“I could not care less what’s going on in Agudah!” These are not my sentiments. They are the sentiments of the Rav – R’ Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik. I heard them uttered in Yiddish by him in a recorded address he gave to the rabbinic alumni of Yeshiva University in the mid 1970s. This does not mean that he disparaged the legitimate Gedolim that populated the Agudah Moetzes at that time. The names are well known. Among others they included Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and, Rav Yitzchok Hutner. The Rav obviously respected them. His point was that he was unconcerned with what they had to say on many of the controversial issues the day. He had his own point of view.
If one reads the scathing attack by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter against the RCA you would never know that. That’s because he uses words the Rav used in another context to say that the rabbis of this rabbinic fraternity have departed from the Hashkafos of their teacher.
What generated this tirade? A statement by a group of RCA rabbis (…or as more accurately described by them - All of us are members in good standing or identify with the Rabbinical Council of America). They had written a critical (although unofficial) response to newly installed Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin.
Rabbi Lopatin was first severely criticize by the right for inviting leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements to speak at his installation. They compared his movement to the beginnings of the Conservative movement! Rabbi Lopatin -upset by that – retorted that he had not even been given a chance to be the ‘uniter’ of all factions of Orthodoxy he had hoped to be… and declared his movement (Open Orthodoxy) to be Orthodox… and ‘here to stay’.
Those RCA rabbis then reponded critcally themslves and in pertinent part said the following in its concluding paragraph:
(I)f Open Orthodoxy’s leaders feel some distance developing between themselves and mainstream Orthodoxy, they should not be blaming others. They might consider how they themselves have plunged ahead, again and again, across the border that divides Orthodoxy from neo-Conservatism. Why are they surprised to find themselves on the wrong side of a dividing line?
I said at the time that even though I generally agreed with their sentiments, I would not have signed that statement. I know Rabbi Lopatin. I would have given him some space and not pounced on him so quickly. Sometimes silence truly is golden.
Rabbi Frankfurter in an earlier editorial criticized this statement saying that it was not enough. It left the reader confused, he said, about Rabbi Lopatin, YCT, and Open Orthodoxy. He believes there should have been an unequivocal condemnation of all three – much the same way the Conservative Movement was condemned in the past. According to Rabbi Frankfurter, the RCA rabbis should have consulted with the ‘leading Gedolei Yisroel’ to obtain their views and followed them instead of acting on their own.
To his credit, Marvin Schick (one of my heroes) responded in writing to this letter (published as part of Rabbi Frankfurters’s response). He called it ‘breathtaking in its mean spiritedness’!
In this week’s editorial, Rabbi Frankfurter went on a virtual tirade… considering it to be an obligation to his mentor, Rav Dovid Soloveitchk to ‘call a spade a spade’ and tell the world what he really thinks of the RCA. His words here made his earlier editorial look like a compliment by comparison.
What was his criticism? There were two things he singled out. One was the RCA defense of Tzohar head, and former candidate for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi David Stav, from some truly harsh and in my view very unfair criticism by Rav Ovadia Yosef, ZTL. The other ‘sin’ was that they invited Rabbi Dov Lipman to address their annual convention. The criticism against the RCA hosting Rabbi Lipman was especially harsh because he was a member of Yesh Atid whose platform includes endorsement of same sex marriage.
Rabbi Frankfurter considers their defense of Rabbi Stav to be an insult to Rav Yosef. And then he has the unmitigated gall to assign guilt to Rabbi Lipman as though he too supports same sex marriage and – by association – the RCA by virtue of their hosting him. He blasts Rabbi Lipman as being anti Torah citing an exaggerated response he once made about how few Charedim would be exempt from the draft if he had anything to say about it.
I find this to be grossly disingenuous and highly misleading. Doesn’t he realize that inviting someone to speak at a convention doesn’t mean they will agree with everything he says? Does he really think the RCA endorses same sex marriage? Does he think Rabbi Lipman does? I am absolutely certain that he knows they don’t!
His only purpose here is to further the agenda driven by Israeli rabbinic leaders like his mentor, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik. An agenda in which – as Rabbi Berl Wein put it – we are being ill served, since those rabbinic leaders refuse to change the current ‘miserable status quo’. (Perhaps Rabbi Frankfurter considers Rabbi Wein to be in the same category as the RCA?)
As proof that the RCA has lost their way Rabbi Frankfurter publishes a 1975 lecture given by the Rav to his students before one of his Gemarah Shiurim. The Rav’s exorts his students not to allow the Zeitgeist to determine one’s direction of leadership. It was probably done in response the 1970’s stirrings of the modern day feminist movement which was just beginning to roar about that time. (Thank you Helen Reddy).
He explains that the Torah must always determine that. And therefore they must never cooperate with heterodox movements whose motivation is social justice rather than following the explicit dictates of the Torah and Chazal.
Rabbi Frankfurter’s mistake is that he thinks that the only people who can tell us what the Torah and Chazal dictates are his own ‘Chachmei HaMesorah’. But as Rav Soloveitchik pointed out, he could not care less about what Rabbi Frankfurter’s Chachmei HaMesorah say. The Rav had a different view of what the Torah want’s us to do on many issues and it was not the Agudah’s view nor was it that of his cousin, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik.
The Rav was the titular head of Religious Zionism in America. He was opposed to his cousin, Rav Dovid’s point of view. As was the Rav’s brother, R’ Ahron who famously said Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
R’ Dovid’s antipathy for the state of Israel rivals that of Neturei Karta. He has absolutely no use for the government and considers them anti Torah do this day. This – despite the fact that until a few years ago the government provided millions of dollars of support to Charedi yeshivas. I recall Mir Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, ZTL telling a group of Chicagoans a few years ago that until that time 50% of their budget was taken care of by the Israeli government.
He claims that the Rav would have never supported what the RCA has done here. But the fact is he doesn’t know what the Rav would have done. That did not stop him from using the Rav’s words against the RCA.
This is so ironic in the face of some very positive articles he has featured in the past on YU Roshei Yeshiva like Rav Hershel Schachter. And on the Rav. And on Rav Ahron. And on former RCA president Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.
I cannot imagine a more divisive editorial that the one he has written here. I think he ought to publish a retraction and an apology. That is the only decent thing for him to do. He probably won’t. But I hope he proves me wrong.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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