Non-Orthodox Orthodoxy: Playing With Fire

by Avrohom Gordimer

When an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, the rabbi’s actions are typically defended by his sympathizers as being “within the outer bounds of Orthodoxy”. And when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions cross into the realm of the non-Orthodox, those actions only affect the rabbi and those who wittingly or unwittingly stray after him. But when an Orthodox rabbi’s actions are indefensibly non-Orthodox and can potentially impact thousands if not millions of Jews who have nothing to do with the rabbi, we are at a point of crisis. My friends, we are at that point of crisis.

Rabbi Avi Weiss has for years been on the periphery of Orthodoxy. His ordination of women and countless other activities typically associated with the non-Orthodox movements have placed him on the edge, yet with a small group of people consistently defending the innovations as being “within the broad tent of Orthodoxy”, to borrow another catchphrase of the Far Left.

Shockingly, Rabbi Weiss has now come forth with a plea that non-Orthodox, halachically invalid conversions be considered for recognition in the State of Israel. Rabbi Weiss posits that

Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to the Conservative and Reform movements. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions. For that matter, civil weddings should also be recognized by the State. As in America, it should be left to the general public – if they wish, in consultation with their local rabbis – to decide whether to accept or reject these conversions and wedding ceremonies.

Please pardon me for being blunt, but is this not the epitome of recklessness? Does Rabbi Weiss seek for the thousands upon thousands of non-Jews who each year undergo non-halachic, invalid conversions to now be recognized as Jews in Israeli society, such that they will inevitably marry Israelis who are halachically Jewish, eventually resulting in myriads or even millions of Israeli “non-Jewish Jews” and a massive intermarriage epidemic in the State of Israel, as we have here in America?

How can Rabbi Weiss, as an Orthodox rabbi, in good conscience promote the performance and potential recognition of non-halachic conversions, even putting aside for a moment the concomitant large-scale and disastrous consequences for Israeli Jewry? How is this different than a rabbi suggesting to other Jews that they may eat on Yom Kippur or that they may consume pork? Again, pardon the bluntness, but is Rabbi Weiss’ proposal not the height of rabbinic malpractice?

Rabbi Weiss also has some choice words for the Rabbinical Council of America:

When the Chief Rabbinate years back questioned American Orthodox conversions, an Orthodox rabbinic organization, the Rabbinical Council of America, (RCA), rather than challenge the Chief Rabbinate and say clearly we have faith and trust in our rabbis in the field, capitulated to the Chief Rabbinate, and imported Israel’s failed rabbinic centralized format to the US.

The backdrop to Rabbi Weiss’ new quest to Reform (quite literally!) the marriage and conversion standards of the State of Israel and to strip control of such from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is the Rabbanut’s rejection of a letter penned by Rabbi Weiss attesting to the Jewish and single status of an American couple who sought to be married in the State of Israel. While the Rabbanut did not explain its exact reason for rejecting Rabbi Weiss’ letter, it is widely felt that Rabbi Weiss’ quite non-traditional activities and affiliations, which have been roundly criticized as being quite out of the bounds of Orthodoxy, have placed him in poor standing with the Rabbanut.

Although Rabbi Weiss has every right to appeal and argue, his method of taking the issue to the non-Orthodox Jewish media and thereby invoking the sympathy of those who care not about halachic standards is regrettable and disingenuous. It is also a chillul Hashem, as Rabbi Weiss alleges to a non-Orthodox audience unfairness and heavy-handed, exclusionary protocol on the part of major and quite authoritative Orthodox rabbinical bodies. Equally disturbing is the fact that this internal rabbinical issue is being pushed in Rabbi Weiss’ favor through secular political channels. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who has broken new ground in Open Orthodoxy with feminist innovations and is closely affiliated with Rabbi Weiss, contacted the American ambassador to Israel with a veiled (and quite inappropriate) diplomatic and communal threat, in an effort to pressure the American government to intervene with the issue between Rabbi Weiss and the Rabbanut (!).

Rabbi Zev Farber, prominently featured in Cross-Currents articles most notably for his claims that the Torah was not given by God to Moshe and that the Torah is the historically untrue, flawed work of men who tapped into a divine wave, still serves as a board member of International Rabbinic Forum (IRF) and is the editor and coordinator of its Vaad Hagiyur; Rabbi Farber is also on the advisory board of Yeshivat Maharat. Rabbi Farber, who is a staff writer for Morethodoxy, the Open Orthodox website, is now developing and promoting a new protocol and network for marriage and divorce that includes utilizing the discredited procedure of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman to unilaterally annul marriages without a Get based on later developments in marriage. Per Rabbi Farber’s program, every single claim for divorce that cannot be resolved through a traditional Get would be resolved without a Get by annulling the marriage or declaring it invalid – something considered by almost all poskim to be illegitimate under the usual circumstances.

Rabbi Farber writes of his proposed program:

I imagine that this will mean a radical shift in the divorce process in our communities.

And, well aware that the standards of this program would not be accepted in the more traditional Orthodox communities, Rabbi Farber comments:

The best is the enemy of the good here, and total consensus is impossible in the current climate…With a large base, hopefully, this pesaq will quickly become minhag yisrael in the Open Orthodox world.

The only word that comes to mind here is “Whoa!” A prominent Open Orthodox rabbi is pursuing a large-scale halachic personal status agenda of seismic magnitude with the realization that according to the larger Orthodox consensus, the product of the agenda will be a proliferation of mamzerim!? If this does not threaten to irreparably split the Jewish community, with repercussions that are eternal, then nothing will.

It is hard to imagine a greater rift within Orthodoxy than that which would be born of the agendas currently being pursued by Rabbis Weiss and Farber. And it is hard to imagine a greater departure from Halacha and from Orthodoxy than that of Rabbi Weiss promoting the performance and suggested recognition of halachically invalid conversions. If this is not non-Orthodox, then nothing really is.

ADDENDUM

In a comment to his newest Morethodoxy article, Rabbi David Wolkenfeld writes, “In this blog-post Rabbi Avraham Gordimer has profoundly misunderstood Rabbi Weiss’ position. Rabbi Weiss in no way “promotes the performance or potential acceptance” of non-halakhic life-cycle events. He called for an end to the State rabbinate’s monopoly over these religious services. Orthodoxy in America manages without this monopoly.”

I did not misunderstand Rabbi Weiss at all; Rabbi Weiss’ suggestion is quite clear. Rabbi Weiss does not merely call for an end to the Rabbanut’s exclusive authority on marriage and conversion, arguing that Orthodox/halachic conversions should be allowed by autonomous Orthodox rabbis who are not registered with the Rabbanut; had Rabbi Weiss argued this, as much as it may cause concern for a lack of enforceable and unified standards, it would not be objectionable per se. Rather, instead of positing that all conversions in the State of Israel need to remain Orthodox/halachic, albeit under a free choice of autonomous Orthodox rabbinical authorities, Rabbi Weiss argues that non-Orthodox (invalid) conversions should be legally authorized to occur in the State and that Israelis should have the option of undergoing and accepting these conversions as valid. (The resultant non-Jewish “converts” of the protocol promoted by Rabbi Weiss obviously will then be known as Jews and will marry people who are real, halachic Jews, and before we know it, Israeli society will have a major intermarriage epidemic.)

This point of Rabbi Weiss goes way, way beyond an argument about centralization versus decentralization of Orthodox rabbinic services. On the contrary, Rabbi Weiss makes a sweeping plea for the authorization to perform invalid conversions and for these invalid conversions to be subject to recognition by those who so desire. This is a radical approach that contravenes fealty to the binding nature of Halacha on every Jew.

For all of its failings, the current Rabbanut system, which maintains strict standards for Jewish identity and personal status, has maintained and preserved the halachic integrity of Israeli Jewry and much of Jewry in the Diaspora. Innumerable cases of mamzeirus and intermarriage (due to lack of verified halachic single and Jewish status) have been prevented. Unless an equivalent system is implemented, so as to enforce unified halachic standards, be it by one centralized entity or by autonomous Orthodox rabbis whose services must conform to one halachic standard in areas of Jewish and personal status, the halachic integrity of Jewish and personal status of Israeli citizenry and much of Jewry in the Diaspora will suffer. Rabbi Weiss’ plan, which argues against any required halachic standards, would result in untold and mass tragedy regarding Jewish and personal status.

There is for sure an element of kefiyah (compulsion) involved here; submitting Israeli society to halachic marriage, divorce and conversion requirements (be it of the Rabbanut or of autonomous Orthodox rabbis who must adhere to one unified standard) is obviously not something that everyone embraces. Yet, the positive yield of this system, which is the preservation of yuchsin (the integrity of Jewish lineage), is for sure worth the price of the imposition. The current system, despite its inadequacies, has undeniably served us well and has protected and secured the legitimacy of our yuchsin; in fact, the system is a no-compromise must, without which the Jewish People cannot endure and perpetuate.

Rabbi Weiss has placed his universalist values before the values of the Torah. Pluralistic religious approaches such as Open Orthodoxy diametrically clash with halachic values; Rabbi Weiss’ proposal certainly proves this point. When push comes to shove, egalitarianism must surrender to halachic authority and objective halachic standards. Otherwise, a true national churban, with uncontrolled mass mamzeirus, intermarriage and the destruction of yuchsin inevitably will ensue.

Does Rabbi Weiss seek this national churban? His proposal, which embodies the best of Open Orthodox religious pluralism, will ensure that this churban of our people occurs, God forbid.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and is a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent either of these entities.

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39 comments to Non-Orthodox Orthodoxy: Playing With Fire

  • Nachum

    I’ve long ago gotten used to the antics of the author of that letter to Shapiro, but this is really taking it too far. To report on an internal Jewish religious matter to the *American* ambassador is simply beyond the pale. What was he thinking? Does he even know what the job of an ambassador is? Is he ignorant of Jewish history?

  • mb

    Ah, Rabbi Gordimer, when they kick the left, far left, ultra left,whatever you would like to call them, out of Orthodoxy, you will be the left, and no longer the”useful idiot” and you too will be dispensed with.
    And then it will R.Adlerstein’s turn. He well knows my opinion on this.

  • Ben Issacs

    Thank you Rabbi Gordimer and Chazak V’ematz. I live in a smaller Jewish community and the harm to basic Halacha and Yideshkeit that Rabbi Weiss and YCT is causing can not be emphasized enough.

    Only the true Modern Orthodox, the Talmidim of the Rav or Talmidei Talmidav of the Rav can properly deal with this and thus my thanks to Rabbi Gordimer for not being afraid and writing that which needs to be written. I hope the RCA and the Raabbanut stay strong and I wish the OU would help to preserve Yideshkeit and Halacha in America by taking a stand for traditional Yideshkeit and the values of the Rav Zt”l. This is not hyperbole this is the reality on the ground in middle America that Halacha and Yideshkeit needs to be defended,actively and publicly,or we will lose thousands of sincere people to non halachic Judaism, dangerously dressed as Orthodoxy.

  • Bob Miller

    Followers of offshoots of Judaism always want more than to be left alone. They want voluntary or coerced, official validation by Torah-observant Jews as a group.

  • Really

    I find it amusing that the Jewish Week refers to a slap in the face to Rabbis in the Diaspora because of a rejection by the Israeli Rabbinate of one of the “American Jewry’s most well-known Orthodox rabbis”.

    What they conveniently forgot to note is what Weiss is well known for. It is for his ahalachic positions, and that is precisely the reason for the rejection.

    Does the “Jewish Weak” really take us for fools? Talk about “palginan diburah”.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    I know very little, so this comment is best viewed as a question rather than a challenge.

    Rabbi Gordimer’s series of articles decrying Rabbi Weiss and his students seems to operate under the assumptions that:

    1) There are existing and clear halachic standards for being ‘Orthodox';

    2) That there is an equivalent to the chatimat hatalmud that can be applied to (some) statements like those of the Rambam to make them unarguable; and

    3) That controversy over geirut is both new and worthy of absolute avoidance.

    The last point seems untrue (the Gemara lists several people converted by Hillel following Shammai’s refusal), although again, I could be missing some relevant information. I was hoping that he could address at least the former two.

  • ben dov

    Again Rabbi Gordimer is correct, but what is the bottom line? What is the RCA position, in America, on YCT coversions? Can a YCT rabbi serve an OU shul? What is the validity of Gittin done by YCT rabbis? Can a YCT rabbi be a kosher witness? Are any major hasgachos willing to hire YCT mashgichim?

    If these questions have been answered (and they need to be answered) we have not been told what the answers are. The kvetching is totally justified but for the readership, it is becoming stale. The matter must be dealt with by Rabbanim, and I hope that is Rabbi Gordimer’s primary audience. If Rabbi Gordimer can write another article explaining what effect his accusations have meant, le’maaseh, that would be most welcome.

  • dr. bill

    “And it is hard to imagine a greater departure from Halacha and from Orthodoxy than that of Rabbi Weiss promoting the performance and suggested recognition of halachically invalid conversions.”

    Really. recognition by halakhic authorities, i can understand; but he did not say that. recognition by the state, given the situation, is hardly the same thing.

    until rabbi gordimer tells me how he would deal with the right who can malign hadassah doctors, call rav stav a rasha, refer to opponents as amalek, etc. etc. i would suggest there are more useful issues to address.

  • contarian

    MB

    In Israel, the second in commnad of the leftist llitvish Degeel Hatorah party, – Hagaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky – ordered all yeshivas to expal avreichim who voted for the rightist litvish Bnei Torah party led by Hagaon Rav Shmuel Auerbach in the recent municipal elections.

    the goings on in the world have only reinforced my conviction that for there to be a machlokes leshem shamayim it is necessart that both sides in an argument believe that their opponents are acting leshem shmayim and have the right to do so because eilu veilu divrei ….

  • CNS

    I agree that Rabbis Weiss and Farber are very much pushing the envelope and at some point the envelope is pushed off the table. But these incidents need to be read together with the the war of words (and sometimes more than that) between the Degel Hatorah and Bnai Torah parties in EY. On that end of the spectrum its come to the point where, if news reports are to be believed one member of the moetzes said that supporting a slightly different *litvishe* *charedi* party run by *another member of the moetzes* is a chiyuv skilla!

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    There is nothing new under the sun. The Farber-Weiss program to “reform” Orthodox Judaism is a replay of the fight 60 years ago over the Lieberman ketubah and the other Conservative innovations. The difference then was that the intellectual leaders of that movement, such as rabbis Saul Lieberman and Boaz Cohen, were affiliated with the Conservative movement. What has changed is that the entire traditional, observant wing of the Conservative movement has moved over to Orthodox affiliation, and therefore the fight is taking place within Orthodoxy. I do agree with Rabbi Gordimer that if “Orthodox Judaism” is going to stand for something, it must stand for the traditional halachic approach brought down in our mesorah and rooted in the ikkur of Torah miSinai.

    At the same time, we must be very cautious about taking slices off our left wing, since as MB points out, we could be faced with a situation of ein ledavar sof. I still remember the hue and cry over the Langer case, where Rabbi Shlomo Goren invalidated a conversion post hoc to avoid mamzer status for two young adults wanting to get married. At that time, the rabbinical response, from Rabbis Yosef and Eliashuv on down, was to uphold the validity of a conversion that “didn’t stick” (the ger was clearly nonobservant). I also remember the Bostoner Rebbe warning about certain questionable conversions being done in Boston at the time, saying that even though they should not have been done, they were still valid after the fact.

    In this case where the Israeli rabbinate is doing what they attacked Rabbi Goren for doing 40 years ago, they are not proceeding with due caution. And I am worried about that.

  • Rational Thinker

    “How is this different than a rabbi suggesting to other Jews that they may eat on Yom Kippur or that they may consume pork? Again, pardon the bluntness, but is Rabbi Weiss’ proposal not the height of rabbinic malpractice?”

    Quite simple. He isn’t saying a jew can HALACHICALY marry a spouse who isn’t halachicaly jewish. He is saying that the state shouldn’t be involved in the process of deciding for its citizens. You might be against jews eating on yom kippur but you might also accept that they do have that choice and you might also desire for a person to retain that choice and have to deal with the consequences. Is it rabbinic malpractice for a rabbi to support the govt. recognizing muslim imams performing marriages for those who use them? Does that mean the rabbi considers these muslim marriages halachicaly acceptable?

  • Michael

    I agree with a large part of R’ Gordimer’s article,and I am very troubled by the recent developments within that segment of the Jewish world. One question:
    Isn’t R’ Weiss essentially arguing for a separation of religion and state in Israel. Would R’ Gordimer argue that anyone that supports such a perspective is not Orthodox?

  • Micah Segelman

    While I strongly disagree with Rabbi Weiss’s essay, I think some of the critique here is not sufficiently nuanced. Rabbi Weiss isn’t “suggesting to other Jews that they may eat on Yom Kippur or that they may consume pork.” He’s saying that centralized authority, in this case the State of Israel, shouldn’t be deciding whether people can eat pork. It should be left to individual conscience.

    OO from its inception has been about attacking the authority of centralized Rabbinic power (ie Da’as Torah, Gedolim, 13 ikrei emunah, Chief Rabbinate, etc.) and trying to elevate the legitimacy of local Rabbis and individual conscience. He presents 3 rationales in this essay: centralized authority is incompatible with the spirit of openness he claims is needed for religious growth, power can be corrupted, and centralized power can be out of touch with the perspective of local communities.

    I think the critique needs to address these points by arguing that lack of centralized authority leads to dire consequences (some of which are illustrated here by Rabbi Gordimer). Religious growth is possible despite the need for individual autonomy to be tempered with legitimate authority. On the contrary, too much openness is incompatible with “batel retzoncha mipnai retzono.” And the problems of corruption and being out of touch can be addressed and don’t justify the extreme of having no centralized authority.

  • dr. bill

    Lawrence Reisman, To set the record straight, rabbi goren ztl would not overturn a conversion because of subsequent non-observance. being a case of mamzeirut, he created other sfakot creating other sniffim lehakail.

    and, said respectfully, halevi YCT (or, on second thought, any yeshiva for that matter) had a talmudist of the stature of the Grash. and lacking any basis, i have heard that Boaz Cohen was a very competent posek. the lieberman ketubah was no more innovative than the RCA pre-nupt. imho, most MO rabbis today would be judged by a third-party observer as much closer to those two conservative stalwarts, than to many/most chareidi gedolim.

    then was then and yct is in many ways to the left of certain RW conservatives of that era. few of R. lieberman’s main talmidim are alive; 2 of the ones i knew are to the right of YCT.

  • mb

    Ben Isaacs said
    “This is not hyperbole this is the reality on the ground in middle America that Halacha and Yideshkeit needs to be defended,actively and publicly,or we will lose thousands of sincere people to non halachic Judaism, dangerously dressed as Orthodoxy.”

    Perhaps Ben is young and doesn’t realize that these are the words of the Cheredim, Ultra-Orthodox, Fervently Orthodox, whatever they call themselves, about MO, YU, Jews College, RZ, etc. etc. Or perhaps Ben was being humourous.

  • A. Gordimer

    Moishe: While the label “Orthodox” has room for many shades (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.554835), an Orthodox rabbi advocating for Reform and Conservative (i.e. invalid conversions is non-Orthodox.

    Dr. Bill and Rational Thinker: Recognition by halachic authorities is irrelevant; Rabbi Weiss is not advocating that. He IS advocating invalid conversions. That results intermarriage and is massive negative results all over.

    Michael: Separation of church and state is one thing, but R Weiss is advocating for the performance of invalid conversions. No one who seeks separation of church and state does so with the intent or awareness of creating an intermarriage catastrophe.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    With regard to Micah Segelman’s comment, I think we must separate the issues of centralized authority and daas Torah from matters of belief such as the ikrei emunah. Centralized authority can work against anyone; I remember when Chief Rabbi Goren threatened retaliation against Chareidi rabbonim who opposed him on the Langer matter. Therefore, I would agree with Rabbi Weiss if he is saying, “that centralized authority, in this case the State of Israel, shouldn’t be deciding whether people can eat pork. It should be left to individual conscience.” The primacy of individual conscience protects us as well as the non-religious.

    The issue is what is “Orthodox Judaism” or more accurately, what are the beliefs and practices that we, exercising our individual consciences to consider as legitimate Judaism. Rabbi Weiss can say what he believes to be “true Judaism.” What he can’t do is make us accept that his beliefs are legitimate. And here is where we put ourselves in a bind. We like it when the official rabbinate of Israel backs us up; we’re not as happy when it goes the other way. It would be very easy for an Israeli government, with a center-left-secularist coalition, to change the laws governing the chief rabbinate in such a way to allow for the election of a more cooperative chief rabbi. In such a case, would we be defending the chief rabbinate?

  • Steve Brizel

    Yasher Koach to R Gordimer-once again, he demonstrates how R Weiss and his supporters propose nothing more than to be Marbeh Mamzerim B Yisrael by essentially R “L viewing much of Seder Nashim and Tur/SA Even HaEzer inoperative with faulty logic and comparing what passes de facto in the US with what should never be de jure in the State of Israel. FWIW, in one of RYBS’s Five Drashos, RYBS rejected such a proposed practice very vehementlty.

  • Daniel P.

    “There is for sure an element of kefiyah (compulsion) involved here; submitting Israeli society to halachic marriage, divorce and conversion requirements (be it of the Rabbanut or of autonomous Orthodox rabbis who must adhere to one unified standard) is obviously not something that everyone embraces. Yet, the positive yield of this system, which is the preservation of yuchsin (the integrity of Jewish lineage), is for sure worth the price of the imposition.”

    Rabbi Weiss “for sure” disagrees. As for sure does the mass of non-Israeli Jewry. Currently a Jewish Israeli couple, one or both of whom is not recognized as Jewish by the Rabbinate, can fly to Cyprus to get married, and have their marriages recognized by Israel. Ending the monopoly of the Rabbinate may increase such “intermarriages” (if nothing else, it’ll save on plane fare), but it will allow people to marry whomever they want, based on whatever criteria of Jewishness they require. Just like Jewish couples do in the U.S., where notwithstanding separation of church and state, Orthodoxy has thrived. Further, as Rabbi Weiss notes: “When Orthodoxy is presented as the only option, when it’s forced upon people, it turns people off. A spirit of openness will make Orthodoxy more attractive.” At the very least Rabbi Weiss’s position is a legitimate one for an Orthodox rabbi to take without calling into question his Orthodox bona fides.

  • DF

    Though Rabbi Gordimer rightly castigates the individuals of “open orthodoxy”, his own organization, the RCA, has done essentially the same thing by promoting prenups. Though they cite rabbinic support for the CONCEPT of a prenup, they should have been wise enough to know the differences between that and between mandating – in today’s political and nuptial environment – prenuptial agreements. They were criticized by those on their right, but they went ahead and did it anyway. So why on Earth would the RCA expect those on their left to do anything different?

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Daniel P: I would agree that Rabbi Weiss’s position with regard to government policy is one he could take without having his Orthodox bona fides challenged. (There are times I would agree with him on that point.) However, it’s his positions with regard to halacha, and mesorah, and the basis for halacha which call his bona fides into question. There is no question that “liberalizing” marriage and divorce in Israel would remove a tremendous amount of resentment against the Rabbinate and against the Torah itself. It would also increase the number of mamzerim and those who consider themselves Jews but who aren’t. If Rabbi Weiss is willing to live with that result, his disagreements are only on the level of public policy. However, if he also wants to change the status of the children of liberalized marriage, he is encroaching upon the laws of the Torah. And that should be clearly unacceptable.

  • Steve Brizel

    Daniel P wrote in part:

    “Just like Jewish couples do in the U.S., where notwithstanding separation of church and state, Orthodoxy has thrivedFurther, as Rabbi Weiss notes: “When Orthodoxy is presented as the only option, when it’s forced upon people, it turns people off. A spirit of openness will make Orthodoxy more attractive”

    First of all, the separation of church and state, which has been elevated into a secular religion by its advocates, contributes first and foremost to the demise of religious values in the public arena and is a huge factor in the ever rising cost of yeshiva tuition-which is far less expensive in Israel even if one chooses other than a DL education for one’s children.

    One can argue that there are strong MO and Charedi communities and instiutions in the US, but it cannot be disputed that Israel is the Ground Zero of both the RZ and Charedi worlds, where our children go to study, and where many are moving to, either before their children have entered or after completing their educationally formative years in the US, simply because of the religious quality of life.

    If “openness” “will make Orthodoxy more attractive”, that runs contrary to the fact that every kiruv program run that is worthy of the name relies on openness while being run by Chabad, Charedi Kollelim, NCSY or NJOP-none of whom have ever been accused of jettisoning halacha or the bedrock core elements of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim in the sense of making Orthodoxy attractive.

  • Steve Brizel

    FWIW, RYBS viewed the pecularily American notion of separation of church and state as completely irrelevant to and a concept that should not be exported to the determination of such issues in Israel.

  • L. Oberstein

    I may be off the mark once again but I think that by and large,except for the strict orthodox, America Jews are not that interested in ideology. The Conservative Movement’s halacha committee never mattered to most Conservative Jews.They never geared their personal practices by a “psak” of their rabbi or his seminary.As far as I know, they only find heterim, never issurim. They shoot the arrow and then draw the target around it. The very valid objections that Rabbi Shafran and Rabbi Gordimer raise do matter to those who are halachicly bound and who adhere to the mesorah. This does not describe many of the lay members of many synagogues. I think that primarily outside of New York, graduates of YCT are serving synagogues where many members are not that observant or who are coming closer to observance but don’t feel comfortable in many of our shuls for various reasons. YCT is serving a constituancy that YU no longer produces rabbis for, e.g. shuls with microphones. Time will tell how much of the former conservative movement’s membes will be drawn to Open Orthodoxy,but it is not a threat or in competition with the frum world, as we define it.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dr. Bill: The active words in your description of Rav Goren are, “he created other sfakot.” Created is indeed what he did, and he set the stage for others to do so. What should also be mentioned is that not one rav of any stature, be he modern Orthodox or Charedi, supported him on the issue then. Today, now that the precedent was set, those who “create sfakot” on conversions should at least acknowledge Rabbi Goren as having set the precedent. Particularly, I would have hoped that Rav Eliyashuv, who resigned from the rabbinate’s office of marriage and divorce in protest about the Langer decision, would have admitted where his precedent came from. By the way, in the Langer case, he looked at the same evidence as Rav Goren and found that the conversion was totally valid.

  • dr. bill

    Rabbi Oberstein, i do not agree that it “is not a threat or in competition with the frum world, as we define it.” let me tell you a story, with names and precise details omitted. the OU published something a while back that was entirely inconsistent with the historical reality assumed by the vast majority of scholars, reflecting chazal’s chronology, an issue already noted/debated by rishonim. the rabbi i spoke to told me that none of his colleagues were even aware of the issue. my observation is that most modern day orthodox rabbis, across the spectrum, are woefully ignorant of even the views of chazal on such issues. when YCT brings such issues to the fore, i do not believe they will be addressed. it will just be easier to declare them off-limits, furthering a fundamentalist view that imho can only end badly for orthodoxy.

    and btw, the microphones i have seen used over the past few years come with a tzomet teudah. during the last microphone wars, centered in your home-town, the rav ztl famously quipped(supposedly), those that assur don’t understand the technology annd those who are matir don’t understand the halakha. while halakhic principles did not change, the technology has.

  • dr. bill

    mr. reisman, among those who supported rav goren, was rav henkin, ztl. the 10 rabbonim who agreed with him were never “officially” identified so that they would not be assaulted. a number, whose names were assumed by many, were gedolai horaah. a few years ago, i spoke with a talmid of a sefardi gadol, who was one of the ten.

    if you can name one case where, as you claim, he set the stage for others, i would be shocked. it tells me that you are not aware of the (real) safek he created; i know of no case where it was ever used. it was NOT non-observance or even never having intent to observe at any level. rav goren’s behavior can be criticized, but his halakhic basis, was not that easily assailed. it does not set the stage for recent psakim overturning conversions; rav goren would be amused by recent history.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dr. Bill: Is there a written source for Rav Henkin’s supposed support of Rav Goren’s psak? Given his machmir stance on the validity of Conservative and Reform marriages (that they were halahchicly valid and could only be dissolved by a proper get) it seems highly improbable.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dr. Bill: Another thing is that Rav Henkin was in his late 80s when the Langer case was decided and not in the best of health. As to Rav Goren setting a precedent, in May of 2007 Ashdod Chief Rabbi Avraham Attia invalidated a conversion done 15 years earlier and ruled that a couple therefore did not need a get. In the process, he invalidated the Jewish status of several children born to the marriage. In 2008, various rabbonim sought to invalidate every conversion done by Rav Chaim Druckman’s conversion court. In 2009, Rav Nachum Eisenstein invalidated a conversion after several children had been born to a marriage based on a pask of Rav Eliyashuv that wearing contacts at the time of tevilah invalidated the conversion.

    Before the Langer case, the prevailing trend was to accept conversions as valid after the fact. Rav Goren changed that, and now we have to live with it.

  • dr. bill

    Lawrence Reisman, I doubt R. Henkin wrote anything, but his views were widely known. His grandson spoke of his position to a large audience in Israel. I sure he would verify.
    As to undoing a geirut because of subsequent non-observance or insincerity in the original kabbalat mitzvot, you are quite right when you say “the prevailing trend was to accept conversions as valid after the fact.” However, quoting Rav Goren as support for the change is totally incorrect. Rav Goren’s logic, whether you agree or not, was to create doubt as to whether a valid formal conversion ever occurred, independent of any issue of kabbalat hamitzvot / sincerity/subsequent observance. IIRC, the rav in the city in question, who supposedly performed the conversion, was known not to accept converts with an obvious motive to marry. This created (another)doubt if there ever was a conversion by a (valid) BD which in a case of mamzrirut was sufficient to justify the psak. That basis was is hardly applicable in the cases a few years back for TWO reasons – it was NOT a case of mamzeirut and everyone knew that a BD performed the geirut. (Of course, rabbi Sherman tried to disqualify the BD, something to which rav Lichtenstein and others reacted. I often wondered if he tried to adapt rav goren’s approach.)

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dr. Bill: Please forgive my skepticism, but after having had some dealings with him, I doubt anything Rav Henkin’s grandson says at all. As to Rav Goren’s logic in the Langer case, it’s the same logic that is being used today. And I’m afraid you pointed out the important difference. In your words “it was NOT a case of mamzeirut.” In other words, Rav Goren’s approach was justified in the Langer case because the end justified the means. That is exactly what is being argued about here. Does any end justified tampering with the means and methodology that has been the precedent? If so, then anything is open to radical change.

  • Tal Benschar

    I must generally agree with Lawrence Reisman’s comments of October 30, 2013 at 10:57 am. There are two separate issues here: (1) a public policy issue — what should the secular State of Israel policy be and (2) what should the policy of Orthodox Judaism be.

    As to the former, while R. Weiss is definitely in the minority, I don’t think his views render him beyond the pale. As Lawrence Reisman says, the issue is one of balancing the integrity of the Jewish yichus as against the resentment engendered among the secular public, and (this is my addition) the negative pressure on halakhic integrity created when a secular state demands that accomodations be made in halakha that are not proper only because they are the law of the land.

    The second issue (recognition by Orthodox Judaism of Heterodox conversions)goes right to the heart of Orthodoxy.

    However, there is something somewhat incoherent and self-contradictory about R. Weiss’s position. If the State of Israel were to adopt civil marriage, then the issue of recognizing or not recognizing Reform and Conservative becomes moot. In the U.S., no state “recognizes” any particular rabbi or other clergy. At most, the clergy functions as a justice of the peace by effecting a marriage. (In some states, you need a license to do this, which you can get by applying and paying a minimal fee.) So if the State of Israel adopts civil marriage, then there is no need to recognize anyone. So what does he mean that the State should recognize Reform and Conservative clergy?

    BTW, here are some follow-up questions for R. Weiss — would civil intermarriage between a Jew and non-Jew be permitted in Israel under his plan? Between a Jew and someone whose paternal grandfather was Jewish? Between a Cohen and a divorcee or giyores? How about same-sex marriage?

    If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then what is the basis for that exception?

  • dr. bill

    lawrence reisman, there are a good number of people still alive who can attest to rav henkin’s position. i have heard this from unimpeachable sources. but you can believe what you like.

    on the major issue, you should talk to a competent posek who can outline the different methodologies that poskim apply in cases of mamzeirut. it suffices to say they are rather inventive, combining various sniffim, etc. undoubtedly, avoiding labeling someone a mamzer can be called “the ends justifying the means.” but you would have to accuse gedolai hamesorah from the times of the talmud including rambam and rav yitzchok elchanon to name two, as behaving that way. applying those methods to geirut or others areas of halakha does not happen. that’s how great poskim behave! to blame rav goren for current chareidi behavior is not consistent with traditional psak.

    if you ask the moderators for my email, they can give it to youi will take you through a few tshuvot.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dr. Bill: I would like to know your unimpeachable sources with regard to Rav Henkin. His position otherwise (as to when a get was required) was so machmir, it seems so out of character. As for avoiding mamzerus, I do not disagree that great poskim have always tried to do this, but can you name one case where it was done by posuling a geirus years after the fact? If it had been, I would ask why Hacham Ovadia Yosef didn’t hold it applicable in the Langer case, which he also reviewed and agreed with Rav Eliyashuv’s conclusion.

  • dr. bill

    lawrence reisman, part of the opposition was political – the manner versus the substance. rav goren rode rough shod over standard process, in a way that even the rav ztl was aghast by. in any case, i assume you appreciate how this is irrelevant to a normal geirut case w/o mamzreirut. quoting rav goren as precedent for recent psak is disingenuous.

    i do NOT know of a similar case of upending a geirut but there were yet more remarkable examples where great poskim ended up undoing a valid kiddushin, or relied on a halakhically invalid get, rather more tenuous than upending a geirut but creating doubt if ever happened. the safek rav goren created, absent the politics, appears rather well founded. it would take us far afield but this geirut was suppose to have happened in the (late) 1930’s by a rav who died in the shoah and by reputation, would not have participated. given the shoah, records/witnesses were hard to come by. IIRC, rav rakeffet has a long sequence of shiurim on the gruss kollel /yu torah website where he talks about rav henkin and the case.

    i can tell you a lot more but not publically; pls email. i guess we have hijacked cross-currents for a private conversation. i never had the nerve to ask the rav, but i did speak at length to one of his major talmidim. in all honesty, my recollection of that conversation is probably entirely unreliable.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Re your comment: “We have hijacked cross-currents for a private conversation.” Mazel tov, finally we have something we agree about! Accordingly, I am not going to respond any further.

  • mb

    I will repeat this ad nauseum. It’s a follow up comment of mine to a previous one about cutting off the left, those that you think have non (are really, not your)Orthodox views. And see R.Shafran’s recent posting on YCT, and thanking R.Adlerstein and R.Gordimer for their support.
    R.Shafran, (and others of his ilk) have publicly called CR.JH Hertz, ztl, Conservative.What do you think they are going to call you, if and when, God forbid, you successful eject “YCT” and it’s fellow thinkers, from Orthodoxy? None of you come up to R.Hertz’s ankles in his defence of Orthodoxy or his credentials.
    When I challenged R.Shafran on his contention, he only made a minor correction in his published article, but very much still intimated he was Conservative.
    You have been warned.Choose your friends carefully.

  • Tzvi Grossman

    Now that many of the dati leumi Rabbis (such as Rav Eliezer Melamed, R’ Chaim Navon, R’ Yuval Cherlow, R’ Benny Lau) have come out in favor of civil unions just like R’ Avi Weiss, is R’ Gordimer going to write them out of Orthodoxy too?

    [YA - I doubt it. (Actually, at least one of those on the list has been written out, not by R Gordimer, but by members of the DL community!) There is no comparison. the proposal backed by Rav Melamed takes pains to address halachic issues of yuchsin and future gittin. People may agree or disagree, but he approaches the issue with the care of a talmid chacham.

    And none of them are pushing for a recognition of Reform and Conservative conversion.]