace of Torah Umaddah, are endorsing YCT, and children or adults will agree with the problematic issues. I’m not sure if that’s correct(I sit on the fence ideologically, but don’t claim to lack any bias towards the RCA’s silence).

    Additionally, there are Rabbonim from RIETS that have clearly made known their views on various YCT issues; the OU wrote about Mesorah in the JA, and the RCA issued statements about women’s ordination. A MO rabbi wrote on Hirhurim(3/07)in response to the Yated’s article, “Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is in its infancy and has, in my view, made a number of mistakes, which if not corrected will ultimately undermine its credibility within the Orthodox community”.

    I think communities may have their own internal “Shulchan Aruch” when and how to condemn. Chabad doesn’t put Meshichists in Cherem so as not to split the community. R. Shmuel Golden of the RCA wrote in Hamodia, “because different points of view are represented among our membership, we sometimes have to stay away from certain issues — just as Agudah does to maintain its fragile alliance between Litvishe and chassidishe elements.”

  • Z

    it is the ideas, not the person, that are being challenged

    It may not be personal, but it seems to me it is the very idea of the idea that is being challenged rather than the substance of idea itself.

    Unfortunately the Torah world has done a poor job of addressing the many challenges to the mesorah’s narrative posed by modern scholarship (not just biblical criticism, but general history, archaeology and linguistics, let alone science). When willing to engage the challenges at all, the attitude (as exemplified by the original post) seems to be: accept our trite answers and shut up — or get out! No yeshiva scholar of import has come close to tackling the bulk of the issues, and recent history suggests there is little tolerance even for ‘nobodies’ to take a stab at it.

    The rest of us maaminin who can’t bring ourselves to believe that all secular scholarship is a conspiracy against the Torah are left with nagging doubts in our minds and painful holes in our hearts. Is it a surprise that without satisfactory guidance from the masters of the mesorah those searching truth may find it elsewhere? Are we permitted to pray and beg for answers rather than lines in the sand?

  • Aharon Haber

    I did not like Rabbi Farber’s article but not because of the same agenda expressed by Rabbi Gordimer. I do not share that agenda but I think it is important and legitimate to get a picture of what a movement stands for.

    I did not like the article because it was superficial and unfair. I think the subsequent change made at the conclusion of the article made the whole piece ridiculous. So what is he saying in the end? Should we try to reconcile? Is there additional serious thought that will uncover a new way to look at the issue? Or does the amendment only reflect pressure to make the piece more conform (but not completely) to tradition and does not reflect what Rabbi Farber was originally saying or leaves the real interesting question of HOW completely absent.

    The last paragraph of the article just strikes me as intellectually sloppy and not much more than mumbo jumbo which I hate to say I sometimes find in liberal expressions of Judaism. Really disappointing:

    “Finally, it appears to me that being able to accept that there are contradictory perspectives expressed in the Torah allows us to offer meaningful interpretations of each and to address significant tensions in the text without feeling the need to create hollow apologetic explanations. Think of our other holy texts, the Mishna and the Talmud, for instance. They are filled with debates about Torah principles, and yet we say that eilu ve-eilu divrei Elokim chayim – each position is the word of the Living God. We are a religion that loves incongruity and debate and our Torah study thrives on the productive tension inherent in multivocality and conflicting perspectives.”

    What does any of that mean in any coherent sense other than a superficial call for Kumbaya? Certainly nothing that an academician would accept.

    However I agree with DL that while I have no problem with Rabbi Gordimer publicly expressing his clearly heart felt even halachic opinion here, the grouping of all criticism into one general argument against more open thought is unfounded. I understand the slippery slope argument and of course when one believes in more openness then there is more danger in not knowing where the line should be drawn. But it seems to me Rabbi Gordimer draws the line somewhere around the hareidi daas torah shita thereby saying anything beyond that deep water line is in danger of drowning (or already has). I do not think that is a fair conclusion.

  • Alan K

    What I continue to fail to understand is why so many people get so worked up about ideological purity/impurity, about heresy, whether suspected or genuine, but so few seem to get nearly as worked up about ethical purity/impurity. Please tell me, which is the greater threat to the Orthodox world? The corruption and crime, the extortion and misuse of funds, the verbal and physical intimidation, and for example the sorts of problems Rabbi Hershel Schachter pointed out a couple of years ago about the beis din system? Or what Rabbi Farber might think about Devarim? Which is the greater threat to the integrity of the Orthodox community? Here’s a proposal: what if first we resolve to get upset with a real fervor about ethical impurity, and once we have cleaned up everything in this regard, then we can move on to ideological impurity?

  • A. Gordimer

    DL: Thank you for the remarks.

    Open Orthodoxy has also challenged the letter of the law (female baalos tefillah for general congregational male-female prayer services), altering berachos to match feminist interests, seeking to change accepted geirus protocol. This halachic departure flows from the hashkafic departure.

  • JDC

    RAG here presents us with a liberal innovation of his own: a liberal employ of the term heresy.

    Having read RZF’s column*, which, it should be noted, is posted on a web-site that is devoted to “integrating the study of Torah with the disciplines and findings of modern biblical scholarship,” I can find no instance where he opines contrary to established doctrine. His notation of the inconsistencies in Devarim and earlier parshashot are just that, notations. It is his assessment that any reconciliation “unreasonably stretches” the meaning of the text, by which I understand he means that his review of the historical reconciliations found them inadequate. It is RZF’s guidance that we should think on these matters, particularly on the apparent, though perhaps troubling, simplicity and elegance of the academic approach. What’s missing is any insistence by RZF that the academic approach is necessarily correct or that all future efforts to discover a less-wanting reconciliation will necessarily fail. Without any such insistence, there simply is no heresy. Perhaps RZF’s column would have been much improved had he, as RAG recommends, reviewed and discussed the other available assessments of Devarim’s facial inconsistencies rather than dismissing them out of hand as he appears to do.

    What is disappointing to any reader not lusting for a fight is that RAG uses RZF’s failure not as an opportunity to present the relevant historical views or to answer the concerns he raises, but only to attack YCT, the graduates of YCT, and the IRF for failing to condemn or disassociate from RZF. RAG apparently circulated his criticism privately to YCT and IRF in previous weeks. I would be curious to know their response, if there was one at all. I wonder if they answered at all as I do above.

    What troubles me is that RAG obviously has serious, perhaps legitimate, concerns about the analysis and maintenance of halakah by YCT and IRF, but that he has used RZF, and a faulty and tortured analysis of RZF’s statement to concoct a serious and inflammatory charge against him personally. The motivation to attack YCT, IRF, and their interpretation of halakah is transparent, and maybe its justified. But the use of RZF as a means to that end is not.

    There are apparently numerous rabbinical eyes on this discussion, so it is with great hope that we can look to our rabbinate to present uneducated readers with the guidance necessary to understand these inconsistencies, which are the heart of this discussion, as we continue reading Devarim.

    *I refer here to the original, unedited version of RZF’s column as it is quoted and forms the basis for RAG’s initial response.

    [previously submitted under wrong e-mail]

  • A. Gordimer

    In light of some critical additional “new” data posted above, the anticipated comments about Rabbi Farber’s position being within acceptable parameters regarding Torah authorship will be obviated. Kindly refer to the important addendum at the beginning of the article.

  • Derech

    Thank you Rabbi Gordimer for your article. But please note that the RCA does, de facto, accept graduates of YCT. A member of the Executive Committee of the RCA, who is a graduate of YCT, has now taken the pulpit of Rabbi Asher Lopatin in Chicago. In this week’s Likutei Pshatim (distributed with “ads” to all shuls in Chicago),Yeshivat Chovevei Torah placed an ad congratulating this Rabbi, its graduate class of 2008, on taking the pulpit of Rabbi Lopatin’s former shul. This Rabbi has written articles speaking favorably of the concept of the ordination of women. He also does have two private smichas. I understand that it is the policy of the RCA to allow membership of someone with two private smichas. But apparently the fact that one has ordination from YCT and very publically touts his relationship with YCT does not prevent one from being a member of the RCA. It seems as if the RCA protests too much about YCT. Would the RCA allow someone who has two private smichas and also ordination from HUC and who touts their affiliation with HUC and expresses views outside the mainstream of the Orthodox mesora be allowed to be a member of the RCA? To be an Executive Member of the RCA? Why aren’t voices heard in the RCA that those who have non-Orthodox hashkofos and YCT-type affiliations not allowed in the RCA? What does the RCA stand for?

  • Avrohom Gordimer

    In a new development (new for us, at least, and probably for all of the readership and the general Orthodox public) that pretty much obviates much of the nuanced discussion that is anticipated in the Comments section and in separate follow-up discussion, it should be noted that Rabbi Farber’s comprehensive views of Torah authorship are posted on-line in an essay he published about the authorship of the Torah. These views are clearly beyond the pale (as measured by Rambam Hil. Teshuva 3:8, or any standard of Orthodox belief), and render meaningless any arguments that Rabbi Farber is within the parameters of Ibn Ezra or other Torah commentators or Torah authorities.

    Rabbi Farber’s ideology is most akin to the Conservative concept that the Torah is not the word of God, but is the imperfect word of man that was “divinely inspired”.

    Here are some salient statements by Rabbi Farber on the issues of the authorship of the Torah, representing Rabbi Farber’s own approach, after having considered and rejected other approaches earlier in his essay:

    From TEST CASE: THE LAW OF THE RAPIST (Devarim 22:28-29)

    The Oral Torah explanation proffered by the rabbis, i.e. that all of the practices not found in the Bible were either told to Moses directly at Sinai or are derived from midrashic reading of text, does not even begin to realistically address the religious changes Judaism has gone through in a believable way. 

    Prophecy does not come as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but as a tapping into the divine flow. Even while channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape, the Deuteronomic prophet (i.e. the author of Deuteronomy) was still a human being, his scope remains limited by education and social context. The prophet could not reasonably be expected to work towards correcting faults he did not see. Nevertheless, the injustice of the rape and the consequences to the girl and her family were things that he could see. This is what he worked to correct.

    The law of the rapist is actually an example of a human mind tapping into the divine flow—albeit in a way limited by his own societally determined biases. Instead of our focusing on the outmoded biases that clouded the prophet’s vision—as vital as it is to note them—it would be apposite to focus on the Torah’s message: Society must protect its women from being victims of unwanted sexual activity, and try to correct any damage done to them if such a thing occurs…

    From MNEMOHISTORY VERSUS HISTORY

    (Rabbi Farber begins this section by stating that the Creation, Flood and Patriarchal narratives did not occur and that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs did not exist):
    The same holds true of the description of the development of Israel. The idea that the twelve tribes of Israel were formed by the twelve sons of Jacob has all the appearances of a schematic attempt of Israelites to explain themselves to themselves: “We are all one family because we are all children of the same father.” These Torah stories are not history, the recording of past events, they are mnemohistory, the construction of shared cultural-memory through narratives about the past.

    …It is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical.

    The popular idea that the Torah’s holiness stems only from the historicity of its claims, dictated by the mouth of God, strikes me as an attempt to depict the Almighty as a news reporter.

    From AVRAHAM AVINU IS MY FATHER http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-conclusion/
    Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s.

    Putting aside issues of license to view certain segments of the Torah as allegory, it is clear
    that Rabbi Farber denies the historical development of K’lal Yisroel, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Mattan Torah/Torah Mi-Sinai, Torah being written by Moshe or dictated by God to any prophet, the perfection of Torah as God’s Word, and the authenticity of Torah She-b’al Peh as Mosaic. Rather, we are left with a divinely-inspired Torah that is the work of man, the sole words of man, has faults, and has no historical veracity.

  • A

    Here is a actual target for the vitriol we so in the orthodox world today. Kol me seyesh biyado limchot vilo micha nitfas al yado(Shabbos 56b approx) The Ramban’s critique of aristotle seems appropriate.

  • Shades of Gray

    I would be interested in seeing a substantive response to the quote below from the website by Rabbi David Steinberg. The following story is encouraging to me, but I think more is needed.

    “When he was 15 years old, R. Mordechai Kamentskey had a conversation with his grandfather, R. Yaakov. He asked if he should skip Dovid and Bas Sheva and the like.

    R. Yaakov answered:

    “Lern dos. Lern dos.[Learn this]. When you’ll finish the entire Tanach 80 times with mefarshim, like me, then you’ll understand everything.”

    (AMI Magazine, 1/18/12)

    ======
    Rabbi David Steinberg

    “After spending more than ten years in kiruv – outreach, it is my belief that current approaches used in some Jewish organizations to strengthen Jewish identity are at best shallow and sometimes even dishonest. Many in the Jewish community who care about Jewish education are increasingly acknowledging the fact that these approaches just do not work. Many more traditional Jews fear studying Tanach in an honest fashion. For more than ten years I studied in some of the best-known ultra-Orthodox yeshivot where the study of Tanach is non-existent. Not once did we have a lecture on the Prophets and Writings and the closest we got to Torah was what is known as a Mussar Schmooze – an inspirational speech that extrapolates a theme from a verse or detail from a biblical story in order to improve our moral conduct. Although this is worthwhile in its own right, it is no substitute for study of the Torah.

    What is the reason for this total neglect of the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim (prophets and writings)? (Although I appreciate the engagement with Tanach offered in more modern yeshivot like the Gush and Yeshiva University, in the end their approaches feel more like meaningful modern midrash than academically sound responses to the challenges of modern biblical scholarship.) Are we to conclude that there is a deep scary secret that we are trying to hide about Torah? Many have concluded just that, and with this kind of fear, is it at all surprising that Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, recently identified the single greatest challenge facing the Orthodox community as the increasing number of “adults at risk,” who find themselves struggling in mid-life with the meaning of religious observance.”

  • Avrohom Gordimer

    Daniel, Yona and others: The Netziv is inapplicable here, as this is not another hashkafa within Torah, but a hashkafa that defies the truth of Torah, as the quotes clearly demonstrate. We have an obligation to stand up and defend the integrity of Torah against ideas that clearly undermine it. This is not overriden by Achdus concerns.

    Derech: That case stems back to before current RCA policy.

    DL: My point was that abandonment of Mesorah and crossing red lines hashkafically has led to real halachic breaches as well.

    Others: R Mordechai Breuer zt”l maintained that Hashem wrote the Torah with different voices and perspectives. Rabbi Farber wrote that Hashem did not write the Torah, the Torah is flawed, that God never spoke to a prophet, even to Moshe, etc. This is totally beyond the pale. Although R Farber changed one of his articles apparently in response to the above article, he still, in that nusach, maintained the realistic possibility of a man-made Torah. Nonetheless, that is all moot, as R Farber’s exhaustive article on the authorship of the Torah shows that in truth, he does not believe that any of it was given to Moshe or is the word of God.

  • Dovid Shlomo

    It seems to me that you should be a bit more clear as to what you are defending.

    It seems to me that it is not the Torah that you are defending, given that you have not responded substantively to any of Dr. Farber’s issues — And I am not saying that you need to.

    Rather, what you are defending — or litigating — is whether Dr. Farber can legitimately call himself “Orthodox” as opposed to “Conservative.’

    I would guess that Dr. Farber would maintain that he is Orthodox by virtue of his commitment to Orthodox practice, as opposed to Conservative practice.

    Clearly, Dr. Farber’s approach is not consistent with traditional commentators and not consistent with Ramabm’s Ikkarim. I would expect that Dr. Farber would readily concede this.

    The issue then becomes entirely different: What does it mean to be “Orthodox”?

    I suppose that Rabbi Gordimer would say that anyone whom tradition deems a heretic has lost the right to call himself Orthodox — and that, no mater what discoveries are made through Biblical scholarship today or any time in the future, that definition remains fixed.

    I would therefore be interested to hear Dr. Farber’s response to that one point, which I think encapsulates the dispute and leaves out the rancor and name-calling.

  • sholom

    “The greatest deficiency in yir’at shamayim (fear of heaven) that is not well connected to the light of Torah is that fear of thought replaces fear of sin. Because a human being begins to be afraid of thinking, he drowns in the morass of ignorance, which robs him of the light of soul, weakens his vigor, and casts a pall over his spirit.”

    -Rav Kook – Orot ha-Qodesh, vol. 3, pg. 26.

  • dr. bill

    i would suggest having read farber article by article, as he veers further from a classically orthodox stance, his latest listing – what he believes, might help clarify his beliefs. i dare say he writes to attract criticism, probably to skewer the attacker as altogether naive and unsophisticated. a few of his sentences appear to be using the brilliant lecture by prof. halbertal at the ben-gurion conference on the relationship between Jewish belief and madaai yahadut, without the background such an approach requires.
    What he is guilty of, reminiscent of chazal, is discussing publically (and without proper or complete context) what requires training and sophistication that ought not be assumed generally present. i have asked multiple unsuspecting orthodox jews to define torah mi’sinai and all their definitions ascribed to God some level of anthropomorphism. i dare say it is hard not to; try it. for what it is worth, his formulation does not.

  • Ben Zion Katz

    My recent book – A Journey Through Torah: a critique of the documentary hypothesis (Urim, 2012)- deals with many of these same issues in what I believe is a serious academic way without taking away belief in torat Moshe miSinai, at least as it was understood by some rishonim (Ibn Ezra and Rav Yehuidah Hachasid).

  • sholom

    Even if R’ Gordimer is correct, we have to have better answers to the serious problems besides the declaration that ‘it’s the messorah’. Telling those who choose to understand revelation in ways different than you and the ‘mesorah’ that they are kofrim won’t change opinions or bolster Torah and mitzvot. It smack of arrogance, pomposity and triumphalism. Problems such as the discrepancies between stories in Dvarim and elsewhere (the spies, the water from the rock, the 10 Commandments) scream out for interpretation ie. ‘darsheni’. Previous generations of rabbis and Bible interpreters seem to have known that.

    The undeniable fact that mefarshim throughout our history provided creative and innovative solutions to these problems in the text only underscores the need to deal with these inconsistencies for our day. As well, it surely demonstrates that great thinking can contradict other great thinkers and that perceptions and interpretations of Torah are newly revealed in each generation.

    Denying us any or some or all of the possible avenues for explanation because your faction of our people has a mesorah does not increase our emunah; it does, however, cause us to question what else is hiding behind the curtain.

    To the modern mind, and yes there are thousands of us out there who uphold our tradition but also also trained open and analytic thinkers, the singular answer to these questions provided by R’ Gordimer ie. don’t ask the question / THIS is the answer because THIS is the proper answer from the mesorah, just doesn’t cut it.

    Telling us that if we dare to broach this ‘monolithic’ mesorah wall, we are heretics, denies the fabulous, creative, innovative tradition of interpretation of our Torah.

    Did Maimonides not clearly state that the Torah’s version of the Creation Story was open to metaphorical interpretation if it were to be found lacking? Frankly, since our religious tradition is replete with such, interpretations, (mystical, philosophical, the Rav’s, scientific) many people find far more interest, depth, and inspiration from the variegated metaphorical and non-literal interpretations of Genesis than from the story itself.

    Pointing to a monolithic opinion of Maimonides as ‘accepted by all universally’ is surely a misreading of reality if only because there appear to be several mefarshim, far greater than you or I, who have cracked open that wall. A case in point from another ‘monolithic declaration’ is illustrative. Maimonides is surely following the Torah’s lead when he outlaws ‘magical’ praxis. He decries the use of spells, incantations, sorcery, divination, clearly following the specific and unequivocal Torah dictates. Nevertheless, in my short lifetime, I have been witness to an explosion of magical and other supernatural practices in our community.

    I have purchased amulets in my local Jewish bookstore. I get offers in the mail for great gedolim (with white beards and everything!) to say brachot for me (more brachot for increased donations !!), to have ‘kivtlach’ placed into the kotel or tehillim recited to bring health or wealth, offers of personal segulot for shiduchin etc., offers of appointments with ‘great rabbi’s coming to town who can meet with me to cure my ills (for a price, of course). And surely, one wonders about the published tale of rabbis who following several weeks of unsuccessful searching were able to raise and recover the body of a missing and drowned member of the community after reciting specially authored ‘segulot’ on the way to the lake.

    All of this ‘spiritual’ activity, clearly leaning to the magical and superstitious, is categorically outlawed by the Rambam, hundreds of years ago, yet it persists, in fact proliferates, in our day. Is his declaration that this is kefira any less authoritative? Or is this just a question of what our contemporary religious leaders want to take seriously; picking and choosing which kefira is most easily dealt with in the press or which kefirah would cause a financial loss to the institutions and individuals at play.

    Surely, you’ll point to the Shulchan Aruch which ‘overrides’ the Rambam in the magical praxis arena. Just to my point; there are always several traditions, viewpoints, innovations, creative solutions and intellectual paths to follow in our tradition. Our tradition of interpretation is as old as the Torah itself; our traditions of Oral Law, no matter what we hold its source to be, are certainly interpretations of the Torah designed to shape it to our own thinking; ‘an eye for an eye’ is never that, capital punishment is legalized out of practical existence and how many other example can be suggested. We are superstitious so we open the door to such practice and never, ever, hear a public outrage by orthodox rabbis about this kefirah.

    How many Talmudic stories could you quote to support the standard promotion of ‘the Torah is not in Heaven’ ie. it’s for rabbinical interpretation to decide what it says and how to interpret it? And in every generation, we hope, the Torah is renewed for us through its interpretation.

    In the case of modern approaches to the Torah, why is all and everything modern considered forbidden fruit. Surely, it’s not because the average orthodox rabbi knows nothing of actual, modern Bible scholarship and little more of the ancient near east. (Da’as Torah?) The modern study of the ancient near east has revealed so much that does enlighten and enhance the traditions of our forefathers but we rarely hear of these interpretations in our shuls and our schools. Do we really need to preserve and promote the current orthodox notions of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov dancing around in streimel and kappoteh? Yitzchak attending yeshiva? Do these quaint images really enhance our understanding of Torah in the face of our challenges when so much of the study of the Ancient Near East can bolster our faith in the veracity of our Torah?

    Concern over such heresy was never voiced by the Orthodox leadership when kefira was the order of the day during the height of the ‘Torah Codes’ era. Surely when the purported codes hidden in the text were being used to ‘divine’ events, there was according the Rambam, a need to decry this publicly! Surely there was ample evidence in several thousands of years of massoretic and scribal textual activity to easily declare and demonstrate that the proper and accurate spelling of many words in the Torah was too questionable for accurate calculations via ‘letter skipping’ techniques. But this did not happen. Surely, Maimonides would have decried this kiruv technique if only because of its irrational and shakey base in the reality of the history of our torah. I recall a very disappointing Aish Hatorah event where the ‘proof of the codes’ was being demonstrated by the guest speaker, a renowned, frum, mathematics professor. When questioned about the text he was using for the code calculations he was completely dismissive of other ‘kosher’ versions of the massoretic text save for the current ‘Koren’ tanach that he held in his hand. There was no mention of the Allepo Codex, the text that the Rambam himself declared to be the ‘official’ version let alone any others which easily and obviously debunk the myth of the codes.

    Surely you will say, as many did, that leaving out the ‘truth’, the reality of our Torah’s text history, that ‘secret’ that we dare to mention, was certainly worthwhile given how many Jews were convinced that the codes are the incontrovertible evidence of the God’s authorship of Torah. This official silence, at best, about certain historical truths or feigned ignorance at worst, in favour of a disingenuous and irrational proclamation of ‘have faith’, is not what the Rambam would promote. Nor is this what the Torah refers to when it calls us a ‘wise and discerning people’!

  • David F.

    Rabbi Gordimer,

    The fact that the 5-year old list you supplied from the RCA with approved yeshivot that not contain YCT means little. I know for a fact that there are YCT musmachim who are RCA members. I’m also waiting for the RCA [and OU and YI] to come out and denounce YCT for all to see. It’s got to be at least as pressing as insisting that ever Haredi gadol repeatedly condemn every act of violence by nutcases in Meah Shearim, no?

    When the OU and RCA expel YCT musmachim and make public statements, we’ll know that they’re willing to stand up for Emes.

  • YM Goldstein

    Dovid Shlomo has a good point. Is anyone who daavens at an orthodox shul or who keeps kosher, observes hilchos shabbos and hilchos niddah orthodox, even if they hold krum opinions, even if they have the title of “rebbe” or “dayan”?

    The biggest difference between Torah learning and western/academic scholarship is that in the Torah paradigm, one needs to be a disciple of a Rov. The goal of the talmid is to understand and integrate the ideas and thoughts that the Rov is teaching; the talmid has to nullify one’s intellect if necessary, to do so. In western scholarship, one’s own intellect is the judge of the correctness of ones learning. For many of us raised in the west, it is simply impossible to accept the concept of discipleship as legitimate or valid, it is “hiding in a bubble” or “ignoring the truth”.

    But for me, if I know that Rav Moshe Feinstein believed in a certain outlook on an issue, if my Rov expresses an outlook on a certain issue, that counts for more on the scale of truth than what my brain and intellect thinks about that issue. I know that my brain is biased and is controlled by desires and emotions, some of which I am not aware of. The yetzer hara is crafty. For other’s, their intellect is their avodah zarah; there is absolutely nothing that they would trust more than their own opinion.

  • Avraham

    I read this article with a mixture of weariness and sadness. I do not doubt the sincerity of Rabbi Gordimer’s righteous indignation nor do I wish to minimize the importance of the issues he has raised, but I am puzzled by his preoccupation, and the general obsession of this site, with theological matters while neglecting the very real pragmatic problems that plague the Orthodox community. We have numerous articles dedicated to the Women of the Wall but hear nothing of the daily chilul Hashem that transpires when outwardly frum Jews engage in dishonest business practices. As a rav of over twenty five years I must say with profound anguish that my congregants, from every profession,say consistently that the least ethical individuals to deal with are their “frum” customers. I have had many discussions with the heads of organizations that deal with the issue of spousal abuse who bemoan the state of affairs in the seemingly most religious of communities but do not recall this topic addressed in Cross Currents. Finally, we have the tragic Kolko case in Lakewood where a young talmid chachom following the psak of Rav Moshe Sternbauch and Rav Dovid Cohen (among other gedolim)reported a sexual abuser to authorities and was then driven out of town by the Roshei Yeshiva of Beth Midrash Gavoha and the leading rabbanim in Lakewood, aided by a scathing letter written by Rav Belsky (the posek of the Orthodox Union where Rabbi Gordimer works). Even after the molester confessed there has been no apologies offered by those who committed this terrible injustice. When the editors of this site are prepared to tackle the real issues that are afflicting our community,when Rabbi Gordimer is prepared to critique Rav Belsky for his horrific actions, than there will be ample time to get to these matters of hashkafa.

  • Avrohom Gordimer

    Avraham: Although I cannot speak to specifics, the issues you raise of ethical conduct, abuse and chillul Hashem are so jarring and demand action. There is absolutely no excuse for failing to tackle these horrific things head-on. I would never advocate placing them on the back burner or assigning them a place of lower import, chas v’shalom.

    Sholom: There are two issues here:

    1. How does one reconcile what he feels are contradictions and challenges to the Torah as we understand it?
    2. What are the boundaries of acceptable belief?

    My article addresses question #2 only. Each question is a topic on its own.

    To be very brief, I feel that there are three general, acceptable approaches to dealing with question #1. All three approaches require acceptance of the total divinity and truth of the Torah.

    A) “Men shtarb not fun a kashe” – “One does not die from questions.” One accepts the truth of the Torah with the understanding that he will not be able to necessarily find what he feels is satisfactory closure for his questions and perplexities.

    B) Resolution – Trying to resolve from within that which seem to be contradictions, by using reinterpretation and other established methods. R Mordechai Breuer’s approach would be a good example here.

    C) Rav Soloveitchik’s approach, which is arguably the most conceptual and spiritually uplifting perspective on the matter. Please see, for example, http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/rav/rav20b.htm and http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/6398_6889.pdf, etc.