Titnle: Why Open Orthodox Is Not Orthodox
Author: David Rosenthal
Publisher: Yad Yosef Publications
Here is a pop quiz. Who wrote the following sentences: a Reform rabbi in 1840, a Conservative rabbi in 1950, or a Reconstructionist rabbi in 1960?
“The Torah seems to have evident signs of being an edited work which makes use of multiple sources and contains layers of redaction.”
“Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s.”
“One may…acknowledge the evolutionary nature of the Bible’s composition, one may…recognize the…findings that indicate the Pentateuch’s multiple authorship, while still believing (in a theological sense) in the divine unity of the Torah…
“It is possible, then, to accept that the Torah in its current form is the product of historical circumstance and a prolonged editorial process…”
“The Rabbis reject his [Moses’] judicial views as conservative and archaic.”
“Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice Yitzchak went too far…he has become utterly unrecognizable, losing his essence, his moral intuition.”
“It was God who failed the test here [in the Akeidah].”
These assertions sound eerily similar to those espoused by leaders of the groups that have splintered off of traditional Judaism over the past several hundred years. Unfortunately, these words, and numerous similar others, were in fact authored by the leaders of a brand new splinter group; by the Talmud department chair, faculty member, board member, journal editor, and director of spiritual development of Open Orthodoxy’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat.
YCT and Open Orthodoxy were originally presented to the Orthodox community as a movement dedicated to retrieving the Modern Orthodoxy of the 1950s. Rabbi David Rosenthal’s 275-page, well-documented book, Why Open Orthodoxy Is Not Orthodox, demonstrates that this is no longer (and may never have been) the case. One who reads the numerous quotes of assertions by Open Orthodox rashei yeshiva, faculty members, board members, and students cited by Rosenthal can only conclude that Open Orthodoxy is the newest splinter movement to defect from traditional Judaism.
Rosenthal’s book is not an academic work. It is not a scholarly analysis of the movement’s history, it does not consider the sociological underpinnings of the movement, and it does not look to offer sophisticated analyses of the contentions that it rebuts. It does one thing, but it does it remarkably well: It demonstrates, using the written words of YCT’s and Yeshivat Maharat’s leaders, faculty, and students, that the beliefs of many within Open Orthodoxy to a large degree align with those of the Conservative and Reform movements and not with those of traditional Judaism.
Aside from focusing on issues regarding yesodei emunah, Rosenthal devotes several chapters to topics including homosexuality, feminism, sexuality, ecumenicalism, and biblical interpretation. Regarding each topic, he shows that the approaches advanced by Open Orthodox proponents align not with that of traditional Judaism but rather with that of the contemporary zeitgeist. Regarding homosexuality, for example, one YCT musmach is quoted as celebrating the Supreme Court decision compelling states to recognize same-sex marriage with the proclamation, “Mazel Tov, America.” Another informed his readers that the Torah does not oppose gay marriage, but actually favors it. A third compared the “miracle” of the passing of same-sex marriage legislation to the miracle of Chanukah. And a fourth published an article in a major news outlet condemning legislative efforts to protect religious adherents from being forced to participate in same-sex marriages as “sacrilegious and offensive” to himself as “an Orthodox Jewish man and a rabbi.”
In the chapter regarding biblical interpretation, we are enlightened by Open Orthodoxy’s leaders regarding the progressive method through which to view the Biblical figures. No longer must we make use of the reverence that traditional Judaism has for millennia applied when reflecting on the Avos, the founders of yahadus. In fact, we discover, Abraham was a neglectful father and failed the test of the Akeidah; Jacob was emotionally paralyzed; Moses was a confused philosopher and failed leader; and Korach’s egalitarian approach was actually correct. If the reader is not shocked enough, he can read further and discover that, according to an article posted on Yeshivat Maharat’s website, Sarah was sexually exploited by Abraham.
Rabbi Rosenthal has provided us with a great service in exposing the tremendous dangers posed by Open Orthodoxy. Anyone who takes the future of Orthodox Judaism seriously would be well-served by reading the book in its entirety.