The Open Orthodox Race to the Edge and Beyond: When Will It Stop?

by Avrohom Gordimer

The Open Orthodox rush to reshape traditional Judaism has become incrementally manifest in terms of both practice and belief, with Open Orthodox leadership actively promoting substantial modification of Torah observance and the creation of rituals that are foreign to normative Orthodoxy, while concomitantly asserting that one no longer needs to believe in the faith tenets of Orthodoxy in order for his or her Judaism to be Orthodox. While previous Cross-Currents articles and addressed many of these concerns, Open Orthodoxy has pushed full steam ahead with a new progression of breaches over the past few months, widening the base of those involved and deepening the degree of the changes being made to Orthodoxy. It is critical for the Orthodox public to be aware of this and to understand the underpinnings of these new seismic and startling Open Orthodox efforts to reshape and Reform.

I. Open Orthodox Changes to Practice

“Making it up as you go along” is usually not a recommended approach when doing anything serious. When it comes to Torah, such an approach is fatal.
This is exactly what came to mind when viewing the new Ohev Sholom/The National Synagogue 2013 Gala Celebration video regaling the feminizing of services in that congregation, including women reading the Torah and the Megillah, women serving as chazzan and reciting the “Mi She-Beirach” prayer (a feminized nusach thereof) at the bimah, and a woman serving as the Makri for Teki’as Shofar – all for general male/female services in the main sanctuary.
The congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who is an Honorary Alumnus of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and a protégé of Rabbi Avi Weiss (Rabbi Herzfeld served under Rabbi Weiss for five years as assistant rabbi at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and considers Rabbi Weiss his mentor), gives his blessings to the innovations, as elated, near teary-eyed congregants express their feelings of arrival in the Promised Land of Orthodox feminism. Rabbi Herzfeld, toward the end of this revealing video, declares his quest to continue to make further progressive modifications to his shul’s ritual practices. The most recent such action taken by Rabbi Herzfeld to make Ohev Sholom more progressive was the hiring of a female “Maharat” to fulfill some rabbinic duties at the synagogue.

Aside from the innovations to feminize and alter parts of the tefillah and synagogue functions with changes that exceed even those of “partnership minyanim”, I and others who watched the Ohev Sholom video were struck by a common theme that runs throughout it as a description of the mindset and approach of the Ohev Sholom innovators and Reformers: the desire to institute changes to ritual and minhag simply because these changes make some of the congregants feel good and spiritual. Any sense of deference to Mesorah and surrender to halachic principles is glaringly absent from the presentation. Rather, all that we are told in this video is that some people are very uncomfortable with the traditional Orthodox service, and that the Ohev Sholom innovations, with a realization that they are indeed unprecedented, make some people feel good and spiritual, and that the innovations therefore were adopted in order to feminize the tefillah.

Although Congregation Ohev Sholom and its rabbi maintain mainstream Orthodox affiliations, the blatant disregard for the halachic leadership of those affiliate organizations and the agenda-driven form of Orthodoxy that Ohev Sholom promotes are quite shocking. Rather than seeking to learn and adhere to the guidance of the greatest Torah scholars on the issues at hand, Ohev Sholom and the larger Open Orthodox movement have already determined their liberal-progressive social goal and egalitarian plan of action in the name of Orthodoxy, with the hope that Halacha does not get in the way or that it can be creatively fit into the predetermined liberal agenda being advanced. See also .

In the same vein has Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber (who, despite his denial of Torah Mi-Sinai and a Singular Divine Author of the Torah, still serves in his leadership roles at the Open Orthodox organizations) just created and issued some “alternative berakhot” for women to recite when they are called to the Torah. The desire to create a new set of rituals that are not found in any classic halachic source and that have been squarely condemned by the greatest of halachic authorities (see e.g. Sefer Tz’i Lach B’Ikvei Ha-Tzon s. 5), and to claim that these rituals are Orthodox (or “Open Orthodox”), flies in the face of millenia of Orthodox/Torah Judaism and contravenes Rav Soloveitchik’s principle of “surrender” to Halacha, such that one must submit to the ultimate and often non-politically correct authority of Halacha even when Halacha contradicts one’s own apparent needs and aspirations.

II. Open Orthodox Abrogation of Tenets of Belief

Further denial of the Ikarei Ha-Emunah/Principles of Faith has been occurring within the Open Orthodox rabbinate. It is really alarming.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is a YCT graduate (probably its most famous one), International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) member, founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, and is listed among “America’s Top Rabbis”, has argued elaborately against the notion of a future Binyan Beis Ha-Mikdash, , explaining that a new Temple would be impractical and would thwart the progress made by Judaism in Golus.
Rabbi Yanklowitz further writes:

The fantasy of returning to one centralized monolithic form of Judaism is not only wishful thinking. It’s also dismissive of two of the most important aspects of modern Jewish life: diversity and adaptability.

Rabbi Yanklowitz’ denial of eschatological prophecies extends to the realm of belief in Moshiach. Rabbi Yanklowitz negates the concept of a real messiah and instead adopts the Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist approach:

We have made too many mistakes throughout history, thinking that the Messiah is a person or event. They are called Bar Kochva, Abulafia, Shabbatai Zvi, Jacob Frank, and certain Chassidic rebbes…At the end of the day, I would like to suggest that we are Moshiach—we are the ones we have been waiting for…Moshiach is the name of the value that we can do something that is truly magnificent.

Belief in the existence of a human messiah is a core fundamental belief of Torah Judaism. It is the concluding and decisive stance of the Talmudic discussion on the topic and is accepted and required by every authoritative rabbinic work. Rabbi Yanklowitz’ denial of this most basic belief in Yahadus is an unbelievable breach.

Whereas the traditional belief in Moshiach as a righteous and heroic person from the House of David who will lead our people out of Golus, complete Milchemes Amalek and oversee the rebuilding of the Beis Ha-Mikdash has been codified and expounded by the greatest of Talmudic authorities and has sustained countless generations of Jews throughout millenia of dispersion and persecution, with denial of the existence of a human Moshiach unanimously classified in Halacha as heretical belief, Rabbi Yanklowitz’ vision of Moshiach is that of the secular humanists, who not only deny the literal existence of a future messiah but also deny the specific messianic mission and K’lal Yisroel’s unique role and status in the eschatological era.

Denial of the existence of Moshiach brings with it denial of the rebuilding of the Beis Ha-Mikdash (as we saw above) and all that the Nevi’im and Chazal stated will occur in the eschatological era. Such denial is extremely dangerous.

In fact, Rabbi Yanklowitz has also denied God’s Hashgacha P’ratis/Divine Providence in a classical sense, discarding the concept of God’s hands-on control of the universe in favor of a non-controlling, permeating spiritual force, writing that,

it is not necessarily the will of G-d that permeates all beings but holy energy and purpose.

Rabbi Yanklowitz, invoking the words of his teacher, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, has also posited that Judaism is not the ultimate truth about God, as Rabbi Yanklowitz grossly misunderstands the rhetorical phraseology of the prophet Micha, thinking that Micha was advocating the practice of gentiles serving idols as part of a grand pluralistic religious vision:

“All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our G-d for ever and ever.” (Micah 4: 2-5). Micah not only imagined but advocated for a messianic era, when everyone will “walk in the name of their gods.” This does not reduce the prophet’s commitment to the one G-d but he boldly continues to provide space for different relationships to that one G-d.

Rabbi Yanklowitz, notwithstanding his extreme version of Tikkun Olam that leads to some very novel and entertaining applications to Jewish ritual veganism (such as here and here ) and his unfortunate call on American Jewry to not help free Jonathan Pollard, normally strikes one as truly sincere and enthusiastic about Orthodoxy in a traditional sense. The fact that someone of such youth and as of yet quite limited rabbinic scholarship is so naively comfortable with tossing out the Ikarei Ha-Emunah, in violation of thousands of years of precedent by the greatest of our sages, leads one to question his rabbinic training. The need for such questioning is exacerbated and evidenced by the words and actions of so many of Rabbi Yanklowitz’ fellow YCT musmachim. It is very clear from the YCT website that YCT follows Rabbi Yanklowitz’ writings carefully – yet YCT has said nothing about this celebrity musmach’s denial of the most fundamental of Torah beliefs.

The Open Orthodox website Morethodoxy recently published a very troubling article by Rabbi Herzl Hefter , defending and apparently even promoting the denial of the historicity of the Torah and its communication to Moshe at Sinai. Invoking Hassidic and mystical concepts of “Torat Ha-Sod”, Rabbi Hefter extrapolates that one need not believe that the Torah reflects accurate facts and that it was dictated to Moshe via oral prophecy:

The significance of the biblical narrative according to this tradition rests not in its historical accuracy but in the underlying spiritual content.
The purpose of the Torah, according to the “sod” tradition is not to convey historical truths but rather to gesture toward a deeper and more profound spiritual reality. It is possible, then, to accept that the Torah in its current form is the product of historical circumstance and a prolonged editorial process while simultaneously stubbornly asserting the religious belief that it none the less enshrouds Divine revelation.

(Readers are advised to consult the Comments section below Rabbi Hefter’s article, where the sentiments attributed to Rav Kook in support of Rabbi Hefter’s theory are disproved by Rav Kook’s own words. Furthermore, the statements from the Hassidic masters referenced in Rabbi Hefter’s article of course indicate that there are both a literal/historically true and a symbolic, esoteric level of Torah – and do not discard the truth and import of the literal/historical level.)
Rabbi Hefter contends that God did not necessarily speak to Moshe in a literal sense, but that the entirety of Torah was a non-historical development in which God communicated by placing His existence and Truth in man’s heart:

God stirs our hearts and He stirs in our hearts; that is the revelation. The rest is interpretation.

This concept, which is extremely close if not identical with the Conservative movement’s notion of a divinely-inspired Torah (which is hence not literally binding and is subject to evolving revelation/modification) that was not in reality orally communicated to Moshe at Sinai, was boldly rejected and refuted by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch in his first comment on Sefer Vayikra:

Scripture thus refutes those who would misrepresent and distort God’s revelation to Moshe, as though it were a revelation arising from within Moshe’s own heart; as though it were comparable to artificially induced ecstatic states; as though it were merely the inspiration of man’s spirit, which takes place within man; as though “the Jewish religion” were like all other religious phenomena in the world – it, too, being merely a phase in the development of the human spirit.
…For the word that is heard is not produced inside the listener; he contributes nothing to its creation – so God’s Word to Moshe was His Word alone. It did not derive from within Moshe but came to him from without, calling him, interrupting and rousing him from his own thoughts, so that he would concentrate on listening to what God wished to say to him.

This call, which came before God spoke to Moshe, precludes the idea that His Word was preceded by some process taking place within Moshe….The Word came to him from without as a purely historical event – something that simply happened to him.

Rav Hirsch quite clearly affirmed that the notion that the Torah emerged from a divine inspiration of sorts from within Moshe’s heart is unacceptable. Such a notion, which allows for the denial of the Torah’s historicity and literalness, was part of some of the the non-Orthodox theologies which Rav Hirsch battled.

III. The Rabba’s Perspective

Putting together practice and belief in a skewed fashion, “Rabba” Sara Hurwitz recently and herself to Nelson Mandela in this compared Orthodox Judaism to apartheid”>interview in the New York Times:

Studying at Barnard and in Israel, cherishing Orthodoxy and yet pushing against the literal and figurative barrier between the sexes called the mechitza, she took her inspiration from a black man of the Xhosa tribe.

“I never had that ‘aha’ moment of wanting to be a rabbi,” Rabba Hurwitz said. “I had no role model. But I wanted to be part of a community, and the Mandela model in my mind was of marching toward equality and justice and integrity. I was behind the mechitza, but I wasn’t angry. I just knew what I wanted to change and how I could make it happen.”

Rav Soloveitchik’s sentiments about such an attitude ring clear. The Rav explained that the Rambam’s classification of one who is “Mak’chish Maggideha” (Hil. Teshuva 3:8) as a Kofer refers to a person who attributes bias, subjective motive or personal fault to the Chachmei Ha-Mesorah. It is heretical to claim that a rule or interpretation of the Sages is flawed or is the product of prejudice. The Rabba’s attitude that there is a bias of Orthodox Judaism that she has struggled to overcome is very objectionable, in particular in light of the Rav’s words, and further in light of the fact that she assigns fault to ancient and binding halachic principles.

IV. What the Future Portends

The installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as YCT president and successor of Rabbi Avi Weiss has been announced. http://www.yctorah.org/content/view/830/17
The installation ceremony will commence with a roundtable rabbinic discussion entitled “Training Rabbis for a New Generation”. Whereas one would assume that those committed to the promulgation of Torah would be the participants in this rabbinic discussion, the rabbinic guest participants are in fact all decidedly non-Orthodox. Thus, Rabbi Lopatin will engage in this discussion about rabbinic training with two Reform rabbis, one Conservative rabbi, and a Reconstructionist rabbi. The only thought that comes to mind here is the famous quote by Rav Soloveitchik:

It is impossible for me to comprehend, for example, how Orthodox rabbis, who spent their best years in yeshivos and absorbed the spirit of Torah Shebaal Peh and its tradition, for whom Rabi Akiva, the Rambam, the Rema, the Gra, Rav Chaim Brisker and other Jewish sages are the pillars upon which their spiritual world rests, can join with spiritual leaders for whom all this is worthless… From the point of view of the Torah, we find the difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism much greater than that which separated the Perushim and the Tzedukim in the days of Bayis Sheini, and between the Kara’im and traditionalists in the Gaonic era. Has Jewish history ever recorded an instance of a joint community council that consisted of Kara’im and Torah-true Jews? (from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s 1954 Yiddish article in Der Tog Morgen Journal).

YCT’s notion that an Orthodox rabbi should sit and collegially discuss rabbinic training with rabbis who deny the authority of the Torah and who preach and practice violation of the Torah is a denial of the very meaning of the rabbinate and of the significance of Torah leadership.

Open Orthodoxy is sliding away from normative Orthodoxy more quickly than we realize it. Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the concepts of Moshiach, Hashgacha P’ratis and the future Geulah have been openly denied, further large-scale erosion of commitment to Orthodox practice and attitudes is underway, and there is marked increase of identification with the non-Orthodox rabbinate, with no end in sight to these Open Orthodox breaches, which are occurring and expanding within the highest echelons of Open Orthodox leadership. In fact, it appears these days that the best illustrative term for Open Orthodoxy is Pretzel Orthodoxy, as Orthodox Judaism is being bent by Open Orthodox leadership into a pretzel to the extent that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize what is Orthodox about the Open Orthodox version of Judaism.

As stated at the end of my last article, there is no nefarious agenda behind these articles; these articles are painful to pen and win me no friends or revenue. The only two agendas here are to alert the Orthodox public of the danger that is being posed and to stop the hemorrhaging, with the hope that those in both leadership and non-leadership positions will put a stop to these breaches so that Orthodoxy can retain those who seem to be quickly slipping away from it.

In truth, it would seem that the mainstream Orthodox community should engage in introspection and determine whether its failure to properly formulate and articulate the role of Mesorah to its laity and youth has been a major factor in Open Orthodoxy’s ability to challenge and discard Mesorah on so many fronts. Perhaps if the average Orthodox Jew were better educated about how Mesorah plays such a pivotal and indispensable role in gender issues, tefillah, the p’sak process, and so forth, the Open Orthodox breaches we now face, that are causing an unprecedented rift in the American Orthodox community, would not have occurred
.
Many rabbis who serve as leaders in Open Orthodoxy share an incredible sense of creativity, dynamism and enthusiasm; these men have the talents to inspire Jews from all backgrounds and bring them closer to Torah. Rabbis Lopatin and Weiss are indeed proven masters at Kiruv Rechokim. It is a shame that rather than putting all of its energies toward promoting authentic Orthodoxy and exposing its brethren to the beauty of Torah, Open Orthodox leadership has decided to divert its creative talents and tamper with Torah practice and belief toward the creation of an Orthodoxy that is foreign to our tradition and that threatens to further erode commitment to core Torah values and Orthodox life

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and is also a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in the above article do not necessarily reflect the positions of either of these organizations.

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45 comments to The Open Orthodox Race to the Edge and Beyond: When Will It Stop?

  • Bob Miller

    It takes true ignorance or arrogance for this group to market itself as Orthodox. Mortals can’t profess both X and Not-X at the same time.

  • ben dov

    The RCA needs to take a stronger stand. It was not hard to see this all coming but too many, including rabbanim, were naive to think YCT intends to stay within the bounds of Orthodoxy.

  • sass

    Kudos again to Rabbi Gordimer for another excellent, yet painful, article. Very saddened by these latest developments. How many of the 13 ikkarei emunah can they dispose of? How many of the 13 ikkarei emunah do they actually believe in?

  • YM Goldstein

    Anyone can operate a shul and call it Orthodox. However, the OU and/or Young Israel don’t have to accept it. I believe that the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale is an OU member shul – why does the OU allow them to remain? If I was traveling to a community and the community had an OU shul or a Young Israel, I would be shocked to find egalitarian practices in such a shul and I believe strongly that I would walk out.

  • Yoni Doe

    “How many of the 13 ikkarei emunah can they dispose of?”

    How many are really “me’akev” on Judaism? There are arguments to made ala Menachem Kellner, Marc Shapiro and others that they were a temporal response by Rambam to inter-religious issues of his time. While there are many tradition issues raised here, there are woefully few actual halachic issues raised.

  • shaul shapira

    Where is R Weiss in all this? People should read his article (google ‘open orthodoxy’) and compare with YCT/ Dr farber/ Yanklowitz’s actions and statements. By it’s own founder’s defenition, OO is no longer O at all if they believe all this stuff.

  • lacosta

    the YCT and open orthodoxy seems to be a good avenue for people who either have emuna issues or dislike the non-PC nature of the Mesorah [women,gays, democratic socialism etc ] but are not prepared to join a non-O temple. I wonder if we are just reliving the period in the 1800’s ,in which theologians who couldnt stomach either the old Mesorah , or what Reform made of it, developed the now shrinking branch we call ‘Conservative’ judaism…. one would anticipate by reading the Pew study , that just as the O jews of the 40’s/50’s/60’s had a 50% dropout-of-O rate , so will this new branch —- and they will be able to re-invigorate the C temples of the 2030’s and 40’s….

  • Ari Rieser

    R’ Gordimer writes: “In truth, it would seem that the mainstream Orthodox community should engage in introspection and determine whether its failure to properly formulate and articulate the role of Mesorah to its laity and youth has been a major factor in Open Orthodoxy’s ability to challenge and discard Mesorah on so many fronts.” The main problem with his entire diatribe is that he continues to use “mesorah” as his overriding argument against Open orthodoxy – suggesting that there is one unified history of Mesorah throughout Jewish History. What did his vaunted Mesorah have to say about R’ Hirsch’s Torah Im Derech Eretz idealogy or Sarah Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov movement. Now I’m not personally comfortable with some of the new innovations espoused by some Rabbis under the banner of Open Orthodoxy, but if you are going to criticize these practices, please bring exact Halachik p’sak chapter and verse to do so. Blurring the line on what is Mesorah and what is Halacha lacks a degree of credibility. Also, what exactly does R’ Gordimer mean by “mainstream orthodoxy” – essentially there only exists Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra Orthodoxy; Mainstream Orthodoxy is a dying ideal and Ultra Orthodoxy seems to be mainly interested in becoming more and more separatist. So, perhaps R’ Gordimer would be better served if he recalibrated his message to modern orthodox jewry – and offer viable, halachik alternatives to Open Orthodoxy’s attempts to be more responsive to the spiritual asperations and needs of many well-educated, torah-abiding women.

  • DF

    Roughly 40 years ago, the Episcopal Church of the USA started ordaining women. It was controversial at first, and the first dozen or so were not offically recognized, but by now it is common. Where are they today? – “Liberal Christianity has been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian church. Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, the mainline churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating.” “Membership has dropped so dramatically that today there are 20 times more Baptists than Episcopalians….the denomination has been deserted in droves by an angry or ambivalent membership.” (From one article out of many about the the collpase of the Anglican Church.)

    And how about our friends in Reform Judaisim? “Mostly women have taken over the power of the congregation. We have a female president, and a lot of the board is run by women… And it seems when you go to services, there’s less men every single time, and more women. Sometimes it’s a little too lovey-dovey, hugging everybody… Men don’t care.” (From an interview with Syliva Barak Fishman, about her research demonstrating the link between institutionalized feminsim and its inevitable lead to disengagement of men.) The Reform movement’s offical website has a whole section of letters hand-wringing about the disappearance of men, which simply presages the disappearance of Reform.

    For me personally, and in my neck of the world, “Open Orthodoxy” is not even a blip on the radar screen, and other, more sophisticated friends have told me they too find the attention paid to this passing fad mystifying. Still, if it is enjoying any current degree of traction, the realities mentioned above tell us where Open orthodoxy is inexorably headed.

  • Reb Yid

    Many thanks to Rabbi Gordimer for keeping us up-to-date. The blogosphere was recently so pre-occupied with Farber’s foibles that we may have missed those of Yanklowitz and Hefter. Rabbi Gordimer reminds us that the slide down the slippery slope is not a theoretical risk, but is actually well underway.

    One question: when Yanklowitz interprets the posuk in Michah, is he saying that the navi is accepting of avoda zara, or is he saying that they will have different ways of serving Hshem? It’s still at odds with mashma, pshat, and drash, but it might not exactly be actually sanctioning AZ.

  • Mike S.

    Those who know something of the history of American Judaism in the early to mid 20th century are aware that the disdain of the European trained Orthodox rabbis for their younger American trained, English speaking colleagues helped encourage the growth of the Conservative Movement during that period, as the immigrant rabbonim had great difficulty relating to the American raised youth of the period. Many who would have stayed in the Orthodox community left to found Conservative temples when the older rabbonim were unable to meet their needs and unwilling to hire orthodox rabbis who could.

    I think it would be better for the critics of YCT and related institutions to offer more appropriate suggestions for how to address the alienation that many Orthodox Jews experience as a result of some of these issues, particularly the dramatic difference between the roles of women in the larger society and the Orthodox community, than merely to continue to denounce YCT. Simply asserting that there is no problem and no need to address these issues is not an honest response or responsible leadership.

  • David F

    First off, Rabbi Gordimer deserves a huge Yeyasher Koach for taking the time and demonstrating the bravery required to compose this article. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

    Secondly, what Rabbi Gordimor is even more damning than anything I’ve read before about YCT, but none of it should come as a surprise. Once you jump out the window, it’s only a matter of time until you hit the ground. It’s not a question of “if” but of “when.” YCT jumped a long time ago.

    Thirdly, while referring to YCT grads as Rabbis is definitely the PC thing to do, it’s a very misleading term. Very very few of them have anything resembling a comprehensive knowledge of Torah sources. Many are rather lax in laws such as kashrus and tzniyus. Virtually all are smitten with far-left views that are then rammed into Torah as a means of legitimizing them. They may refer to themselves as rabbis, but in reality, they’re nothing more than activists and that’s the term that should be used when referring to them.

  • Steve Brizel

    Once again, R Gordimer hits a proverbial nail on the head with the hammer in his assessment of where the so-called “Open Orthodoxy” is heading.

  • Dan M

    As a current YCT student, I am willing to say that R’ Gordimer raises very good points about things that musmachim of the yeshivah have said. Yes. There are people who were trained as Orthodox rabbis who afterward don’t (always) act like it. That’s nothing new. Big deal. Would I prefer to see YCT musmachim publishing more traditional works of torah literature and contributions to the broader Orthodox society? Yes. Would I love to see a panel discussion or debate that included more RW Orthodox rabbis? Of course. Too bad that for every event that YCT holds with HUC, JTS, Hadar, etc, the Yeshivah also invites YU and sometime also invites other more RW Orthodox institutions, and those invitations are always ignored, because the Rav wrote an essay 49 years ago saying that it might not be the best thing. Too bad there haven’t been any changes in Orthodox theology, society, practice, or leadership since then, eh?

  • Shades of Gray

    A different angle involving YCT recent programming. UJA, in conjunction with Footsteps, recently sponsored a panel discussion about “the proper response of non-Haredi Jews and Jewish leaders to ultra-Orthodoxy and those who have left it”, which included YCT and non-Orthodox rabbinic participation, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to have a Charedi representative on the panel. The point of the program, according to its sponsors, was to discuss the Charedi world with neither romanticization nor vilification. It remains to be seen what influence the small organized OTD community will have on all other parts of the Jewish world.

    In “Modern Orthodoxy’s Welcome Alternative” in the Jewish Press, R. Nati Helfgot recently suggested that Charedi dropouts should consider Modern Orthodoxy. For some Chasidish people, however, why not suggest the Yeshivish alternative? Following the Webberman victim trial, one Satmar askan was quoted in the Daily News that “this was a wakeup call; nobody denies that…Maybe we will send them to an Israeli program or a European program, and the kid will come back a different person”. Perhaps they can send them to locally to a Flatbush Beis Yaakov type program, just as the Webberman victim attended after leaving her Williamsburg school.

  • a reader

    “…I and others who watched the Ohev Sholom video were struck by a common theme that runs throughout it as a description of the mindset and approach of the Ohev Sholom innovators and Reformers: the desire to institute changes to ritual and minhag simply because these changes make some of the congregants feel good and spiritual.”

    how do you understand the institution of s’micha for women (for korbanos, not rabbahs ;) ). wasn’t that EXACTLY the point – “to institute changes to ritual and minhag simply because these changes make some of the congregants (i.e., women) feel good and spiritual” ?

  • L

    Dan M, your response to R’ Gordimer’s article speaks volumes.

    The fact that Chovevei invites YU and RW Orthodox rabbis to participate on its panels is irrelevant–the problem is that they are inviting non-Orthodox rabbis to participate on those panels. Their opinions on matters pertaining to Torah hashkafa and halacha are completely pasul as far as Orthodoxy is concerned. Therefore, for Orthodox rabbis to share a stage with them is akin to declaring non-O opinions on matters of halacha/hashkafah equally valid, which is simply unacceptable. By way of analogy, if you were convening scientists to discuss the ramifications of global climate change, and to put forth workable solutions to the problems caused by global climate change, it would be wholly inappropriate to invite either improperly credentialed scientists, or scientists who deny the very reality of global climate change, to participate in your convention. And the serious, credentialed scientists who believe with a complete and undying faith that global climate change is a genuine reality would not-and should not-even consider attending your convention, should those other individuals be present and billed as legitimate participants, because it would undermine the public’s trust in the words of the serious scientists, and make their commitment to the issues suspect.

    The fact that you so cavalierly dismiss “an essay [the Rav wrote] 49 years ago”, and mischaracterize his clear and fervent opposition to inter-denominational panels as merely what “might not be the best thing” is disappointing, to say the least. You write that times have changed since then. Do you think that were the Rav alive today, he would say anything different? Can you name any contemporary Orthodox Torah scholars of the Rav’s knowledge and stature who would say anything different?

  • Yitzy Blaustein

    It is truly sad that on the day after the Pew Report, CC decides to publish this piece as its lead article. The house is burning down– 22% of Jews do not identify as Jewish; 30% are unaffiliated. Only 10% are Orthodox and of those 3% are MO.

    So what does RG write? an attack on YCT a minuscule sliver of MO. What concerns RG? That this tiny faction will sway the 3% who MO and move them away from true Orthodox Judaism.

    Wow. What about the 22% who don’t consider themselves Jewish or the 30% unaffiliated?

    It is this small, petty perspective that later generations will lament as the great failure our generation.

  • A. Gordimer

    Yoni: The Rambam’s codification of the Ikarei Ha-Emunah is most authoritative and overwhelmingly accepted isn’t K’lal Yisroel. The clear halachic qualities of the Ikarim is in perek 3 of Hil. Teshuva.

    Ari: There are indeed different mesoras, but each is carried by the weight and based on the gravitas of the generation’s greatest Torah authorizes. And there are also many aspects of Mesorah to which all such authorities agree. Open Orthodoxy has discarded the concept of mesorah in many ways. Please see my Cross-Currents article about ordaining women and Rabbi Adlerstein’s CC article about Mesorah for more elaboration.

    A Reader: The semichah issue of korbonos worked within the system and was authorized by those with the halachic power to do so, unlike the contemporary innovations that challenge the system and lack such authority.

  • Allan Katz

    Interesting article, but I think a discussion as what is considered the ikkar halacha or going beyond the ikkar halacha in the context of chareidi/orthodox accepted standards is more relevant to the vast majority of frum people here in Israel and abroad

  • mb

    David F said
    “Thirdly, while referring to YCT grads as Rabbis is definitely the PC thing to do, it’s a very misleading term. Very very few of them have anything resembling a comprehensive knowledge of Torah sources”

    I don’t know if that is a true statement or not, but I know it is certainly true of Chabad and Aish Hatorah graduating Rabbis.
    I also remember not so long ago R.Adlerstein heaping praise on a wonderful piece of scholarship regarding hospitals penned by a YCT grad

    [YA- Praise will be given where praise is due. And criticism leveled against those who must be criticized. BTW - the hospital piece was penned by someone whose trajectory was completely atypical of YCT - although not unique. He had years of learning under his belt from yeshivos he attended earlier.]

  • Ari Heitner

    I’m from the D.C. area. Even the shuls with YU alumni in the pulpit may be very left wing by the standards of this website – as in, women dance with sifrei Torah on Simchas Torah, maybe there’s a quiet womens’ mincha laining…

    Would there be an uproar if a shul hired a dynamic Rabbi/Rebbetzin team, with the contract stating the the Rebbetzin is expected to teach regularly and mentor women and girls in the community? What if it hired a female educational staff member with title of יועצת הלכה or מורה ליהדות or something else that doesn’t raise the hackles like Maharat and wasn’t tinged by association with Avi Weiss? I think the whole thing would have slipped under the radar.

    I have met a couple YCT alumni and found them solidly grounded and more than capable of holding their own in halachah. If there are other other alumni filling the web with silliness, do we tar the institution on their account? Have we done the same for YU or any other yeshiva that produced a תלמיד שאינו הגון?

    I’m tired of the slippery slope argument. So someone found some nice pasukim to say when they have a womens’ aliyos. Who cares? When it crosses the apikorsus line, let’s call it what it is, and defend the sources of that decision. Till then, can we ask instead: is Ohev Shalom finding that their staffing decisions are drawing more people into the shul, and encouraging members to grow? Or is it like the story of Rav Soloveitchik telling the woman to put on a tallis without tzitzis attached?

  • yy

    I echo the deep gratitude of many regarding R’ Gordiner’s selfless devotion to exposing these issues. Yet as Mike S. said above (as well as others, less forcefully), the burning question in the air is WHY ARE WE “AUTHENTICALLY ORTHODOX” NOT PROVIDING ANY REAL AND CREATIVE RESPONSE TO THE THE ISSUES THAT OO PEOPLE ARE RAISING, i.e the need to “feel good and spiritual” within our communal practice.

  • Steve Brizel

    Dan M-I think that you missed the point of R Gordimer’s well documented esaay. The point was that YCT alumni are publicizing and rationalizing perspectives that can be fairly described as Apikorsus, Kefirah and Am HaAratzus as well as deviations from Halacha, as opposed to merely “good points about things that musmachim of the yeshivah have said.”
    The Minchas Chinuch is a sefer that is known for its well known focus in every Mitzvah of discussing the Cheresh, Shoteh and Katan, and also the Chatzi Ben Chorin and Chatzi Eved. If the Sefer were to be written today, it would probably include discussions of the Shlish Apikorus, Shlish Am HaAretz and Shlish Kofer BaIkar.

  • Toby Katz

    It’s not that the dog walks so well on its two hind legs, but that it can walk at all. Cue the cheers and applause in the NY Times.

    They know they are not Orthodox, but if they didn’t *call* themselves “Orthodox,” everything they are doing would be just ho-hum, not even worth a single sentence in the Podunk Advertising Flyer, let alone mainstream media. Nothing new here, Reform and Conservative have been doing this stuff for decades. Big deal.

    You wasted thousands of words decrying something that should not even have been mentioned at all, on this or any other Orthodox site.

  • A Jew

    Beyond UJA’s collaboration with Footsteps, the organization recently launched a new effort, called Tov B’Yachad, to strengthen the relationship with the Orthodox community and communicate the shared values of the Orthodox community and UJA-Federation. Which branches of “Orthodoxy” they aim to attract, or will ultimately participate, is yet to be determined. Ultimately, “Orthodox” and its variation is simply a term and a title, the focus of Orthodoxy – whether Centrist, Yeshivish, Modern, Open – needs to be how do we bring Torah values and the importance of Mesorah into the live of all Jews today. Members of each denomination – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform – ask the same questions and struggle to find answers for a meaningful life as a Jew. Hopefully the UJA initiative will offer a forum for Orthodox Jews to connect with each other and the broader Jewish community in a constructive manner and help all Jews identify and develop a the meaningful, purposeful, and holy life of kiddush Hashem that is rooted in Torah values and love of Hashem, with less of a focus on the nuance with which each individually personally chooses to the draw his/her own line.

  • Michael Halberstam

    I understand and appreciate much of what you say. However, I fail to see how “naming the problem” has ever been equivalent to solving the problem. All of us yeshiva leit, myself included, believe that once we have stated the obvious, the discussion should be over. It makes us feel more self-righteous but it is doing nothing to address why so many people are unhappy. Moreover, it doesn’t make us good just because we can call the other guys bad.

  • Elliot Pasik

    There are lots of valid points here, but somehow, this article triggers a childhood memory. Sometimes a child will slightly misbehave, but not in a way that will harm anybody. Child will display a sense of creativity, adventure, and risk outside the so-called cultural norms. Wise parent, instead of giving a petch, will say, “Luzzem”. Leave him alone. Let him be adventurous and learn from his mistakes. Especially after the Pew Report, does Open Orthodoxy, bearing new ideas, need to be given a petch? Or shall we say, Luzzem? I cautiously vote for the Luzzem Doctrine.

  • A. Gordimer

    Allan and others: Yes, there are some terribly burning issues that threaten the very existence and continuity of many parts of Klal Yisroel, but at the same time, much of what is being addressed here threatens Orthodoxy in a very real way. Even if you will say that this group is not Orthodox, it indeed calls itself Orthodox and secures Orthodox rabbinical positions of influence around the globe. Silence is hence not an option.

    Elliot: Many rabbis used to echo your sentiments. “Let them be; let them mature. To make a fuss will only make them into martyrs and encourage more of this.” A decade later, with the utter silence of the major Orthodox institutions, this group has formed its own rabbinical organization, its own yeshiva to train women for the rabbinate and ordain them, and it has grown more radical and outspoken. “Luzzem” did not work, despite the fact that so many hoped that it would.

    Michael: Great point. However, identifying the problem is the first step toward resolution. The better the issue can be framed and understood, the more focused we can be to deal with it.

    YY: We for sure must feel good and spiritual, but those feelings must emanate from within the halachic/masoretic system. I would LOVE for you and others to express the problems, as they must be dealt with and resolved. If people are not content, action must be taken.

    Ari: There is a massive proliferation of very, very problematic things emanating from the mossad under discussion, which is a fraction of the size of RIETS and most other “semicha yeshivos”, but whose leaders and an extremely high ratio of graduates have expressed ideas that are foreign and antithetical to Orthodoxy. I have no doubt that there are of course high-quality graduates who are on course, and I have met several of them. But the extreme number of radical and off-left, fringe things that continue to emanate from a sizable number of leaders and grads there, along with the **stated agenda of the institution**, cannot be ignored. The shul to which you refer may be bringing many in, but that does not allow us to overlook the breaches and the problematic precedents being made, along with the messages being sent by these actions in the name of Orthodoxy. And, if these breaches are actually what are drawing in the people, and these people and the shul are adopting an approach that is foreign to Orthodoxy in many (of course not all) ways, then one must question the whole endeavor and whether it can be called a true outreach success. (I was told of a Chabad House that attracts an unusually high number of non-observant people on Simchas Torah, as it serves lots of liquor. Here again, by way of very rough analogy, I think all would agree that this “success” in bringing in the non-observant needs to be questioned.)

  • Dan M

    In response to L:

    You wrote, “for Orthodox rabbis to share a stage with them is akin to declaring non-O opinions on matters of halacha/hashkafah equally valid.”
    I disagree, as do many others. Just as in any political debate, the notion of dialogue and discussion does not imply validation, so too here. Further, these events never focus on matters of halacha and hashkafah. The issues being discussed are usually matters of professional training (chaplaincy etc.), communal issues in America, and matters regarding Israel.

    You wrote, “if you were convening scientists to discuss the ramifications of global climate change … it would be wholly inappropriate to invite either improperly credentialed scientists, or scientists who deny the very reality of global climate change, to participate in your convention.”
    I, trained as a physicist and the son of two scientists, know of no scientific organization or conference that would bar anyone from participating, provided that they paid the entrance fees and dues. The great strength of the scientific world is the freedom and strength to rely on the facts and sound argumentation necessary to support what is deemed to be a legitimate position. Anything less does not stand. In this modern era, the openness of our society results in the indisputable reality that all the information is available. Reform and Conservative Judaism cannot be brushed under the rug for no Orthodox Jews to see. They exist. The true test of emunah is to be able to have a conversation while fully sure in one’s own opinions. If one is unsure, then these encounters are a chance to probe and question, until the truth of the matter is uncovered. Imagine R’ Ibn Ezra ignoring Karaite criticism of Torah shebeal peh. Imagine R’ Hirsch, Malbim, etc. ignoring the challenges posed by the german Reform of their day. Think of how much we have gained in the past my encountering positions with which we disagree, and clearly articulating why. If we are unable, it is a sorry state of affairs.

    You asked, “Do you think that were the Rav alive today, he would say anything different?”
    Yes I do. And my Rebbeim do as well (not only at YCT). The arena has changed. Reform and Conservative have changed. There is much more risk for affiliated Jews to defect to unbridled secularism than there is a fear that Orthodox Jews will defect to Conservative and Reform. Even Haredim who leave their communities rarely end up in MO, Conservative, or Reform Judaism. Instead, the draw of modern society is to secularism. Thus, there is little fear of validation through confrontation, unlike an era when Conservative Judaism was more halachically observant, and Orthodox was less. An era when many Orthodox shuls did not have mehitzot, and some Conservative shuls did. The current face of American Orthodoxy is such that there are no Rabbis of the Rav’s “knowledge and stature,” but I have learned with several of his close talmidim, and scholars of his life and work, and I feel that their evaluations (upon which I base my own) are justified. Further, it is unfair that what was published as an essay is being wielded as a psak. The Rav’s stance in the 60’s was to oppose the psak of the other American gedolim, and to instead advise his community through a philosophical approach. His essay Confrontation does not read like a psak. Do not treat it now, 49 years later, as if it were then or if it is now.

    In response to Steve Brizel:

    I understood Rabbi Gordimer’s essay exactly as you described it—that several (far from the majority by any means) musmachim of YCT and affiliated persons have published statements that are not traditionally considered Orthodox, and that I and many of my cohort DISAGREE with their evaluations. Many YCT students are just as displeased as R Gordimer when radical, fringe opinions are espoused by YCT musmachim. The problem in life, in general, and in these cases specifically, is that the silent majority is overlooked and overshadowed by the loud minority. I encourage all my colleagues to publish more and do more to show the world that we are genuinely normal-Orthodox. Sadly, normal does not usually make the news.

    Thank you for your summary of the argumentative structure of the minchas chinuch. It is one of my favorite seforim. I hope that you are not accusing me of being either an apikores, am haaretz (in the colloquial sense; obviously no modern Jews are ochlei hulin betaharas terumos), or kofer beikar. Also, I am not sure which nafka minahs would come out of such a triplicate classification—please do elaborate.

  • L. Oberstein

    I think that in addition to finding all the aspects of Open Orthodoxy that differ from the Masora, that is from the practices of the past, we have to show more empathy for their motivation. What is essentially wrong with educated women living in an egalitarian society where they can rise to the highest position in every profession ,what is wrong with their desire to have some involvement in the synagogue service? Rather than say that it is heretical, why can’t we understand that they can’t be dismissed with stereotypes of what we think their motivations are. Maybe there is something that Mainstream Orthodoxy can do to meet the needs of women who aren’t content to sit and watch the men dance, sit and watch the men have a prayer service that they have no part in. Is their yearning to serve Hashem in the synagogue really motivated from a bad place or are we very afraid of their questions and dismiss them rather than engage them? Numerically, the Chassidim reproduce more than the Modern Orrthodox but does that make them right?

  • Adam Block

    Have you tried speaking to Shmuly Yanklowitz, Herzl Hefter or the other individuals discussed in your article?

  • Ari Heitner

    R’Gordimer, I hate to say it, but from where I’m sitting – an entirely chareidi neighbourhood in E”Y – I could say the same thing about YU: An institution with a stated mission (“Torah uMadda”) which is questionable at best (equal weight to Torah and secular studies?! academic perspectives on Torah?!) and which produces a high percentage of left-wing talmidim doing fringe stuff (כנ”ל – all these DC-area shul rabbonim letting the ladies dance with the Torah etc.).

    Frankly, when I came back to the DC area to run NCSY, I wondered if the community was frum at all. But in seven years with NCSY, first in DC then in Toronto (agav, the polar opposite of DC), I learned that commitment to Yiddishkeit is not measured by whether the mother wears pants. I saw kids go off the derech from MO homes and from Yeshivish homes, and I saw what works in bringing kids back. I saw what attracts totally unaffiliated kids and what doesn’t.

    NCSY is phenomenally successful at being mekarev girls, bli eyin hara. Pashut piles of them. And while most will want a shmooze about whether they can get an aliyah or wear tefillin, I haven’t seen them by and large attracted to that. There are a few who come from very left-wing-conscious homes who maybe feel an extra pull. If a talmidah asked me could she go to a womens’ Shabbos minchah laining, and I knew the people running it were doing what’s muttar because the halachah says it’s muttar, and not what’s assur because the halachah says it’s assur, I would have no problem telling her to go. And if she asked me could she go to some silly Conservative thing I would tell her no. And 10 times out of 10, that same student will quickly perceive if the leader of that group has real Torah content, or has a brain full of fluff (full disclosure: I have one talmid at the Jewish Theological Cemetery. His brain is not full of fluff).

    But what does turn of kids of all stripes, over and over again, is petty divisiveness and telling people why this or that stripe of frumkeit isn’t ok. Don’t get me wrong: I will always clearly show my kids why Reform and Conservative are narishkeit. And with a little exposure to the real stuff, they pick up on the fluff quickly. But if somebody is about Torah & Mitzvos, I’d rather let the kids go experience things firsthand for themselves. Even to the point of checking out Reform/Conservative, they do well if we tell them, “You go look at what’s they’re doing, and choose the community you want to belong to.”

    I thought Yanklowitz’s Tisha b’Av piece was dumb. Maybe I should tell him so, even if it’s a little late. I’ve emailed with him before, and while I don’t agree with everything he says, he’s a smart guy.

    That Zev Farber guy has been hanging out with the wrong crowd of academic archeologists. Always sad when someone young & impressionable gets in with bad kids. Probably his fault for living in the states. If he was over here maybe he’d read Eilat Mazar and be on the board of the Temple Institute.

    If YCT has a position paper that’s kefirah, let’s call them on it. If not, leave them alone.

  • Ari Rieser

    Rabbi Gordimer: I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my comment. Firstly, you say that mainstream judaism has not done enough to repel open orthodsoxy – barring YCT grads from the RCA and the YI not allowing them to be rabbis of their shuls is not insignificant. Secondly, if I may ask you – being that you are a Rabbi – have you ever had to counsel a sincere, shomer torah umitzvos frum woman struggling with what she perceives to be considered her role as a second class citizen in Judaism. Or if you were a pulpit rabbi of a modern orthodox congregation, what would you do to encourage the women of your shul to be more engaged intellectually and religiously in yiddishkeit? Would you just continue with the status quo and leave things as they have been? These are issues that cannot be just push aside and pretend aren’t significant. Relegating women to the same religious status as they have had for 2,000 years when at the same time, their level of religious education (certainly in the modern orthodox world) and opportunity in the secular world has become virtually on par with men is, in my opinion, a recipe for disenchantment and failure. As a parent of B”H 2 children (a 4 yr old boy and a 1 yr old girl) I have already have feelings of uneasiness how I will in the future satisfactorily be able to explain to my daughter why is that her older brother gets to have much more of an opportunity to have “hands-on” exposure to the whole shul experience, while she has to sit on the outside looking in. I feel strongly that if you could imagine how you would feel as a woman desperately seeking to feel more connected to the shul experience, then perhaps you would see the current open orthodox movement with less disdain, and just maybe you would seek to offer positive solutions to this very real and growing issue, rather than railing vehemently against it. Good Shabbos!

  • Yisrael Asper

    I am going to do something I said I would not and that is make a practical statement on what to do. Open Orthodoxy should be treated as NonOrthodoxy by all Orthodox institutions. The message should be clear. If you rely on them you are outside of the direction of Orthodoxy to say the least and Hashem should help that it shouldn’t be a worse direction that you are headed to. Do we need Gets not recognized by mainstream Orthodox rabbis and maybe mamzerus added to the mixture?

  • Steve Brizel

    R Gordimer quoted this excerpt from R Yanklowitz:

    “Rabbi Yanklowitz further writes:

    The fantasy of returning to one centralized monolithic form of Judaism is not only wishful thinking. It’s also dismissive of two of the most important aspects of modern Jewish life: diversity and adaptability.”

    This idea flies in the face of a wonderful mitzvah that was and is a core element of the Yamim Noraim on an individual and communal level-Teshuvah. Where else can someone from a small town in Podunkville sit next to a Gadol HaDor either in davening or or at Seudah Shlishis and talk in Divrei Torah? Without the mitzvah of Teshuvah and the visions of those in the American Orthodox community who believe in the overarching importance of kiruv, such events would be a dream or a fantasy, as opposed to realitities that happen very frequently for any BT.

  • David F

    mb,

    “I don’t know if that is a true statement or not, but I know it is certainly true of Chabad and Aish Hatorah graduating Rabbis.”

    Absolutely. And if either of them tried to reshape Judaism in his own or some other image, I’d criticize them too. Thankfully, most Aish rabbis and Chabad rabbis are happy to stay well within the parameters of the mesorah [with the exception of the meshichistin] and that’s why they don’t come under scrutiny.

    “I also remember not so long ago R.Adlerstein heaping praise on a wonderful piece of scholarship regarding hospitals penned by a YCT grad”

    I can’t speak for Rabbi Adlerstein, but I enjoyed that free booklet as well and downloaded it for future use. What I wrote about them largely being un-scholarly does not preclude exceptions. I’m sure there are a few of those too. I reflected on what I’ve observed. I know a decent number of YCT grads and not a single one of them can be honestly considered a Talmid Chochom. I would have trouble relying on them for anything related to Halachah.

  • A. Gordimer

    Ari: Thank you for the kind word. However, I did not state that, “mainstream judaism has not done enough to repel open orthodoxy”. As to your query: BH, I have a wife and two daughters, and we live in Manhattan – very exposed to everything. Yet the females in my family have never felt jealous or resentful about not being able to enter the rabbinate, serve as chazzan, etc. They have been taught that their relationship with Hashem and their chelek in His Torah and unique and precious, and I think that this is the key. In fact, many people have told me that they view the Maharat movement as an insult to women, as it encourages women to view men’s roles as superior and to thus try to mimic the male roles. (Please see my YUTorah.com piece on Bas Mitzvah for more of my feelings on this general topic.)

    Ari: Torah U’Mada is a means not a goal. It is dramatically different than the goal of creating a new Orthodoxy that is pluralistic and embraces all sorts of forces in order to redefine the norm. And the ratio of RIETS musmachim involved with controversial endeavors is miniscule, with that ratio even less or perhaps zero among RIETS’ leadership. I do not wish to portyay this an a numbers game, but the distinction is significant in terms of goals and the rest.

  • Shades of Gray

    I would like to see a response to YCT’s rebuttals of the Agudah statement about today’s panel at YCT’s installation ceremony. I think the issues are:

    (1) Comparing similar historical precedents to each other. For example, R. Yosef Reinman wrote regarding “One People, Two Worlds”, that “the rabbis who authorized and supported this project decided, based on several fine distinctions, that it was an exception to the rule.” R. Nati Helfgot wrote in 2007(“In Defense of YCT”),”a few years ago Tradition published an essay by a Conservative rabbi on the topic of reparative therapy for homosexuals and recently the OU West Coast region invited Dennis Prager to speak at its convention on the problems of Orthodoxy.”

    (2) YCT has no poseik akin to R. Soloveitchik for guidance, who made a difference between klapei chutz and klapei pnim. R. Helfgot, however, argued regarding interfaith issues that “YCT has never claimed it follows in the footsteps of the Rav zt”l as Hasidim follow a rebbe” and regarding cooperation with heterodox leaders, “while some talmidim of the Rav did not sit on any joint boards, there were others, also talmidim of the Rav, who did in fact do that and rightfully remained in good standing in the Orthodox community(“In Defense of YCT”, 2007).

    (3) Limitations of the Wurzberger Rav’s opinion-Would R. Bamberger agree to today’s joint panel at YCT’s installation ceremony? R. Ben Elton of YCT wrote, “it is no secret that R. Seligman Baer Bamberger, the Wurzberger Rav and the greatest halachic authority in Germany of his day, disagreed with Hirsch… More recently, Lord Jakobovits himself sat on panels with non-Orthodox rabbis and spoke at non-Orthodox synagogues and seminaries.” Again, the question is one of being medameh milsah l’milsah and of who should decide these issues.

    (4) Status of War with Heterodoxy- R. Ysoscher Katz writes, “While the Satmar Rav and his group held on to the battles that began in Europe during the pre-state era, Gedolim like Rav Shach, the Rebbe of Gur and others maintained that the establishment of the state confronted observant Judaism with a new reality…We at YCT see those Gedolim as our role models”

    I would think all agree that there are different realities of different historical periods, however, as above, the issue is who should make distinctions and decisions, such as klapei chutz and klapei pnim.

    R. Katz concludes, “These incessant criticisms force us to double-check our moves and make our choices carefully and deliberately. For that we are deeply grateful.”

    I think all would agree with this point.

  • L

    Dan M:
    Your analogy to a political debate is flawed; there certainly is validation in being invited to participate in such a debate, regardless of whether or not there is agreement. Only official candidates for a particular public office are welcome to share their views, not just any random person on the street who wants to throw in his 2 cents. The fact is that the participants must be legitimately qualified and dedicated to the same basic political process.

    However, if as you say “the notion of dialogue and discussion does not imply validation”, then why wouldn’t the panel discussions convened by Chovevei address matters of halacha and hashkafah, as you assert they do not? Could it be that the leadership of YCT does in fact recognize that your views on validation are incorrect? Also, I fail to see how discussing “matters of professional training (chaplaincy etc.), communal issues in America, and matters regarding Israel” with non-O clergy is somehow less validating of their credentials/status, since these are topics that they are presumably being considered legitimate experts in, based on their very status as rabbis.

    You propose that no paying individual would be barred from participating in a scientific conference (which is simultaneously both cynical and optimistic), but do you really believe that, for instance, Andrew Wakefield would be welcome on a panel of autism researchers, no matter how much money he had paid? The general openness of the scientific world notwithstanding, the majority of the Orthodox world views Reform and Conservative as fraudulent movements that deny our most basic truths.

    Another inconsistency: If, as you say, “the draw of modern society is to secularism. Thus, there is little fear of validation through confrontation”, then why would debate with Reform and Conservative clergy even be necessary in the first place? According to your claims, it would seem that for the majority of Orthodox Jews who are at risk of abandoning Orthodoxy, Reform and Conservative are largely irrelevant, and we should instead focus our efforts on preventing their descent into secularism. I really question the purpose of these interdenominational panels–are they truly aimed at strengthening our emunah and ensuring that we have great clarity about the truth of Orthodoxy, as you seem to believe we must engage in debate in order to properly do? Or are they more about finding commonality, and de-emphasizing our differences, as I suspect is likely the case? In which case, such panels are not just benign and pointless–they are problematic and likely to lead to confusion on many levels.

    Finally, re: R’ Soloveichik’s position, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. By your own admission, the Conservative movement is far less observant than it was 50 years ago–and yet you are somehow convinced that the Rav would be even more willing to engage with them now?! It is also sad that the Rav is the only gadol of the previous generation whose opinions on such matters are even considered by the Chovevei establishment. Do you ever even contemplate the opinions of, for instance, R’ Aharon Kotler? R’ Moshe Feinstein? R’ Gifter? R’ Hutner? Or is it too hard to reconcile the Open Orthodoxy brand of Jewish philosophy with theirs?

  • rl

    there are several realities we ignore in criticizing “open orthodox” –
    * when i was preparing for my wedding the “kallah” class was taught by the Rabbi’s wife for the women and by the Rabbi for the men. What certification did the rebbetzin have beyond her MRS degree? How much narishkeit in the name of torah and mesorah was taught in those classes, by women charging a fee to repeat the bubba meises of their grandmothers? How were people to differentiate between teachers who transmitted the emet of tahart hamishpacha and how many were giving old wives tales?
    So we put rigorous scholarship and serious talmud torah into a multi-year program for women and called the graduates Maharat – and the world is suddenly in danger of cataclysm?

    * When a community adds or modifies practices to ritually involve women, we call it a slippery slope. but in reality there is no slope – the practices are scary only because they are new. What is the issur in a woman dancing with a torah on simchat torah behind a mechitza with other women? Where is the halachic violation of women gathering to learn torah from an actual sefer torah instead of a book? Remember that not long ago Beis Yaakov for Girls was gans tarfus to orthodoxy because women learned anything at all.

    * Ritual adjustments that allow halachicaly committed Jews to realize a level of self-actualization, are usually done in a manner that allows women who prefer adherence to older ritual to maintain there practices. Women’s tefilla or partnership minyanim do not displace existing tefillot. Rather by providing a halachically valid avenue to avodat hashem to committed jews who are unhappy or dissastisfied with the status quo. Wishing the world would revert to our imagined memory of the 1950’s won’t make it happen.

  • L. Oberstein

    I had an opportunity today to be at a simcha where many men who were ordained by the ITJ-Institute for Traditional Judaism founded by Prof. Weiss-Halivni were present. I asked one of their main leaders if since their group is small and their ordainees can’t find pulpits, why don’t they merge with Chovevai Torah. He answered that their haskofos are to the right of Chovevai, that they oppose ordaining women. He also said that Chovevai is afraid that by merging with these break aways from the Conservative Movement, they-Chovevai- will be accused of not being fully orthodox. The question raised by this discussion is not so much what is wrong with Chovevai but what are we doing to address real issues.
    A person told me that the latest iteration of the coerced get thuggery is a Chilul Hashem. But, he said the greater chillul Hashem is that the frum community can’t figure out any way to deal with the real problem of Agunos, most yeshiva leaders do not require a pre-nup and even oppose it. So, besides the methods of these thugs, what exactly are we doing to help women trapped by the refusal of a husband to give a get? If we are indeed helpless, this will say that we cannot deal with the challenges of modernity.

  • Yisrael Asper

    rl said:”When a community adds or modifies practices to ritually involve women, we call it a slippery slope. but in reality there is no slope – the practices are scary only because they are new.”

    Assuming you are right that all these reforms are ok, you are missing the forest for the trees. The beliefs expressed or tolerated at YCT lead to the question how far? leaving aside the question what worth beyond impressing a politically correct world?

  • Steve Brizel

    Ari Heitner wrote in part:

    “R’Gordimer, I hate to say it, but from where I’m sitting – an entirely chareidi neighbourhood in E”Y – I could say the same thing about YU: An institution with a stated mission (“Torah uMadda”) which is questionable at best (equal weight to Torah and secular studies?! academic perspectives on Torah?!) and which produces a high percentage of left-wing talmidim doing fringe stuff (כנ”ל – all these DC-area shul rabbonim letting the ladies dance with the Torah etc.).

    Frankly, when I came back to the DC area to run NCSY, I wondered if the community was frum at all. But in seven years with NCSY, first in DC then in Toronto (agav, the polar opposite of DC), I learned that commitment to Yiddishkeit is not measured by whether the mother wears pants. I saw kids go off the derech from MO homes and from Yeshivish homes, and I saw what works in bringing kids back. I saw what attracts totally unaffiliated kids and what doesn’t.

    NCSY is phenomenally successful at being mekarev girls, bli eyin hara. Pashut piles of them. And while most will want a shmooze about whether they can get an aliyah or wear tefillin, I haven’t seen them by and large attracted to that. There are a few who come from very left-wing-conscious homes who maybe feel an extra pull. If a talmidah asked me could she go to a womens’ Shabbos minchah laining, and I knew the people running it were doing what’s muttar because the halachah says it’s muttar, and not what’s assur because the halachah says it’s assur, I would have no problem telling her to go. And if she asked me could she go to some silly Conservative thing I would tell her no. And 10 times out of 10, that same student will quickly perceive if the leader of that group has real Torah content, or has a brain full of fluff (full disclosure: I have one talmid at the Jewish Theological Cemetery. His brain is not full of fluff).

    But what does turn of kids of all stripes, over and over again, is petty divisiveness and telling people why this or that stripe of frumkeit isn’t ok. Don’t get me wrong: I will always clearly show my kids why Reform and Conservative are narishkeit. And with a little exposure to the real stuff, they pick up on the fluff quickly. But if somebody is about Torah & Mitzvos, I’d rather let the kids go experience things firsthand for themselves. Even to the point of checking out Reform/Conservative, they do well if we tell them, “You go look at what’s they’re doing, and choose the community you want to belong to.”

    As a proud NCSY alumnus with a loving but critical view of YU which once had a great program for BTs ( JSS) well in advance of the Charedi BT yeshivos, I would point out that one should never confuse RIETS, and its RY, who are Gdolei Torah, with TuM ( which hasn’t been YU’s mission or ad slogan for decades), lectures on academic Bible or Talmud and the antics of LW MO rabbis. The key as you know, is to show the beauty of a life devoted to Torah observance and to ignore the urban myths and stereotypes trotted out by the extreme elements in the MO and Charedi worlds.

  • Steve Brizel

    For those interested, take a look at the editor’s column in this week’s Yated. It is a strong but eminently fair critique of the stances taken by YCT’s new dean, and many others associated with YCT as well.